Loosing Our State Defense Force
I’ve always been amazed and delighted at how many compatriots in the liberty movement volunteer (e.g., donate to cancer patients, food banks, housing, relief to disaster victims, etc.) via PRIVATE efforts like churches, HealthSouth, missions, Red Cross, et al in Alabama. Our State continues to place around the top five in the nation in this regard in spite of how increasingly more is taken from Alabamians at the local, State and federal level. Of course, the statistics are in real terms and we are a low income State, nonetheless it still reveals the best of the Holy Spirit is holding on in the Heart of Dixie.
In 2009 (before mandatory auto insurance took what is now a $12,500/yr. loss of income, stolen vehicles via legal apparatus, made it clear not to make unnecessary trips) I considered and planned on joining the ASDF - a.k.a., Alabama State Defense Force. I attended three meetings and found it to be what I thought a State defense force was designed to be if we indeed operated under a Constitutional result. After the May 2010 injury reduced the time and money I could devote to efforts of this sort, I struck the ASDF from my ‘wish list’ as well as no longer donate platelets to cancer patients and give less money and no time to my church food bank.
Although out as a participant these past three years, I’ve told others serious about volunteering to directly help (esp. in an emergency) disaster victims they’d be wise to consider the ASDF. I continued to keep track of our defense force efforts through their (now former) Brigade Commander and my (mostly Tea Party) friends in the ASDF. Sadly, I can no longer
advocate for the ASDF. I thought this ‘open letter’ below from Alex Balkcum (ASDF Second Brigade Commander and also Disaster Chair, West Central Ga. Red Cross) would provide much better explanation than I on the matter:
Open Letter To:
Alabama Army Reserve National Guard HQ
ATTN: Directorate of Military Support
Thru: Brigadier General, AL Webb
Commander, Alabama State
Subject: How to destroy a volunteer force
and State asset
This open letter is to communicate and inform others of Alabama’s National Guard handling of the ASDF, a trained and qualified volunteer force willing and capable of reacting to emergencies within the State to bring comfort and assistance to emergency victims. The training, structure and wearing of a uniform separates the ASDF from all other volunteer responders which instills confidence and safety to those in an affected area. My goal is to help readers understand and fathom the huge loss of support personnel that would be working for free to render a forcemultiplying result to county/State responders as well as to local Red Cross and Volunteer Organization Assist in Disasters (VOADs) agencies. The Alabama National Guard (NG)
reaction to my efforts in July of this year is the reason for offering my resignation, knowing it would only be a matter of time before the NG destroyed the whole organization.
The short answer to address this letter’s subject is to turn it over to a government entity. Upon entering the ASDF back in 2009, leadership told me to go out and recruit the best volunteers who would actually show up in an emergency to render aid and comfort to affected citizens. With this task I set about recruiting retired (who maintained their certifications) nurses, chaplains, a licensed veterinarian, a Cardiac Profusionist, fire and rescue certified members, law enforcement members and veterans from several branches of the armed services. The unit quickly grew to over 50 members who attained the minimum FEMA courses (IS 100, 200, 700, 800); most having completed the Emergency Management’s Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training, all had CPR, 1st Aid training and could operate AED machines. Over a dozen members had HAM Radio licenses and personal radios.
Other than some hurricane events where the unit manned a local junior college twice for 50 and 35 displaced families little else presented us with a reason to be deployed for more than several hours at a time. For four consecutive years the unit assisted the Columbus/Phenix City Veterans Day Parade by lining up and positioning the 100+ participating bands, floats and dignitary vehicles which provided an example of this group of volunteers integrating with government agency efforts.
It seems growth and success of this sort set the stage for the eventual destruction of the ASDF. When devastating tornadoes hit North Alabama in April of 2011, nineteen members deployed under ASDF General Orders to Birmingham where en route we were directed to Legion Field and received a brief and directive to report to two separate Points of Distribution Sites (PODS). Before we could leave the staging area NG Headquarters cancelled our assignment and the unit was redirected to the Homewood NG Armory where all 19 well trained responders were assigned to watch an entry/exit gate and a loading dock door. After a day and a half of this misuse of personnel I told our ASDF folks to pack up and go home. Eight members requested permission to work in Tuscaloosa where our cardiac profusionist was raised, and they worked with a large Baptist Church to actively drop off aid bags, food, water and administered counsel/help to affected citizens and pets in this new mission - i.e., these efforts fall directly in line with CERT, Red Cross and our FEMA course training as the unit was designed to function.
On 23 July I officially resigned from the ASDF because of NG actions. My explicit reason to HQ was inability to meet twice per month in Birmingham. I was Commander of the 2nd Brigade attending HQ meetings in Montgomery as the State Recruiter, while tending to my 81 yr. old mother in Columbus began requiring more time. Since that announcement I’ve received several requests for guidance from members wanting a reason to stay in the ASDF. None of those who asked for my counsel knew I submitted my resignation, so I provided the original excuse. Several follow-on e-mail exchanges reflect the true concern my troops had toward all I had done for them and the ASDF, prompting this ‘open letter’ in explanation of my efforts and their outcome. Many in HQ and all in the 2nd Brigade knew I had been one of the biggest reasons the ASDF survived after the fallout following the N. Alabama tornadoes in Apr/May of 2011 result. The tornado event was the reason for my power point presentation, following guidance by then ASDF Maj. Gen. Nolan, for the Alabama National Guard. Accompanied by my Executive Officer, a communications expert, we presented our case.
