WORCESTER, Mass. –
“Once you take the uniform off and go into retirement and you get asked to come back in to be of service, it’s hard not to say yes.” said Brig. Gen. (Ret.) Gary Pappas, Commander, Massachusetts State Defense Force.
After 37 years in uniform and being retired for roughly six years; Pappas and the slightly less than two dozen other retired Soldiers were ushered back into service when the MSDF was officially activated during a brief ceremony at the Massachusetts National Guard Museum and Archives, here, May 31, 2011.
While their numbers are currently small, this force of volunteers is expected to grow to a much larger entity.
”What we really need is … highly skilled sections of professionals and specialists that can support us,” said Brig. Gen. Paul G. Smith, Assistant Adjutant General, Massachusetts National Guard.
The MSDF will be comprised of civilian volunteers who have needed skills in very specific areas (Clergy, medical and legal professionals to name a few) and former and or retired honorably discharged members from all branches and components of the U.S. Military who have special skills (logistics, personnel and public affairs are some areas).
The type of missions the MSDF are hoping to assist with can range from a planned major event of national importance in the state (the 2004 Democratic National Convention), to a major civil disturbance (large scale rioting) or a natural disaster occurring (a tornado as powerful as the one that struck Joplin, Missouri).
Smith emphasized that this does not mean that the Guard, even with some of its Servicemembers deployed overseas, is not able to respond to a major event/emergency/disaster in the state.
“We have seen, be it Operation Big Ice, floods or a whole host of other challenges that we have faced; The Massachusetts Army and Air National Guard step up,” said Timothy P. Murray, Lieutenant Governor, Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
The role of the MSDF is to support the Guard, not replace it.
“The National Guard gets tasked to provide liaison officers to various cities and state entities during an emergency. We have only so many officers,” said Maj. Bryan Pillai, Homeland Security Planner, Massachusetts Army National Guard, “ If we could take an experienced former military officer who understands how we work and is adept at current practices and standard operating procedures and have them assume that role, then we have another National Guardsman to put out on the street.”
For Smith, the MSDF is part of the evolution of the state’s militia while the Guard itself is being transformed from a strategic force into an operational force due to its part in the Global War on Terror.
“When we ourselves (the Massachusetts National Guard) were a strategic reserve, we didn’t have the immediate needs for another organization to support us and augment us,” said Smith. “What we hope the state defense force will provide …is expertise. From senior leaders and professionals … who will augment, support and even mentor some of our National Guard personnel in those positions.”
A non military area the MSDF is looking to be able to support is in the field of medicine.
“The federal government maintains what are called Federal Medical Stations,” said Pillai, “They are basically mid-level hospital units that can be deployed (to a disaster area), but they don’t come with people. What we’re trying to do is contribute to the Commonwealth’s resiliency and say that if you can provide the logistics, we’ll provide the skilled personnel who’ve already trained in that type of environment and know what to do.”
Massachusetts is one of a few states in the nation who have an organization such as the MSDF.
“Emergencies get continually more complex,” said Pillai, “What we need to be able to respond to them grows exponentially as time goes on. This will be another tool for the Commonwealth to be able to use.”
For Pappas, the biggest tool his retired troops can offer their fellow citizens is their military experience.
“Why throw it away,” said Pappas, “Can the Guard use that kind of experience to help out with domestic operations … sure.
Follow this link for more information about joining the MSDF.