DES MOINES (AP) — The head of the Iowa National Guard said Thursday the number of Guard members from the state deployed overseas is at one of the lowest points since the start of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
In his annual Condition of the Guard address to the Iowa General Assembly, Maj. Gen. Timothy Orr noted that about 260 Iowa soldiers and airmen are currently deployed. Over the past decade, the number has been as high as 3,500.
In 2012, Iowa Guard forces were in Kosovo, Afghanistan, Qatar, Honduras and Kuwait.
“During the past year, the Iowa National Guard played a crucial role in overseas operations,” Orr said.
There are 9,400 National Guard soldiers and airmen in Iowa. Orr says overseas demands decreased since President Barack Obama announced last year that the United States would withdraw troops from Afghanistan by 2014.
“For me, these deployments are not truly over until all of our men and women have returned back home to their families,” Orr said. Some soldiers are still receiving treatment for injuries sustained in battle, Orr said. Over the past two years, 130 Iowa soldiers and airmen have needed medical treatment, with 14 still receiving care at military facilities.
Orr also spoke about the federal decision to remove the F-16 fighter jets from the Des Moines Air National Guard Base. He said the new drone operation and several other missions are coming to the base to replace the jets, providing work for nearly all the current employees at the base.
Just 32 jobs will be lost, through retirements and transfers, Orr said. He praised Gov. Terry Branstad for helping to keep a military presence in Iowa after the 21 F-16 jets were slated for removal last year.
“With all of these challenges, we are very fortunate to have a voice with the Department of Defense on these matters,” Orr said, noting that Branstad is co-chairman of the president's Council of Governors in the Department of Defense.
Compared with previous years, limited emergency response operations were needed in 2012, Orr said. He said the Guard used the time to prepare and plan for disaster response. In December, 80 Guard officers participated in the response to a major blizzard, helping to rescue stranded travelers.
Another critical effort for the Guard is helping former officers find civilian employment, Orr said. He said that roughly 28 percent of recently deployed officers were looking for work at the end of 2011. Through partnerships with state agencies and local officials, that number is down to 6 percent.
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