Archived Opinion

National Guard soldiers deserve better

The Smoky Mountain News cover story last week about the troubles faced by returning National Guard soldiers after deployments in Irag and Afghanistan will hopefully open many people’s eyes to this issue.

Reporter Giles Morris wrote about the post-traumatic stress issues faced by Staff Sgt. Shane Trantham, but that story is likely shared by thousands of returning soldiers.

The meat of the issue is this: the National Guard soldiers don’t return home as full-time soldiers like their combat-duty comrades in the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines. They are citizen-soldiers, and when they come home they return to old jobs and try to resume their lives in small towns and communities.

The problem is that they don’t have the support system found at military bases. Full-time soldiers have military hospitals and counselors they can see for free, their spouses and families live next door to each other and share the war experience daily, and those soldiers don’t have to worry about what they’ll do for a job because most of them remain in the armed forces.

And here’s another reality: today’s soldiers — whether full-time or citizen-soldiers — face multiple deployments. In past wars when soldiers survived a stint on the front lines to return home, it was very unlikely they would be re-deployed to combat zones. That’s not the case with today’s leaner military force.

The Department of Defense is working to improve the services available to these returning vets — especially counseling services — but it still has a long way to go. As this country transforms its military to fewer full-time soldiers and more high-tech equipment, the National Guard has become a regular part of our combat force. The treatment of these part-time soldiers by the government, however, has not kept pace with the new role we’ve thrust them into. Spending more money to help transition these soldiers back into civilian life is a moral responsibility the U.S. government — and taxpayers — must embrace.

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A good deal at Wal-Mart

Speaking of spending money ...

It’s not a very sexy story, that’s for sure, but Haywood County commissioners made a wise move last week by deciding to purchase the old Wal-Mart near Tuscola High School.

The current Department of Social Services and Haywood County Health Department buildings are, in a word, dumps. They date from the 1920s and the 1950s, and trying to renovate buildings that old to meet today’s standards is simply a losing proposition.

The DSS building ranks in the bottom 1 percent of social service facilities in the state. Maybe there’s another county with a DSS building this in need of repair, but I’d have to see it to believe it.

No, there’s little argument about the need for new facilities, so then comes the argument about whether the county can afford the old building. If it gets the federal stimulus loan it is applying for, the interest rate will be as good a deal as possible. So now is a good time. Despite the recession, Haywood and every other county has a responsibility to provide certain services to its residents. Some people don’t want any money spent on health care for the low income or social services for the poor and elderly, but that’s an argument for another forum. The county must provide these services and do so in an adequate facility or face the loss of state funding.

Finally, the hulking, empty retail space was a blight. By renovating the building, putting several hundred workers into it and then the accompanying client base, this move will effectively re-energize that area of the county. If the designers do a good job on the exterior and all the green building attributes make their way into the final architectural plan, this facility could become a showcase of sorts.

Haywood’s commissioners deserve praise for this move, not the heat they’re taking from some.

(Scott McLeod can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

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