Largest mobilization of the Pennsylvania Army National Guard’s 28th Division since the Korean War

FORT INDIANTOWN GAP (Aug. 15) -- The year 2002 will go down in history as the busiest mobilization period for the Pennsylvania National Guard since the Korean War, when the entire 28th Division was called up to reinforce NATO defenses in Germany.

            Members of the 28th Division had known for years of the upcoming deployment involving hundreds of soldiers in August 2002 to assume command of the U.S. part of the NATO peace support mission in Bosnia.  Training for this mission began in earnest in spring 2001.

            On Sept. 11, 2001, planes, hijacked by terrorists, destroyed the World Trade Center in New York City, attempted to destroy the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and crashed in Somerset County, Pa.  The events of that day changed everything for the Pennsylvania National Guard and everyone else.

            Members of the Pennsylvania National Guard were deployed to guard airports and nuclear power plants throughout the commonwealth.  Others were deployed to assist with guarding the nation’s skies and with control of the nation’s borders.

            Then, in March 2002, plans were announced to mobilize another 2,100 28th Division soldiers for Task Force Keystone, a new post-Sept. 11 mission to strengthen security at U.S. military installations throughout Europe.  To minimize the impact on Pennsylvania communities, Task Force Keystone would be drawn from 28th Division units all across the commonwealth.

            A few months later, the Army announced that the number of Pennsylvania National Guard soldiers to be deployed to Bosnia as part of Task Force Eagle would be doubled in size from the previously planned 500.

            This expansion was also a direct result of Sept. 11, in that active-duty soldiers who were supposed to make up the maneuver element of the task force would now be needed for commitments elsewhere as part of the new global war on terrorism.

            In May, approximately 600 members of the 28th Division’s 109th Infantry and 104th Cavalry received official word that they would be mobilized for up to nine months to make up the maneuver element of Task Force Eagle.

            As Adjutant General, Maj. Gen. William B. Lynch pointed out, the change of the maneuver element from active Army to National Guard was historic in that for the first time in the nearly six-year history of the Bosnian peace support mission, the National Guard would make up “virtually the entire American military presence.”

            Moreover, Pennsylvania’s 28th Division would form “the core of that force,” Lynch added.

            The need to prepare and deploy 3,100 soldiers in a compressed period – May through August – required Fort Indiantown Gap, for the first time since the Korean War in the 1950s, to temporarily resume its historic war-time role of supporting large-scale troop mobilizations.

            While Fort Dix was the soldiers’ final departure point before heading for Bosnia and elsewhere in Europe, a large part of the training and all the initial administrative and medical screening of the troops took place at Fort Indiantown Gap.

            This was done to ease the wartime burden on Fort Dix as an active-duty mobilization station and to ensure the Pennsylvania Army National Guard soldiers would be as well prepared as possible before boarding the buses for New Jersey.

            Aside from the thousands mobilized at Fort Indiantown Gap, more than 2,000 soldiers were brought here at different times from May through August to provide the vast array of support services required to prepare the troops for deployment such as training and training resources, transportation, maintenance and meals, to name a few.

            In all, the post-Sept. 11 demands the nation has placed upon the Pennsylvania Army National Guard in 2002, when added to missions the state already had such as fielding its first Bradley Fighting Vehicles from the active-Army and preparing to provide the Army with its only Reserve Component Interim Combat Brigade, are perhaps unprecedented in commonwealth history.

            “As far as I know, there has never been a period in our history where we’ve had such a challenging mix of federal and state missions simultaneously,” said Brig. Gen. John von Trott, the 28th Division’s assistant commander for maneuver, and now, commander of Task Force Eagle in Bosnia.  “It’s a very unique time. It’s not all 9/11-driven, but 9/11 certainly expanded our responsibilities.”

            Pennsylvania Gov. Mark Schweiker has also noted the “service and sacrifice” of Pennsylvania’s citizen-soldiers during this time.

            As of August, Lynch noted more than 4,000 Pennsylvania Army and Air National Guard soldiers and airmen, counting Task Forces Eagle and Keystone, have now been mobilized to serve in various capacities.

            “That number is larger than the size of the entire National Guard in many other states,” Lynch added.

            Yet more than 16,000 Pennsylvania soldiers and airmen remain at home, where they continue their part-time military training and stay available for state service in case of natural disaster or civil emergency.