18 May 2008

Chiefs Testify to Historic Impact of Guard, Reserves

The nation's top National Guard and reserve officers testified yesterday (May 14, 2008) to the monumental and historic response by their forces in the nation's defense since the terrorism attacks against the United States on Sept. 11, 2001.

The seven were called before the defense subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee to answer questions about the National Guard and reserves' 2009 budget. The senators thanked the chiefs for their service and that of their troops and asked what more Congress could do to help better prepare the services for future needs.

Each chief laid before the committee pages-long opening statements detailing their services' efforts in the war on terror. The chiefs of the Army, Navy, Air and Marine Corps reserves led the first hour-long panel, with the Army and Air National Guard and National Guard Bureau chiefs following for about the same amount of time. Questions to the group ranged from equipment shortfalls to post-deployment health concerns and family readiness.

Army Reserve Chief Lt. Gen. Jack C. Stultz said his service was transformed "overnight" from a strategic force in reserve to an operational force that is constantly deployed.

"Between 25(,000) and 30,000 Army Reserve soldiers are mobilized at any given time in the United States and in 18 other nations around the globe," Stultz said.

Almost 194,000 Army reservists have mobilized since 9/11. Still, despite the mission increase, Stultz said, their funding levels have not increased much above what they were during the Cold War.

The service's fiscal 2008 request of $7.1 billion is only about four percent of the Army base budget, he said.

For 2009, he has asked for more money for recruiting and retention, military education, more full-time positions and additional training days. The request also includes more money for construction of reserve centers, family programs, and post-deployment health assessments.

Marine Corps Reserve Chief Lt. Gen. Jack W. Bergman said that nearly one-third of his force has deployed outside the United States. In the past year, the component has activated and deployed 6,600 Marines in two rotations to operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom and is activating about 2,400 this year.

"While we continue to support the long war, it is not without a cost," he said. "Continuing activations and high reserve operational tempo highlights the fact that we have personnel challenges in some areas and we are putting additional strain on reserve equipment."

Bergman said the Marine Corps Reserve faces two main equipping challenges of supporting those deployed while at the same time resetting and modernizing the force.

Still, the chief said he believes that this level of operational tempo will continue and that his force is prepared to sustain the pace for the "foreseeable future."

"Every member of Marine Forces Reserve deployed in support of the long war is fully equipped with the most current authorized individual combat clothing and equipment," he said.

Deployed Marine Corps Reserve unit equipment readiness rates are above 90 percent. Ground equipment readiness rates for non-deployed Marine Reserve units average 88 percent

Air Force Reserve Chief Lt. Gen. John A. Bradley said that, for the last 17 years, his force has maintained a persistent presence in the U.S. Central Command area of operations. It started with Operation Desert Storm, and "we have been continually engaged, never leaving the Persian Gulf," he said.

The Air Force Reserve now has 74 C-17 Globemaster III and C-5 Galaxy airlift crews on long-term active-duty orders in support of the war on terror. Ten reserve KC-10 Extender crews are on active-duty supporting the air bridge, aerial refueling and other airlift requirements. Reserve F-16 Fighting Falcons and A-10 Thunderbolt IIs support operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom with regularly scheduled rotations. Eighteen crews and 12 fighter aircraft are sent to U.S. CentCom annually for close-air-support missions, Bradley said.

Also, Bradley said, 60 percent of aeromedical-evacuation sorties have been flown by Air Force Reserve crews. Since Sept. 11, 2001, the force has flown nearly 5,000 aeromedical-evacuation sorties, delivering 26,769 patients.

These missions, the chief said, have strained the component's maintenance budget.

"While we maintain sufficient combat readiness to meet our current missions, we are accepting risk in a number of critical areas. For example, depot purchased equipment maintenance is budgeted at 79 percent. This reduces aircraft availability for training and operations," he said.

Navy Reserve Chief Vice Admiral John G. Cotton said nearly 70,000 Navy reservists are deployed or in a strategic reserve ready to deploy with little notice.

Since 9/11, more than 50,000 Navy reservists have been mobilized in support of the war on terror, and on any given day, more than 21,000 sailors, or 30 percent of the Navy Reserve, are on some type of orders as part of the total naval workforce. This includes, he said, about 6,000 sailors mobilized in support of Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom.

Cotton cited recent successes in the readiness of his force. Four years ago, the Navy Reserve was deemed 63 percent medically ready to deploy. Today, the force is more than 84 percent medically ready, which leads all military components.

However, he cited a non-flexible orders-processing system as a constraint to the component's readiness initiatives "Our current system has roughly 30 types of duty, including inactive duty for training, inactive duty for training-travel, annual training, active duty for training, and active duty for operational support. Numerous funding categories of orders are inefficient, wasteful and inhibit Navy's ability to access reservists and quickly respond to fleet and [combatant command] requirements," Cotton said.

Chief of the National Guard Bureau Army Lt. Gen. H Steven Blum called 2007 a year of "historic proportions" for the National Guard.

At one point in the war on terror, National Guard members made up almost half of the ground forces in Iraq. He called the numbers of Guardsmen supporting the war overseas "staggering." Since 9/11, more than 400,000 Guardsmen have been mobilized in support of operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom.

This is in addition to the Guard's response to state emergencies. "Each day, an average of 17 governors call on their National Guard for everything from weather-related assistance to suspected anthrax contamination," Blum said in his submitted opening remarks.

Blum said that readiness for his force boils down to three things: people, equipment and training.

He said there needs to be an increase in the number of full-time personnel to help ready part-time units for deployment.

Regarding equipping the National Guard, Blum said recent commitments by Congress and DoD have boosted the Guard's readiness. "Equipment status is much better today than it was a year ago and will get better this year," he said.

Blum said the objective is to modernize the Guard force equal to that of its active-duty counterparts. Even now, though, Guard units deploy with the same equipment as active-duty units. It is the non-deployed units that still suffer from equipment shortages.

In 2006, the Army National Guard had about 40 percent of its equipment available domestically. As of Sept. 30, 2007, that rose to about 61 percent. By the end of 2009, it will be close to 70 percent, and by 2013, it will be 77 percent, Blum said.

The Air National Guard has most of its required equipment, but its challenge will be modernizing its aging fleet of aircraft.

More resources also are needed to train Guard members, Blum said.

"We must have the resources to train the force so that we don't have to waste time when these forces are separated from their families and their business to get training they should receive before they are called up for the service of this nation," he told the panel.

By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service

No comments: