03 February 2008

Officials Call Guard-Reserve Report 'Fundamentally Flawed'

Photo Right: Army Lt. Gen. H. Steven Blum, chief of the National Guard Bureau, comments critically, during a 1 Feb. 2008, Pentagon press conference, on several of the recommendations contained in the recently released 400-page report of the Commission on the National Guard and Reserves. Blum was joined at the lectern by Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense Paul McHale who also found much in the report to disagree with. Defense Dept. photo by R. D. Ward

Core elements of a congressional commission's report aimed at overhauling the U.S. military's reserve forces are "fundamentally flawed," Defense Department officials said today.

The Commission on the National Guard and Reserves yesterday delivered its final report to Congress and Pentagon officials. The report included 95 recommendations on transitioning the reserves into a feasible and sustainable operational reserve.

At the crux of the Defense officials' objection to the report is a recommendation that would in effect make the National Guard a domestic response force for civil emergencies, essentially eliminating its go-to-war mission.

"That is sharply at odds with the position that we have taken in our strategy for homeland defense and civil support," said Paul McHale, assistant secretary of defense for homeland defense and Americas' security affairs, speaking to journalists at the Pentagon. "We believe that the National Guard has a primary role to play in domestic disaster response -- but that mission assignment should not be to the exclusion of National Guard's traditional war-fighting missions overseas."

The recommendation is that the Defense Department shift capabilities useful for state-controlled responses to domestic emergencies to the National Guard, and shift capabilities in the National Guard that are not required for state missions, but are required for its federal missions, to the military reserve components or active-duty military.

This would in effect place nearly all civil support capabilities within the National Guard and move wartime missions to the federal military.

"What the ... commission is recommending ... is that the National Guard become a domestic disaster response capability exclusively. We think that's wrong," McHale said.

Alongside McHale at the briefing today was National Guard Bureau Chief, Army Lt. Gen. H Steven Blum. He said that the active-duty military could not feasibly fill the gaps left my removing the Guard from its wartime mission. Right now, the Guard makes up 40 percent of the combat power of the U.S. military. More than 355,000 serve troops in the Army National Guard and 106,000 in the Air Guard.

"We would unhinge the volunteer force, and we would break the total force," Blum said.

Department officials are also at odds with the recommendation to place active-duty military forces under the command and control of the governors of the states in which they are deployed.

"Fifty different governors will command our active duty military forces in a patchwork quilt of command and control that would guarantee an inability to achieve unity of command and unity of effort in a crisis," McHale said.

That recommendation, he said, is at odds with the federal system of government and Article II of the Constitution.

"There can be only one commander-in-chief, and that is the president of the United States," McHale said. "To decentralize that command and control to 50 separate state governors invites confusion."

Another recommendation by the commission would cut reservists' drill pay in half. The commission recommends reducing the 29 duty status codes the reserves now have to only two – either on active duty or not.

Photo Left: Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense Paul McHale comments critically on several of the recommendations contained in the recently released report of the Commission on the National Guard and Reserves during a Feb. 1, 2008 Pentagon press conference. Defense Dept. photo by R. D. Ward

The problem is that reservists now get four days pay for a two day drill period. The commission recommends one day's pay, for one day's work. The drilling reservist would receive, for the same duty, half the pay he is currently receiving. Or they would have to put in twice as many duty days to receive the same pay.

"We believe that is a mistake," McHale said. "We believe it is precisely the wrong message to be sent to National Guardsmen and Reservists who at this point in our history are deserving of our appreciation and respect. Their compensation ought not be cut."

The pay cut could have also an impact on recruiting and retention, he said.

"We believe that this proposal moves in precisely the wrong direction in terms of encouraging reserve participation and expressing appreciation for the sacrifice that reservists and their families have made in support of our nation," McHale said.

Department officials disagreed with the harsh criticism leveled at the disaster preparedness of the nation yesterday by the commission chairman, retired Marine Maj. Gen. Arnold Punaro.

McHale called some of Punaro's characterizations "unfortunate and inaccurate" and said that, while some plans are still being developed, the Department could respond to a disaster and has both trained personnel and up-to-date equipment in place.

McHale pointed to the National Guard's 53 certified civil support teams and 17 chemical emergency response force packages modeled after the Marine Corps chemical, biological incident response force.

"Our department's catastrophic response capabilities are the best funded, best equipped, best trained in the world," McHale said.

The secretary said that most of these plans and resources didn't exist before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The Defense Department is in the final stages of identifying and resourcing task forces made up of 15,000 department personnel trained and equipped to respond to a domestic detonation of a weapon of mass destruction.

"That kind of capability has never existed in such a task organization during the history of the Department of Defense," McHale said.

The department is developing plans to respond to nuclear detonations and multiple dirty bomb, chemical and anthrax attacks, as well as hurricanes and earthquakes. They should be final in the next year, he said.

Blum addressed the equipment shortfalls identified in the report. Punaro said yesterday that nearly 90 percent of the National Guard is not combat ready, lacking adequate funding, training and equipment.

Blum said that the report was accurate, but did not account for what he called and "unprecedented" $45 billion in funding being channeled into the Guard to fix those problems. By next year 69 percent of the forces should be equipped and 77 percent by 2013.

"We didn't get into that problem overnight. And we're not going to dig out of it in one night," Blum said.

Also, Blum said, at the end of 2013 the Guard will represent an organization that is equipped as a fully modernized, mirror-image of the active force, for the first time in the nation's history.

McHale and Blum both acknowledged that some of the proposals by the commission had merit, and even validated some of the policies and changes made by the department in the past four years.

"There are many parts of this report that are of value," McHale said. "We are not rejecting this report out of hand."

Army Maj. Gen. Guy Swan III, director of operations for U.S. Northern Command, which is responsible for homeland defense, told the American Forces Press Service in an interview that he also feels that the report was "necessary" and is "of some utility," but he said it doesn't apply correctly to the current situation.

"The report paints a picture that, in my view, is more dated than anything else," Swan said. He mentioned that many in his command are disappointed at how critical the report has been "because much of what is in that report has been addressed through a variety of means over the past couple of years."

Swan said that "if you looked at the report two years ago or three years ago, it was probably quite accurate," but many of the reports' criticisms have been acted upon in the past year or two.

Over the past couple of years he has spent serving within NORTHCOM, Swan said he has "seen remarkable cooperation and improvements with the National Guard, with the Department of Homeland Security and other federal agencies."

He said the command relies heavily upon the National Guard in order to accomplish its mission.

"We cannot do our mission at NORTHCOM without coordination and cooperation with the National Guard. It just can't be done," Swan said. "We see the guard as part of the broader friendly forces that might be involved in an operation, along with first responders, state emergency management personnel, and other federal agencies."

But Swan reiterated that the National Guard has a "viable, needed wartime mission." He said he does not think reducing the Guard's role simply to homeland defense would be a good move.

"I don't think we want to have a National Guard that is one dimensional. Frankly, I think the Guard is better than that," Swan said. "It has been demonstrated during operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Balkans. They are a multidimensional force, and they can do the homeland operations as well."

Swan said he doesn't think the Guard should be limited to either a wartime mission or a homeland defense mission. He said there are shortfalls in resourcing, which the report has been helpful in identifying, and those issues are being dealt with in the appropriate Defense Department forums.

"I don't think it's an issue of either or. It is to some degree an issue of resources, and that is being addressed," Swan said. "In my view, the Guard needs to be part of the national defense establishment writ large."

By Fred W. Baker III American Forces Press Service
(John Valceanu of the American Forces Press Services contributed to this article.)

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