GRAFENWÖHR, Germany — More U.S. citizen soldiers will train in Europe if the National Guard’s top enlisted soldier has his way.

Command Sergeant Major of the Army National Guard John D. Gipe wrapped up a tour of U.S. Army Europe with a visit to Grafenwöhr on Tuesday, encouraging more states to send National Guard troops to Europe for training.

“We can do a lot of things for the Guard here that are not taken advantage of,” the 50-year-old Floyds Knobs, Ind., native said.

National Guard engineers from several states come to the Joint Multinational Readiness Center at Hohenfels each summer to build mock towns designed to simulate battle space in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Gipe, who also visited Hohenfels this week, said only a few states are involved in the training but that he’ll encourage more to take advantage of it at a meeting of National Guard state representatives later this year.

“It (the Hohenfels construction) allows our soldiers to train in their MOS (military occupational specialty). It is good, relevant training because they are involved in combat scenarios (for other units training at Hohenfels). They may be attacked while doing their mission. And it saves the Army millions of dollars (on the cost of building mock towns at Hohenfels),” he said.

Training in Europe is a good option for National Guard troops after they return from deployment to Global War on Terrorism missions, Gipe said.

“You have soldiers looking at whether they want to stay in or get out. Bringing them here where they have all this great equipment available … it gives soldiers a chance to see a part of the world they would not normally see. It is good for retention,” he said.

In the U.S., many National Guard units are short of equipment, which can limit training, he said.

However, the prospect of deploying has not hurt retention, he said.

“You would think retention would be low … that we would have trouble recruiting,” he said. “Right up front we tell soldiers they are going to be mobilized. But record numbers are signing up.”

The National Guard has gone from a force of 330,000 three years ago to a force of 357,000 today, he said.

“We are no longer a strategic reserve. We are an operational force and plan to be for the foreseeable future,” he said.

In addition to the Hohenfels engineer training, National Guard troops are involved in State Partnership for Peace projects with several European nations, National Guard military police officers are in Germany and Italy providing force protection, and National Guard infantrymen are at Hohenfels helping 1st Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment provide an opposing force for units training there, Gipe said.

There are also a large number of National Guard troops in Europe coordinating training with active-duty units, he said.

There are 43,000 National Guard troops deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. The goal is to provide about 55,000 National Guard troops each year for the missions, Gipe said.

Combat tours for National Guard are set at 12 months, which includes a 60-day training period. Gipe said the 12-month tours are about the right length but added that the National Guard needs to do more for small employers who give employees leave to deploy and guardsmen who leave their own businesses to deploy.

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Seth Robson is a Tokyo-based reporter who has been with Stars and Stripes since 2003. He has been stationed in Japan, South Korea and Germany, with frequent assignments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Australia and the Philippines.

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