July 22, 2005
The National Guard and homeland securityBy Douglas Hanson
Tectonic plates are moving in our Total Army force structure. Strategies and units are being realigned from the default Cold War stasis of decades past. World—wide operations in the War on Terror have shown that in many cases the National Guard is unable to satisfy the required troop strength levels for repeated overseas deployments without adversely affecting unit manning and recruitment goals.
For 30 years, the Guard has been largely configured as combat arms formations designed as a supplementary force to 'round out' active Army combat divisions. In other words, reserve manpower to augment combat formations in mid— to high— intensity wars. The Army has wisely determined that the Guard's proper focus should return to protecting our homeland.
The Chief of the National Guard Bureau has announced a major strategy change for the Guard. Army Lt. Gen. Steven Blum said that the Guard will play a significant role in Homeland Defense and Homeland Security.
In an interview, Lt. Gen Blum noted that,
This is a strong indication that the National Guard will revert to a more traditional role of remaining stateside to provide a much—needed military capability to handle a variety of homeland defense and security missions, including WMD response.
Strains on the old structure
It has been apparent that Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom have stretched the Guard to its limit. Its units have deployed around the world and fought courageously alongside their active duty counterparts. But the Global War on Terror is not the one—time, 'do or die' battle against the Warsaw Pact envisioned by defense planners in the 70s. The Guard now faces the prospect of extended deployments to hazardous and unpleasant spots around the world on a routine basis, and its ability to meet tough overseas deployment criteria for the long—term cannot be maintained.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is playing a characteristically smart game in making the available military resources go much farther and make better use of them for the new missions we face in the War on Terror. But he has also had to deal with a total force whose active component was cut too severely in the 90s. Defense planners had no choice but to include National Guard units in contingency mission force packages that were traditionally composed of active duty forces. The planners knew that these were missions the Guard would be hard—pressed to accomplish without an undue amount of preparation and training.
The new mission of the National Guard dovetails closely with the earlier—announced findings of the Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC). It directed huge changes in force structure realignment and armory consolidation.
When the BRAC list was released, a detailed breakout of 'Closure and Realignment Impacts by State' it showed that over 170 small Army Reserve Centers and over 200 National Guard armories will be closed, saving several thousand military and civilian full—time technician spaces. A significant portion of the reserve force structure has been based on widely scattered, small detachments. Realists recognized that these small facilities were designed less to maximize training and mobilization capabilities, than to provide the opportunity for these units to contribute federal monies to districts all over the landscape. Districts, not at all coincidentally, represented by many, many legislators in Congress. For this reason, the Guard remained virtually untouched during the drawdown of the 90s.
The stateside mission emphasis for the National Guard also means that personnel spaces and units will have to be transferred to the active duty component to keep pace with the current operational tempo. In other words, this is a belated recognition that strategic need trumps the pork barrel when it comes to defense of the homeland. The active—reserve unit mix will change considerably.
The BRAC fight has begun
Over a decade of peacekeeping missions in relatively calm areas of the world put us asleep about too much of military preparedness. We can no longer afford it from a fiscal standpoint, but also from our national security posture. Every person and every dollar has to contribute to our ultimate victory. Nevertheless, business—as—usual politics has already started to rear its ugly head.
The Base Realignment and Closing Commission (BRAC) voted this last Tuesday to add several bases to the list of military facilities that could potentially be shut down to provide more flexibility in base closures and force structure realignment. BRAC Chairman Anthony Principi said the commission felt that the addition of more bases to the list submitted by SecDef Rumsfeld would give the commission a greater opportunity to visit more bases to possibly make adjustments to scheduled closures. Principi said,
While the commission added some bases to the list, it also removed four large installations that had previously been scheduled for closure: the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego; the Naval Shipyard at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii; Moody Air Force Base in Georgia; and Grand Forks Air Force Base in North Dakota.
And, as predicted by AT almost three weeks ago, it appears that the most intense part of the base closure fight will be over the Reserve and National Guard units. The commission has 'serious reservations' about the scheduled closure or realignment of dozens of Air National Guard bases across the country. The recommended closure of over 350 Reserve Centers and National Guard armories and airfields promises to be the most contentious political fight over military assets in recent memory. Already the commission has delayed a vote on the Air National Guard airfields and is 'working behind the scenes to determine what to do with that part of the proposal.'
Expect more complaints on troop strength, prisoner abuse at GITMO, and verbal abuse towards the SecDef from all the usual suspects as they attempt to derail one of the most comprehensive and strategically sound force structure realignments in over 30 years. We will now see who is serious about national security, and who isn't.
Douglas Hanson is our national security correspondent.