Despite the official end to combat operations in Iraq, the military remains committed on two fronts overseas and dependent on the National Guard for support. Since 2001 more than 80 percent of the Army National Guard—most of whose members signed up for “one weekend a month,” as the recruiting slogan goes—has been deployed abroad, an assignment that comes at the expense of normal domestic duties. Louisiana’s and Mississippi’s entire units were in Afghanistan and Iraq when Katrina made landfall in 2005. And it took two days for the depleted Kansas guard to respond to a tornado in 2007.
Now flood-prone Iowa, which recently sent 3,000 guardsmen to Afghanistan for a one-year deployment, is trying to limit its exposure. The unlikely salve: a cadre of duck-booted retirees—former guard members—who, as part of a new effort, will act as first responders in their hometowns. They’ll assess damage and recommend where (and in what numbers) to direct remaining guardsmen—a stopgap measure to increase efficiency at a time when there’s little room for bureaucratic snafus.