08:49 AM EST on Thursday, December 30, 2010
By Katie Mulvaney
Journal Staff Writer
While Cummings has had success re-acclimating, other Rhode Island National Guardsmen had a tough year. Three guardsmen committed suicide within 30 days early in the year and a fourth died two months earlier in an accidental drowning.
They are called citizen soldiers. They work as prison guards, police officers, investment portfolio managers, Harvard University professors. And at any moment, they could be called to fight a war or lend a hand during a natural disaster and leave their jobs and loved ones behind.
They are Rhode Island National Guardsmen and women, and they trace their history to the first Colonial defense force started in Portsmouth in 1638. Today, they number 3,300, with 2,200 in the Army National Guard and 1,100 in the Air National Guard. They serve at the behest of the U.S. president and Rhode Island’s governor, fulfilling federal and state missions under Adjutant Gen. Robert T. Bray’s leadership.
And since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, they’ve seen the country’s second-highest per-capita deployment rate behind South Dakota with 5,600 mobilizations — a figure only surpassed in Rhode Island during the Civil War. They are in demand because they are skilled in providing support services to soldiers on the frontlines as military police officers and helicopter pilots.
In addition, as the governor’s militia, 614 Rhode Island National guardsmen and guardswomen helped with traffic control and evacuations during the spring floods. Another 206 were activated to assist during Hurricane Earl.
“There’s a minuteman ethos to drop their figurative plowshares and pick up their muskets,” says Lt. Col. Denis J. Riel, spokesman for the state Guard.
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