As Arizona National Guard troops gear up to leave Tuesday for training at a Texas base before deploying to Afghanistan, military officials will still not say if their families will receive funding to go with them.
Guardsmen had believed for a year that they would be able to take their personal vehicles with them to training, live off base and be given money for their families, said Dennis Burke, the governor’s chief of staff. But 10 days ago they were told they would no longer be entitled to those.
So Gov. Janet Napolitano asked the Secretary of the Army to overturn the decision. Shortly after, military officials said they would allow the guardsmen to bring personal vehicles, Burke said. However, the soldiers will still have to live on the base and will not have extra funding for their families, unless the military changes its mind.
“We’re just kind of waiting to see,” Burke said. “If you’re looking for good morale and people to sign up for service, you don’t do that to their families.”
The soldiers will train six days a week, 12 hours a day at Fort Hood for eight months and then spend one year overseas.
Military officials said that while guardsmen are not encouraged to bring their families to Texas, it was never prohibited. Also, the families are guaranteed access to health care and any other services provided at the base.
“At the end of it, our goal is that every soldier comes back safely,” said 1st Army spokesman Rick Thomas. “That’s what drives everything we do in training. That’s the best thing we can do for the soldiers and the best thing we can do for their families.”
The deployment of 447 troops in the 1st/285th Attack Battalion, based at Marana, will be the largest National Guard mobilization overseas from Arizona since the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. Many of the soldiers are from the East Valley.
Training at Fort Hood will include two parts: Learning to be combat-ready with AH-64D Apache Longbow attack helicopters and practicing their skills in an Afghan-simulated environment. Thomas said Afghanistan is one of the toughest places to fly in the world.
The 1st/285th is the only Guard unit in the country to fly AH-64D Apache Longbow attack helicopters.
Long-term training generally comes with certain entitlements, such as soldiers being reimbursed for bringing their own vehicles and monthly food stipends. But because the soldiers are under mobilization orders — even while training — those privileges are not authorized in this case.
“Because both of these happen together, there was confusion as to what the entitlements are,” said Maj. Paul Aguirre, a spokesman for the Arizona National Guard.
Military units typically are not allowed to bring families for short-term training operations at U.S. bases. However, when training goes for six months or more, family privileges and other benefits are considered routine.
Aguirre said those policies traditionally apply to activeduty military units as well as Guard units training at activeduty installations.
The Arizona Guard surveyed soldiers to obtain a partial inventory of the impact of the changed orders and found that at least 124 families planned to make the move, and 57 already had spent money seeking off-base housing in Texas.
“I have been there,” Thomas said. “It’s a difficult situation knowing you’re going to leave your family and be deployed for a year. Balancing family time with training is what our ultimate goal is, so that we can provide some training time, but never lose the priority.”