Mission in Afghanistan Iowa's role is 'pretty historic'

Des Moines Register, 01 MAY 2011


"The Afghanistan deployment marks the first time in more than 60 years that

Iowa National Guard units have led U.S. operations in large, unstable territories.


Iowa Guard units are in charge of security for significant regions of eastern Afghanistan,

including the turbulent provinces of Paktia and Laghman.


'This mission we're doing right now is pretty historic,' said Lt. Col. Steve Boesen,

commander of the Iowa Guard's 1-168th Battalion.   'Very infrequently do

National Guard infantry battalions get to be what we call 'battle-space owners.' '


In past deployments, National Guard units have mainly supported active-duty units.

For example, when Iowa's 1-133rd Battalion served 18 months in Iraq a few years ago,

its soldiers mainly escorted convoys delivering supplies.  


The 1-133rd's duty involved traveling millions of miles over

highways that often were laced with hidden bombs.


But Guard troops generally weren't assigned to track down

and confront insurgents, the way they are in Afghanistan.


'To do this kind of mission and this complex of a mission,

we really consider it to be a high honor,' Boesen said.


The lieutenant colonel leads a task force that includes roughly 1,000 troops,

who are a mixture of National Guard and active-duty soldiers.  

That Army has shifted more such responsibilities to Guard units over the past few years.  


Boesen sees two reasons for the change:   Guard troops have gained experience over multiple

overseas deployments in the past decade, and the Army's active-duty divisions

are stretched thin from fighting two complicated, drawn-out wars at once....


Historians at Iowa's Gold Star Military Museum said the last time the Iowa Guard

had this much responsibility was in World War II.   That's when the 34th Division

"Red Bulls" - the same unit that now has a brigade of 2,800 soldiers in Afghanistan

helped lead campaigns against the German army in northern Africa and Italy.


The division, made up of Guard brigades from Iowa and Minnesota, had 3,737

soldiers killed and 14,165 wounded during about three years of combat [1942-45]."