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February 13, 2003

Colonel Challenges Guard Commander

By Richard Benke
The Associated Press
  —   High-tech equipment vanished and large numbers of soldiers have quit the New Mexico National Guard in disillusionment, a veteran colonel said.
    The state needs new laws to help bring in new Guard leadership, Col. Jack Jones said Wednesday, referring to legislation that was forwarded without a recommendation by the House Government and Urban Affairs Committee Thursday.
    And Jones, a highly decorated ex-chief of staff for the Army's elite 10th Mountain Division command in Kosovo, said he might face a court-martial for speaking out against Adjutant Gen. Randy Horn and comparing the rash of equipment losses to the scandals at Los Alamos National Laboratory.
    "We may not be as big as Los Alamos, but we are as bad as Los Alamos," Jones said. "We've lost 10 guns and a SINGARS radio. And nobody has held anybody accountable."
    Los Alamos National Laboratory has come under scrutiny because of purchase card abuses and missing equipment including computers.
    The guns lost in Roswell included five .45-caliber pistols and five carbines. The SINGARS radio is a high-tech field-communication set that pulses transmissions across several frequencies, making them difficult to jam.
    Horn said the missing inventory was not comparable to the problems at the lab.
    The investigation into what happened to the weapons, the radio and a $30,000 generator is proceeding normally, he said.
    Gov. Bill Richardson has said he wouldn't want to replace an adjutant at a time when the nation seems headed for war, and Horn criticizes the legislation for politicizing the military.
    "There are some folks who would rather see the Guard more politicized," Horn said.
    Regulations currently limit removal of an adjutant only for cause, by court-martial, or by efficiency board appointed under National Guard regulations, he said.
    The measure by Rep. Henry "Kiki" Saavedra, D-Albuquerque, would allow the governor to appoint three people to "a state efficiency board" to determine the specific causes for removal.
    Jones and retired Col. Andy Trottier said the Guard and Horn are already politicized. They contend Horn's appointment by longtime friend Gary Johnson, the ex-governor, was pure politics.
    A year remains on Horn's five-year term. And, disagreeing with Richardson's reluctance, Jones said the time to replace an adjutant   —   if one needed replacing   —   should be before war breaks out, not afterward.
    "This isn't personal. I like Randy Horn," Jones said. "But I've got several hundred Guardsmen asking me to help . . . soldiers who are in a hurt-locker about this."
    One of the soldiers' main criticisms is a backlog of undone personnel evaluations. Jones provided figures showing the Army National Guard is behind on about 1,000 evaluations. Without evaluations, Jones said, soldiers cannot be promoted or even qualify for special training. They are left in limbo, and thus leave faster than recruiters can replace them, Jones and Trottier said.
    But Horn said that everyone is evaluated annually.
    Taxes are due every year, but "you don't have to pay them until April 15," Horn said.
    Horn described his challengers as "mostly people who retired from the National Guard who have axes to grind."
    Some see themselves as his replacement, he said.
    Jones has six months to go before his retirement   —   unless he is promoted to general, Horn said Thursday.
    The only way Jones could stay in the Guard would be if Richardson fired Horn and appointed Jones to replace him, Horn said.
    "This is his (Jones')

last hurrah," Horn said.
    But Jones said he was not thinking of his career.
    "I'm here because soldiers have asked me to be here," he said.
    Jones said he already has had a career, and it was "three times more than General Horn's."
    Another provision of the proposed new law would make former Guard officers eligible for the adjutant's job for up to five years after leaving the Guard.
    There are about 4,000 National Guard members in New Mexico, including 3,000 in the Army Guard and 1,000 in the Air Guard. But the Army component is several hundred short of required strength.
    The state chronically ranks among the lowest nationally and cannot seem to keep its Guard troops.
    "The recruiters are doing their job," Jones said.
    They sign up 1,000 recruits a year only to lose 1,100, Trottier said.
    Jones said the New Mexico Guard has been 53rd or 54th nationally, at or near the bottom on actual vs. authorized troop strength for at least three years, according to the National Guard Bureau.
    But in recent weeks, Horn was able to deploy 329 soldiers to guard New Mexico Air Force bases. That redeployment allows the soldiers to be categorized differently, thus moving the state up from 53rd to 38th, according to figures furnished by the National Guard Bureau.
    But Jones calls the statistical shift cosmetic.
    What isn't cosmetic, however, is the deployment of more than 160 members of New Mexico's 720th Transportation Company as part of the buildup in southwest Asia, preceding a possible war with Iraq.
    "We've got a job to do with the 720th, and we're going to do that, and we're not going to be distracted by naysayers and negative influences from doing our job," Horn said.
    But Jones, who received the Legion of Merit and the Defense Superior Service medal after his hitch in Afghanistan, notes that the 720th is being deployed without its commander or its 1st sergeant because neither could qualify for the tasks ahead. And that, he said, weakens the unit as it heads for possibly dangerous situations carrying equipment like tanks and other armored vehicles on tractor-trailer rigs.