Military feature: Guard making changes

The National Guard units in Clovis and Portales hope to double in size in the next two years. (Staff photo: Eric Kluth)

By Andy Jackson: CNJ staff writer

Plans are in place that would change the duties of Army National Guard units based in Clovis and Portales over the next two years, from air defense artillery units to transportation, according to public affairs officer Lt. Col. Kim Lalley of the New Mexico Army National Guard.

With the restructuring, recruiters hope to double the size of the Clovis and Portales units as well as increase the number of women and younger recruits.

Under the reorganization, area guard units hope to attract workers who drive for dairies, canneries, farms, ranches and even Wal-Mart, according to Staff Sgt. Terry Stevens, a Portales resident and recruiter in the Clovis National Guard unit.
Clovis will serve as headquarters for the transportation unit under the yet to be finalized plan, officials said.

The restructuring of the New Mexico National Guard will occur throughout the state, though it is still in its final planning stages, Lalley said. Eventually, guard units all over the state will likely replace air defense artillery units with military police, transportation and engineering units, she said.

Women aren’t allowed in front-line combat, so right now the 40 soldiers in the Clovis guard are mostly men. That will soon change, as the unit crosses over to a mission of support and transport, he said.

“Women lead soldiers and drive trucks just as well as guys,” Stevens said.

Even though more than half of the guard in Clovis and Portales have previous service experience, recruiters are now looking toward younger residents to enlist.

“The future lies with young people. We want to show young people what the National Guard is all about. It’s exciting as older guardsmen to see the development of younger guardsmen, to see the type of people they become.

“They go away kids, wet behind the ears, then go to basic training, and come back the same person but with a new perspective on what’s important in life,” Stevens said.

The Army National Guard’s monetary incentives are luring some recruits while they’re still in high school — with offers such as 100 percent college tuition assistance and $15,000 signing bonuses.

Recruiter Sgt. Jacob Huegel, 21, of Portales, joined the army at the end of high school, he said. After four years of service, he says he likes the guard more than active duty.

Lalley said the New Mexico Army National Guard’s switch from artillery to transport will decrease deployment rates at least until 2007, while restructuring occurs. The restructuring is designed, in part, to help fight the global war on terror, she said.

And future guard efforts will be more humanitarian, Stevens said.

Fast facts

What’s the Army National Guard?

It’s part of the US Army, comprised of one-half of the available combat forces, and one-third of the army’s support organization, according to Wikipedia online encyclopedia.

How often do guardsman report to duty?

One drill weekend each month, and one two-week annual training period.

What jobs do Clovis and Portales guardsmen have outside of the guard?

The Clovis guard has 40 individuals, and Portales has 45, said Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Terry Stevens of Portales. They are lawyers, police officers, teachers, students, and over one-half of the local units have prior service experience in the Navy, Marines, Army and Air Force, he said.

Where have Clovis and Portales guardsman recently gone?

According to Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Terry Stevens of Portales:

• For two years after 9-11, units from Clovis, Tucumcari, Santa Rosa and Portales worked security at Cannon Air Force Base.

• Many went to areas hit by hurricane Katrina and helped with the relief effort for a month.

• At the beginning of January many came back from Washington, where they helped protect the capitol region for the last 15 months.

• Twenty soldiers from Clovis, Portales and Roswell are on an infantry task force that’s been in Afghanistan since September 2005, and scheduled to return after 12 months.

• Eight to 10 people deployed to Iraq (northern Baghdad) with military police and are due back in February or March, after their twelve month detail.

How many guardsman from Portales, Clovis as well as the whole state have been casualties of the most recent war we are engaged in?

According to Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Terry Stevens of Portales: One from the state, and zero from Clovis and Portales.

How many Guard units exist throughout the state?

Thirty, according to www.nm.ngb.army.mil/units/

— Compiled by Andy Jackson