Expecting a 15 to 20 minute opportunity to present the case for ASDF, I was pleasantly surprised to get almost 2 hours. The brief back to HQ did much to ease some minds, although many volunteers were still frantically shuffling to meet the initial (though non-binding) atrocious uniform changes and no training guidance. During my NG brief Col. Smitherman and Lt. Col. Hawkins of the Directorate of Military Support (DOMS) went to great lengths to explain the reason for firing our former Generals (Griscom and Harding) with respect to their constant lies about issues and requests sought by the DOMS. They were also unimpressed in their discussions with ASDF Col. Bradford for his views on ASDF training and use.
For the two years following the tornado event/debacle I continued to recruit and attempted to influence the direction for training and uses of our volunteer force. Many changes (mostly cosmetic) have occurred, but members continued to leave because the training as defined was still not being reflected in mission tasks written out and clarified by the NG.
In July, 2013 my former Operations Officer, Capt. Lankford, asked me to visit the Lagrange, GA Armory to see his Georgia SDF task to set up training stations and oversee the skills testing for these GA NG units of 70+ soldiers. Capt. Lankford had left the 204th Battalion ASDF because he didn't see the AL NG doing anything to improve morale and training since the tornadoes hit, even though he’d heard me and my Executive Officer assert that DOMS wanted ASDF to adopt the skills and appearance of the GA SDF. I accepted therequest and went over in cargo pants and a t-shirt. The NG unit's commander would later tell me he liked and respected the GA SDF’s work because it allowed him to test all his personnel without having to worry about bias grading or having to later ‘test the testers’ which requires even more time and
resources. I told the NG commander and Capt. Lankford, the GA SDF BDE XO, I sincerely appreciated the opportunity to observe. When asked if we would want to train-up and assist the GA SDF I said anything of this nature would have to go through my Alabama General (Brig. Gen. Webb) to the DOMS (Lt. Col. Hawkins) and then it would only be over subjects based on the current Mission Essential Task List (METL) which covered only communications related tasks. He and Capt. Lankford understood and stated any help would be fine if allowed by DOMS.
After this meeting I called Brig. Gen. Webb and filled him in on the events and informed him the GA NG would prepare a letter for submittal to the AL NG (DOMS) making it clear they had no problem with us assisting in their training if
acceptable to DOMS. My hope was to present this in person to Lt. Col. Hawkins (DOMS) at the 17 July HQ meeting so a full understanding of the events and issues may evolve. When discussed with Brig. Gen. Webb, he noted Lt. Col. Hawkins would not be available on the 17th, however the General was so pleased with the possibility of this opportunity, he tasked me to send the request and letter to Col. Clark (also Alabama) for forwarding to Lt. Col. Hawkins.
This is when Lt. Col. Hawkins goes ballistic! Though at no time did I commit myself, our unit, ASDF nor the AL NG to any portion of their training (only to the possibility/opportunity) the request pressed Brig. Gen. Webb to explain. Webb kindly told me he would take the heat on this but wanted a full layout of the events before meeting in person with Lt. Col. Hawkins. I met the General’s request, making it very clear there shouldn't be any heat as I hadn't (couldn’t) commit anyone (myself included) to do anything. I was only submitting a proposal for consideration that may be of benefit to the Alabama NG - should they want to move in a like direction with the ASDF for troop testing.
After Brig. Gen. Webb's meeting with Hawkins the general called and said he was going to have to relieve me from command of the 2nd Brigade but I could stay on as State Recruiter. My response was “to recruit for what?” making it clear I wouldn’t hang around for anymore unwarranted guff. Let me assure all that my goal was not to wear rank and look important. It was and remains my desire to train the best volunteers to serve the citizens of Alabama in an emergency and not simply be part of the Alabama NG Auxiliary. I am left to conclude Lt. Col. Hawkins stayed too long and got too close to Generals Griscom and Harding during his fact finding briefs. It seems lying is contagious - stating he like Gen. Smith
envisioned the ASDF would follow the GA SDF paradigm. I’ve talked with several State Congressional members over the past two years and though they agree something needs to be done it appears playing politics comes before addressing free aid, support and services for Alabama citizens’ benefit when they need them most.
On 14 Sep 2013, the Alabama NG
decided a free, highly trained military configured reactionary force capable of rendering aide and timely assistance to the citizens most adversely affected by disasters was outside their auxiliary minded capability to oversee. Alabama legislation is in place which holds volunteers (those with basic and professional skills) to be held harmless when making honest efforts to render aid. Today you are at the mercy of the person that stayed once at an express hotel.
Thank you Alabama National Guard,
Alex Balkcum (former 2nd Brigade Commander, ASDF)
Disaster Chair, West Central Georgia Red Cross
Regular readers of this column since 2009 will not be surprised I found Commander Balkcum’s text identifying the demise of these noble private relief efforts resulted from turning it over to a public entity the most revealing. I also ask folks not to bomb my e-mailbox with stories of conspiracy and malicious intent about this end result. Regardless of intent, the fact remains; Alabama lost a growing volunteer force to make timely relief efforts more effective in our State. The end result speaks for itself and it appears those in power (including the Legislature) will not address the matter. In closing, I do share the concern others express about the National Guard jettisoning citizen involvement/interaction and the growing implicit or explicit (does it matter?) fidelity to the federal government over State authority/sovereignty.
Postscript: I’d be remiss failing to wish the Alabama Gazette a Blessed 14th Anniversary - indeed the “Voice of Reason” in this current cycle of increasing folly and madness! It has been an honor to remain a Gazette writer another year; the only regret was my inability to do bi-weekly. May God grant the Gazette many more years applying His word and advancing the Holy Spirit to address modern problems resolved by the wisdom of many ages past.