March 12, 2003 – So far, 10 V.I. National Guard members attached to the 610th water supply unit are the only group from the Virgin Islands who have shipped out to take their part in Operation Enduring Freedom/Noble Eagle.
The 10 water specialists reported to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, to team up with another unit of water specialists from Virginia, VING spokesman Osbert Potter said. He said he had not received any information as to whether they have left Fort Bragg for assignment in the Persian Gulf. Their job is to purify and store water.
National guard troops throughout the United States all get identical training, Potter said, and before they are deployed to a potential combat area they are re-evaluated. "If we sent soldiers who are unprepared, they would be sent home," he said.
A full-page paid advertisement in local print newspapers on March 3 suggested otherwise. The ad, in the form of an open letter to the V.I. government, declared the guard in disarray in the territory.
As the nation moves closer to a major conflict with Iraq, it said, the "loyal guardsmen will soon decide they will not play a part in the defense of this country or these islands if something isn't done soon." The unidentified author or authors also charged that V.I. National Guard has the highest complaint rate nationwide for harassment, discrimination and inequities. It was not clear whether this referred to personnel within the local guard ranks making such complaints or external personnel complaining about the V.I. guard.
No substantiation was provided for the claims made. The names of nine people appeared in the ad, all listed as retirees. Efforts to reach the individuals by telephone were unsuccessful except for former Sgt. 1st Class Patricia Roberts.
Her comment: "I don't have anything to say because I don't know who put my name in the paper." She did not say whether she agreed or not with the sentiments in the ad.
An anonymous caller claiming to be a member of the V.I. National Guard for more than 20 years reported having sought legal advice about a situation involving sexual harassment within the guard. This individual referred queries to the V.I. guard's inspector general, Lt. Col. Arthur Shemwell.
Shemwell said his office functions much like the Inspector General's Office of the V.I. government or the U.S. Interior Department. But as a member of the U.S. Army, he said, he could not comment on complaints within the V.I. National Guard.
"I cannot by regulation or by my position make any comments on that," he said of the published "open letter."
Delegate Donna M. Christensen said her office has "been getting complaints over the last couple of years" concerning the V.I. National Guard. She did not wish to discuss the concerns brought to her attention but said she had passed them on to the chief of the National Guard Bureau, Gen. Russell C. Davis. However, she said, in the midst of their communications Davis had retired.
Christensen also said that recently, after mulling it over with staff members, she decided to approach Gov. Charles W. Turnbull, who as governor is the commander-in-chief of the V.I. National Guard, about the concerns. But at the time she sought to speak with the governor, she said, he was off island.
Reports aired last week on WVWI Radio said Christensen also has heard concerns expressed about the V.I. guard from off-island military sources. "I don't want to elaborate on that part," she said this week.
The delegate expressed doubt that any internal problems would lead guard members to resign en masse, as the open letter suggested, especially in light of a pending war. "We haven't gotten a barrage of calls from people saying 'We don't want to go,'" she said.
In recent times, Virgin Islands guard members have served in Bosnia with the peacekeeping mission in Kosovo and have responded to natural disasters and other emergencies. "Whenever they're called, they go," Christensen said.
And because they train for duty both at home in the territory and abroad with other guard units, Potter said, they are always ready.

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