Learn the history, impact of the Iowa National Guard
The Iowa National Guard, which dates to the 1800s, has been involved in major U.S. military conflicts and assists Iowans in response to disasters such as flooding and tornadoes.
The Iowa National Guard is facing a decline in soldiers and struggling to recruit new members.
Over the past year, the Iowa Army National Guard fell from 102% to 100% in authorized officer strength, the total number of officers authorized for service at the end of each fiscal year, according to Capt. Kevin Waldron, a spokesperson for Iowa National Guard.
The National Guard is part of the U.S. military that responds to domestic emergencies, overseas combat missions, counterdrug efforts, and reconstruction missions, according to the website. Guard soldiers primarily operate in their home state, but any state governor or the president of the United States can call on the guard at a moment’s notice.
At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the guard staffed testing sites and call centers, boxed meals for food banks and shuttled test samples to labs in 2020.
The state’s army national guard is authorized to have 6,824 members this year and 6,820 in 2021, showing a total of 132 members lost.
The Iowa Air National Guard lost another 46 members since the past fiscal year, with 98% out of 1,953 authorized members in 2022, he said.
National Guard Bureau regulation allows the Iowa National Guard to hire more personnel than authorized, with certain parameters, to allow the guard to be prepared for losses such as retiring service members and expiring contracts, Waldron told the Des Moines Register in an email. “This is considered ‘enhanced readiness.'”
Waldron said the numbers are still up to snuff, but a large part of the decline has been due to COVID-19. The state’s National Guard recruiters had a hard time getting into high schools to reel in prospective members during the pandemic.
The guard targets recruits ages 17 to 25 but will accept soldiers up to 35 years old. Guard soldiers hold civilian jobs or attend college while maintaining their military training part time, serving about one weekend each month.
In contrast, many individuals are looking for full-time jobs coming out of the pandemic, Waldron said, also citing the high demand for jobs within the state’s private sector.
And in his annual Condition of the Guard address earlier this year, Maj. Gen. Benjamin Corell said federal vaccine mandates would impact the organization.
“These mandates have already started to create dilemmas within our ranks, where our members must decide to either get vaccinated or be forced to leave military service,” Corell previously said.
Nearly 90% of the force was fully vaccinated as of the June 30 deadline. Many of the service members who chose to not get vaccinated cited medical or religious exemptions, Waldron said.
The U.S. Army is facing the worst recruiting environment since the all-volunteer force was created in 1973. The service likely won’t make its goal for recruits, putting it at risk of a shrinking force in a dangerous world, USA Today reports.
Army recruiting typically suffers when civilian jobs are plentiful. That trend is evident this year with the 3.6% unemployment rate, a figure just above a 50-year low. But new factors have dampened recruiting efforts, experts say, including Americans’ new attitudes toward work-life balance formed during the pandemic.
The Iowa National Guard is looking into ways that they can bring in numbers, including bonuses for new recruits and incentives for reenlistments, Waldron said.
The Iowa guard also changed its tattoo policy, which now allows soldiers to have tattoos on parts of their bodies such as hands and necks that were previously prohibited, Iowa National Guard Sgt. 1st Class Christie Smith said. They will also resume high school recruitment.
Waldron says despite recruitment challenges, the numbers have not dropped drastically enough to affect operations. He pointed to a July deployment of 80 Army guard soldiers to Poland in support of Operation Atlantic Resolve and NATO’s Enhanced Forward Presence. The Iowa guard will be ready to help if soldiers are called to respond to the recent flooding in eastern Kentucky, he added.
“We are absolutely able to support any kind of mission that comes our way,” Waldron said. “Iowans are proud people, willing to step up and join. We continue to see that despite (recruitment) challenges.”