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Oregon Editors Say:

The Pentagon doesn't get it

Two-year deployments are too much to ask of National Guard soldiers

The Oregonian

The war in Iraq has wounded the Oregon Army National Guard. The only question left is how badly the strong, proud Oregon unit is going to be hurt.

Preliminary figures show that fewer than half of the Iraq veterans of the Guard's 1st Battalion, 162nd Infantry, decided to re-enlist after the unit returned home last April. The retention rate, which usually runs about 80 percent, could plunge even lower when the 700 members of the 2nd Battalion come home this spring after spending a deadly, terrifying year in Baghdad.

Members of Congress and the Oregon Legislature are rushing to help the Guard, offering bills to do everything from waiving property taxes to increasing death benefits to paying the child-support obligations of Guardsmen serving in the war. The new benefits are fine ideas, but they won't keep soldiers in service: What's driving them away are long deployments of up to two years.

That is, pure and simple, too much of a burden to place on citizen soldiers, their families and their employers. Soldiers may accept leaving their jobs and families and missing a year of birthdays, anniversaries and holidays. But they won't volunteer to be gone two years.

The Pentagon still doesn't get it: A senior military official recently floated the idea of even longer deployments. Even Republicans who strongly support President Bush and the war in Iraq, such as House Majority Whip Roy Blunt, R-Mo., condemned that idea. I'm absolutely confident it would contribute to further deterioration of the Guard and reserve, Blunt said.

— The war in Iraq could leave behind a weaker Oregon Army Guard, with fewer experienced sergeants and lieutenants and more young, raw recruits. The loss would scar a force critical to the state ' not just in time of war or terrorism but also during major fires, floods or other disasters.

There's only one way to limit the damage to the Guard: Reduce the length of tours in Iraq, even if that means increasing the active-duty force and raising taxes to pay for it.

Citizen soldiers are doing their duty in Iraq this time. But all too many are deciding there won't be a next time.