Guard's morale

Morale Woes Rattle [Illinois Natl] Guard” is James Janega’s banner headline story today in Chi Trib, worth reading because of Janega’s credibility as sometime-embedded battle-scene and behind-scene reporter with months of Iraq-coverage experience.  This story is out of Chicago; it’s based on a 29 Jan 05 memo out of Springfield, “Operation Strength Readiness,” downloadable in .pdf format.  It has a # of names blacked out, and “soldiers fear retribution if they speak out” is a jump-page head:

Soldiers in interviews said they have not raised critical questions over readiness for fear of retribution from Guard leadership.

says the text.  This is Bureaucratic Rot 101, as in my Bending the Rules: What American Priests Tell American Catholics (Crossroad, 1994), where most of the veteran pastor interviewees preferred anonymity.  Most prefer not to be personally rattled, for good reason.

It’s a six-plus-month-old memo, however, sent as Janega says, “to begin correcting the problems,” and deep in the story, including its last paragraphs, are command-level quotes about efforts (one of them at least mildly laughable: special football jerseys for units with top personnel-retention scores) to repair the situation.

The memo . . .  comes as the Army National Guard is undergoing convulsive changes to make it more responsive to sudden wartime call-ups.

Nationally, surveys of returning troops find similar trends, and the number of new recruits has been falling in active-duty military, reserve and National Guard units.

The Illinois Army National Guard in particular has grappled with leadership and staffing issues in recent years . . .

I found those sentences after asking my usual “compared to what?”  Janega has it with this reference to the rest of the country.  It’s a specific enough reference for a newspaper story, which is not an encyclopedia article.  As for what to do and what’s been done about it,

. . . many personnel shortages in units have been fixed since the operations order was drafted, [Guard commander Maj. Gen. Randal E.] Thomas said.

Meanwhile, the Department of the Army has outlined a plan to change its focus to smaller, more easily deployable units. Under the plan, some 7,000 soldiers in Illinois' 9,100-strong force will be shifted between units, in some cases eliminating understaffed units altogether.

I would like to hear more about this, and maybe I will in future Chi Trib stories, preferably by Janega and ideally with similar eye-catching placement in the paper.  Location, location, location, as retailers say.  Shelf position matters.  News retailers (editors) keep that in mind, don’t they?

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