FORT BRAGG, N.C. - National Guardsman Scott Light was one of 150 anxious troops who returned stateside to wild cheers on the parquet floors of a Fort Bragg gym Wednesday - a tired smile lighting up his face.
During a 10-month stint, he saw the first combat of his life, spending most of his days patrolling the Iranian border and dodging roadside bombs.
Now, as part of the largest group of national guardsmen to return from Iraq, the tank mechanic is quitting the National Guard, having made his mark and his point.
This graduating class of Iraq veterans - thousands of whom are returning to North Carolina and New York this week - reveals the resolve that has helped erstwhile "weekend warriors" fulfill difficult and vital missions in Iraq.
But for many, a sense of duty coexists with disillusionment over long and hazardous deployments.
For these men and women, homecoming is a moment of celebration, but also the start of a challenging adjustment back to civilian life.
And for America's armed forces, it punctuates new difficulty in maintaining the Guard ranks that are now so vital when the nation goes to war.
Before their endless debriefs and connecting flights, the 3,100 returning soldiers of the 30th Heavy Separate Brigade had been part of a vast band in Iraq.
The National Guard now accounts for about 40 percent of troops there and has taken nearly 20 percent of casualties, an unprecedented role.
Though at least one Guard unit was left stateside in the Gulf War because it wasn't battle-ready, this time the Guard has "surpassed expectations" overall, says Cimbalo.
After all, many of these hometown cops, accountants, and mechanics found they hardly fit into the "hooah" military culture.
"The Guard and Reserve is still mired in structures that were fine in the cold war, but now we're having to reinvent them in the heat of battle," says Rick Stark, a military analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
For many, even guardsmen who may have expected to see combat, the appeal of soldiering has worn thin.
The late Army Chief of Staff Creighton Abrams, father of the "all-volunteer" force, may not have foreseen this pickle in revamping US forces after Vietnam.
Experts say that's worked this time around.
And when one guardsman confronted Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld over armor shortages at a recent photo-op, albeit at the behest of a reporter, the exchange spoke volumes about the role of individualistic citizen soldiers in shaping not just the battle but the view from Washington.
Summarized by Copernic Summarizer
Read the entire story at: http://www.csmonitor.com/2005/0106/p01s01-usmi.html?s=hns