MOUNT VERNON — Ohio National Guardsmen continue to be deployed to Iraq, although the units deployed at this time are not from the Knox County area.
Capt. Marshall Jackson of the Ohio National Guard Public Affairs Office said there are approximately 1,000 Ohio soldiers and airmen in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait. Of that number, Jackson estimated 800 of those are in Iraq.
The Guard performs a variety of duties in Iraq, Jackson said.
“A military police company from Chagrin Falls is currently deployed there,” he said. “That’s approximately 170 people. Their mission over there is probably convoy escort, among other things. We have 300 people from our Black Hawk aviation battalion flying around Iraq on different missions, traveling all over the place.
“The total numbers of Ohio Guardsmen deployed are down from about three or four years ago,” he continued, “but we’re still deploying. We probably still have anywhere from 1,000 to 1,200 deployed at any one time, which is normal. It’s actually been as high as about 3,000. We normally deploy around 10 percent of our overall force, and we’ve got 16,000 soldiers and airmen total. We’re probably around 10 percent at any given time. And that’s typical.”
Contrary to what some people believe, Jackson said, the Guard is not being deployed to replace the active duty military personnel.
“We do a lot of humanitarian missions,” he said. “Next month we have some people going to Israel, to work with some of their forces.
“Also, for example,” Jackson continued, “we have a unit that’s going to be going to the national capital region to do a mission in D.C. We still have some units in Iraq. We have some in Afghanistan; we have some in Sinai. We actually have some in Serbia right now, and Hungary. We’re all over the place and they’re not all war-time missions. We’re still doing humanitarian missions all over the place.”
Although Ohio Guardsmen and women are deployed around the world, Jackson said there is always 85 to 95 percent of Ohio’s guard structure here at home.
“We’re here for Ohio first of all,” he said. “That’s our main mission. ... The governor made a promise a couple of years ago that we will always have at least 80 percent of our guard structure here in Ohio to serve Ohioans. And we do.”
Other states’ Guardsmen are also deployed overseas, Jackson said, but perhaps in lesser numbers.
“With 16,000 members, Ohio is one of the top 5 largest Guards in the nation. For example, we have five brigades in our state. Another state may only have one, so they may not tap into that state as much as they tap into Ohio [for overseas missions.] It’s all kind of relative as to how big your state is. Pennsylvania is pretty big. California is very big, and Georgia’s got a big Guard.”
Regarding deployment and the Guardsmen’s civilian employment, Jackson said the Guard spends a lot of time actually working with employers to build relationships to make sure that when Guardsmen and women do get deployed, the transition is very smooth.
“We typically, and this is not always the case, know about a year in advance that we will be deployed,” Jackson said. “Let’s say Capt. Jackson is going to deploy a year from now. I can start working with my employer to let him know, ‘Hey, a year from now I’m going to be gone.’ That gives both the employer and me time to work on temporarily filling my position, as opposed to when deployment is a week out and I just tell my boss, ‘I’m leaving.’”
One of the ways the Guard builds those relationships with employers is through outreach programs, where employers of soldiers are invited to come out and see what they do.
“Last week we had one outreach program, and flew 22 employers up to Michigan,” Jackson said. “We had one of our units there that was doing their two weeks annual training, and it was great. The employers got to see what their soldiers do during training. Things like that help build those relationships, so we don’t have a lot of problems any more with employers. That hasn’t always been the case, but we’ve been working on that for the past couple of years. It’s really going pretty well now.”