WOSTER: Guard members not called 'weekend warriors' so much anymoreLast Saturday morning, the activation ceremony for the 200th Engineer Company of the South Dakota National Guard drew so many people the cars and pickups were parked down where we live a couple of blocks from the high school in Pierre.
By: Terry Woster, The Daily Republic
Last Saturday morning, the activation ceremony for the 200th Engineer Company of the South Dakota National Guard drew so many people the cars and pickups were parked down where we live a couple of blocks from the high school in Pierre.
The evening before, I’m told, the folks in Chamberlain held their own sendoff for the Guard members. They say my big brother, Jim, was the master of ceremonies and did a good job. I’m sure he did. Jim is good at those things. He moves it along, tells a few jokes and always remembers the audience is there to see the honored guests, not to hear him very long.
I have a soft spot for the 200th. That’s the outfit my brother belonged to for quite a few years. I picture him joining while he was still in high school at Chamberlain, but that doesn’t make sense. He graduated when he was 16. Must have been sometime that next summer. Nobody was joining the Guard at 16, were they?
Exactly how old he was when he signed up may be hazy, but I have clear memories of him bopping around the house as he got ready for Guard camp each summer. He’d be whistling and talking as he stowed this and that in a khaki bag. (I wasn’t in the military. I don’t know what those things were called. I know the rules of warfare from second-year ROTC, but that’s about it).
In my brother’s time, some people referred to Guard members as Weekend Warriors. You don’t hear that phrase so much these days, not after so many Guard units have spent so much time on active duty in the trouble spots that followed the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The nickname wouldn’t be a fair thing these days. It wasn’t in my brother’s time.
He didn’t deploy overseas or even serve an extended period on active duty. He did the weekend drills and the summer camps. Still, he was a Guard member, and if his unit had activated, he’d have been there with them, wherever that was.
Jim would move through the house in the period before summer camp saying loudly, “Sleep well tonight, South Dakota. Your National Guard is awake.” He thought it was kind of funny, but I took a little pride in the fact that my big brother was part of that outfit.
Jim joined the Guard sometime in the late 1950s. The Cold War was raging and the former World War II commander Dwight Eisenhower was president. The “sleep well tonight” slogan was a pretty common sight on billboards and in magazine ads. I recall one poster or billboard that showed a sprawling community with only a few streetlights glowing under an endless deep-blue sky filled with stars. Spread across the sky was the National Guard slogan.
These days, I suppose, a lot of folks would think such a poster was pretty hokey. When I was a young teenager with a big brother in the Guard, I thought it was a pretty awesome thing to have him and the other soldiers in his unit on duty in the dead of night, protecting the rest of us as we slept untroubled in our beds.
Well, my brother got out of the Guard eventually. I suppose he just served his hitch and then went about the rest of his life. After that, I didn’t think about the National Guard much. Like many other people, I’d hear of a friend whose son or daughter joined, often so they could eventually use the benefits to pay for a college education. All those years I wasn’t thinking about the Guard much, its soldiers were doing pretty much what my big brother had done, going to drills, going to camp, serving their hitches.
Then the nation began sending its Guard men and women off to active duty in danger spots with names that soon became familiar even to those of us who daydreamed in geography class. We all started thinking about the National Guard more often.
Last time the 200th was activated, they came back intact. A prayer that they do so again seems appropriate.