National Guard Will Work More Closely With Big Army After Wars
By Dan Parsons
Army National Guard leaders want to maintain the proficiency that soldiers have gained during lengthy combat deployments over the past 11 years, but a return to weekend warrior status won’t cut it.
National Guard troops will continue their activation and deployment rate through at least 2014, when the war in Afghanistan is scheduled to end. After that milestone, the Guard does not intend to change the close relationship it has formed with the active service, Lt. Gen. William E. Ingram, Army National Guard director, said at the Association of the United States Army’s annual exposition in Washington, D.C.
“Our next challenge is how do we maintain these great men and women in our ranks when the war fight slows down,” Ingram said. “We’re going to have to go back to the future and do those things we did well pre-9/11.”
A direct outgrowth of the militia system adopted in the American Colonies, the Army National Guard — along with the Air National Guard — is unique in that it serves not only as a domestic emergency response force but is also a force-generation resource for the Army proper in times of conflict. Add in that Guard forces are controlled by state governors, and the waters that separate the “Big Army” from the Guard are muddied further.
“It gets a little strange working inside … the active Army,” Ingram said. “Authorities inside the Pentagon don’t fully understand” the command structure: The Guard must often answer to state governors rather than federal authority.
But over the past 11 years at war, the two components have worked more closely than ever before, Ingram said.
That cooperation has supercharged the Guard’s mission to “man, train and equip” a supplemental army to support its larger parent service. Soldiers who before 9/11 showed up to training exercises one weekend a month and a couple of times a year for more intense drilling have benefitted from near-constant conditioning during year-long engagements to war zones, Ingram said.
As budgets dwindle and the Army leaders steel themselves for an 80,000-troop reduction, Ingram wants to continue rotational mobilizations and inclusion of Guard units in Army operations worldwide. Ingram envisions Guard units rotating through all of the U.S. combatant commands.
“We need to regionally align [Army National Guard] forces as well,” he said. “Not just combat forces, but the enablers as well.”
Ingram also wants the Guard to have a hand in emerging missions, like the cyber realm. They also want continued access to the Army’s stateside combat training centers.
Mobilizations of Guard units are scheduled to remain at their current levels through at least 2014 and could remain at those levels for training purposes beyond that timeframe, Ingram said. But the number of troops activated will decline. In fiscal year 2012, around 25,000 Guard troops were assigned to various combatant commanders around the globe. The number will drop to about 14,000 for in the current fiscal year, Ingram said.
Though it is a supplemental force whose troops hold down civilian jobs while not in uniform, the Guard is not immune to imminent budget cuts. The force has fared better, however, owing to the relative deal the Pentagon gets for its buck with non-professional soldiers. At 358,000 soldiers today, the Guard plans to give up around 10,000 troops between fiscal year 2014 and 2015. That represents the same number of personnel it gained in the previous decade to cope with demand for soldiers in two wars.
The Army National Guard is formed of 28 Brigade Combat Teams, two of which are Special Forces units. At the peak of its involvement, it fielded 8 of the 15 BCTs in Iraq while deploying another 50,000 troops to the Gulf Coast in response to Hurricane Katrina. At least five Guard BCTs are scheduled for deployment to Afghanistan before 2014, Ingram said.
That won’t keep the National Guard from its primary domestic mission of emergency response, as it did in 2011 when units were in route to Joplin, Mo., “before the wind stopped blowing” from a massive tornado that nearly erase the town,” Ingram said. In fiscal year 2012, the National Guard devoted more than 400,000 man-hours to domestic operations.
“We are the choice force for domestic operations,” he said. “Training for the fight allows us to do domestic operations very well.”
But fighting overseas wars and acting primarily as a supplemental force for a thinly stretched Army have left the Guard with headaches at home, where it is the “face on Main Street, America, of the United States Army,” Ingram said. The service’s facilities are deteriorating. Many are 50 years old and have been overtaken by encroaching development where once they were on the edge of town, Ingram said.
“They don’t reflect the professionalism and capability of the people who occupy those facilities,” he said.
There’s little hope the National Guard will be able to replace its aging infrastructure. Buildings will have to compete with a hefty maintenance bill that comes as an aftershock of being “blessed with fantastic equipment” over the past decade, Ingram said. With the impending shift in focus to the Pacific region, the Guard is, like the Army, trying to carve a role for itself. Ingram was more candid than many officers at the conference on that point.
“There is a food fight going on right now among the services” for funding,” he said. With the air-sea battle concept that has dominated strategic planning discussions of late, Ingram said the “blue guys [Air Force and Navy] got together on that one and it’s odd-man-out for the Army.”
As a dual-purpose force with an important domestic role, the National Guard may weather the coming budget storm relatively unscathed. The only certainty is that the Defense Department’s pot of money “is going to get smaller,” Ingram said.
“Nobody knows how much smaller. Sequestration could be devastating,” he said. “But I have faith in the Congress that they are not going to let that happen. Right?”
The hundreds-strong audience returned nervous laughter.
Photo Credit: Defense Dept.