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Almost 9,500 Army National Guard soldiers have been off-ramped from overseas deployments in fiscal 2013 and 2014, raising concerns among the Guard and its advocates that the reserve component will be left out as the Army transitions from 12 years of war amid ongoing budget cuts.
About 41 Army Guard units have been off-ramped from missions in places such as the Horn of Africa, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Kuwait and the Sinai, said Rick Breitenfeldt, a National Guard Bureau spokesman. This included Security Forces Assistance Teams from the 79th Brigade Combat Team from California and two battalions from the Indiana National Guard, he said.
“We are concerned that as Army funding is cut, the reserve component is being utilized less, which in turn, jeopardizes sustainment of [reserve component] experience gained over 10 years of war,” Breitenfeldt said.
These moves, coupled with an Army memo to Congress outlining potential cuts to overseas deployments for Guard and Army Reserve troops has Guard advocates up in arms.
The April 18 memo cites the ongoing budget shortfall as having “limited the Army’s ability to source missions planned for Army National Guard and Army Reserve forces,” according to a copy obtained by Army Times.
“Beginning [fiscal 2014], the Army will substitute active component units for reserve component formations where cost savings are possible,” the memo states.
“Looking ahead to FY2014, the Army is working closely with the Army National Guard and Army Reserve to identify additional opportunities to substitute [active-duty] formations for [reserve-component] units,” the memo states.
In March, the Army announced it would send active-duty units in place of units from the Indiana Guard for missions in the Horn of Africa and the Sinai. About 1,000 Indiana guardsmen were affected; they had been scheduled to deploy in June.
The switch saved the Army up to $93 million, officials said.
Of the 41 Guard units off-ramped, some 23 will not deploy because of changing requirements as the U.S. draws down in Afghanistan. Five units that were scheduled to go to Afghanistan were replaced with active-duty soldiers.
The Army does not make these decisions lightly, Army Secretary John McHugh told the Senate Armed Services Committee on April 23.
“This was something, in light of the current fiscal circumstances, that we felt we had to do,” he said. “It’s likely that we’ll have to take similar actions in the future. I assure you, we will do everything we can to maximize every benefit that is available to [affected soldiers].”
Officials with the National Guard Association of the United States, which lobbies for the Guard, urged the Army to “look at the message you’re sending the Guard.”
“Our fear is that this memo is a product of protectionism,” said John Goheen, a spokesman for NGAUS. “There is a battle that has begun in the Pentagon over force structure for the future. This is tantamount to putting the Guard back on the shelf.”
Goheen said when NGAUS posted an article on its website about the memo and urged its 45,000 members to write to Congress, the association received more than 2,200 emails overnight.
“This memorandum has created some concern among the members of our association,” he said. “Every person in the Army National Guard either joined or re-enlisted [after 9/11]. They know they’re going to deploy, and many of them, within a reasonable force generation model, don’t mind deploying.
“Some of them want to deploy,” Goheen added. “Any comment that the Guard is overused or tired, that just doesn’t square with what our members tell us. That’s justification for a decision that we’re just not onboard with.”
The memo does not mean the Army will cancel all reserve-component overseas deployments indefinitely, said Lt. Col. Peggy Kageleiry, an Army spokeswoman.
“The Army remains firmly committed to the Total Force policy,” she said. “The Army will continue to employ Army Reserve and National Guard soldiers as a vital part of the operational force.”
If any deployments are off-ramped in lieu of active-duty units, the Army will make every effort to notify the affected reserve-component units at least 120 days before their scheduled mobilization date, Kageleiry said.
Reserve-component units already within the 120-day window will continue as planned, provided their mission overseas has not been canceled, Kageleiry said. In addition, some capabilities reside mostly or only in the reserve component, and those units will continue as scheduled, she said.
For example, the Army Reserve is home to 77 percent of the Army’s civil affairs units, 90 percent of its legal units, 59 percent of its medical units, 66 percent of its supply units, and 43 percent of its transportation units, said Paul Boyce, a spokesman for Forces Command.
“Current deployment plans continue to include a mix of Army National Guard units, Army Reserve units and active-component Army units,” Boyce said.
But the demand for troops overseas is driven by the needs of the combatant commanders, he said.
“Throughout our nation’s history, and certainly in the decade since the Sept. 11 attacks, we have depended on America’s citizen-soldiers and airmen,” he said. “We have built a strong relationship between all of our Army components. It is our goal to sustain and increase this momentum.”■