ALBANY, Ga. — Brig. Gen. Joe Jarrard, commander of the Georgia Army National Guard, explained the roles of the Georgia Guard during an address before the Dougherty County Rotary Club Tuesday.
"Basically, the guard has two purposes," Jarrard said. "We provide ready forces for combative commanding officers throughout the world, and we're there to serve the governor if something happens in the state."
According to Jarrard, the Georgia Guard consists of three separate operations: the Army Guard, the Air Guard, commanded by Maj. Gen. Thomas Moore, and the Georgia State Defense Force, commanded by Brig. Gen. Jerry Bradford. Army and Air guards come under the same umbrella, Jarrard said, and are overseen by the National Guard Bureau in Washington, D.C.
The State Defense Force is a volunteer operation of around 14,000 personnel, responding to assist state or local police and civic organizations in emergency situations.
Jarrard said the Georgia Air Guard consists of wings in Savannah and at Robins Air Force Base. While the Savanna wing flies C130 transport aircraft, the 116th Air Control Wing at Robins is the only air base with JSTAR aircraft, a sophisticated high-tech surveillance plane.
"The JSTAR is a big airplane with a lot of sensors that can look down on the ground and talk to its commanders," Jarrard said. "I'm talking about reading license plates from about 18 miles. That sort of thing."
According to Jarrard, while most people know the Army Guard has served in Iraq and Afghanistan, many are unaware of the degree Guard members have been deployed.
"We've been in Kosovo, Japan, Qatar, Zanzibar, Malaysia and others," Jarrard said. "As we draw down in Afghanistan, we're as capable as we've ever been. That's because of this war on terror, because we've been mobilizing continually for the past 12 years."
One of the specialized units within the Army Guard is the 22-member Georgia 4th Civil Support Team, Jarrard said. The team maintains a 24/7 response capability toward chemical, radiological and similar threats within the state. The team is located at Dobbins Air Reserve Base and is part of the Homeland Response Force.
"(The team members) have a van with equipment to analyze potentially dangerous chemicals and other substances. They also sweep the stadiums before bowl games and manage to hang around for the games," Jarrard joked.
The Guard also maintains the Georgia Youth ChallenNGe Academy at Fort Stewart and Fort Gordon. The academy initiative is aimed at helping troubled, high school dropouts, Jarrard said. Nominated youth go through a five-month resident phase, during which they are mentored and taught self-discipline. Graduates are monitored for an additional 18 months.
"Most of them get their GEDs out of it," Jarrard said. "It gives them an opportunity to accomplish something and be a productive member of society."
Jarrard is more and more concerned, he said, with the specter of sequestration, or mandatory budget cutbacks, for the Guard and government in general.
"We're all waiting for the hammer to fall," he said. "We go to Washington and talk with senators on a regular basis. All we're hearing is that everyone is preparing for sequestration. The good news is that we've started a lot of our construction, so that will continue. We do believe there will be a lot of cuts in personnel, temporary and civilian. We just don't have definitive answers to all that right now."