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State governors fight back against National Guard cuts

Mar. 1, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
The Army's plans to cut the Guard and Reserves, including moving Guard AH-64 Apache helicopter battalions to the active Army, are reflected in the 2015 budget proposal, expected out on Tuesday.
The Army's plans to cut the Guard and Reserves, including moving Guard AH-64 Apache helicopter battalions to the active Army, are reflected in the 2015 budget proposal, expected out on Tuesday. (Army)
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The nation’s governors have banded together to oppose cuts to the Army National Guard as outlined in the Army’s 2015 budget proposal.

In a letter to President Obama, signed by 50 governors, the state leaders also are calling for the president to keep the Guard’s end-strength at 350,000.

“For more than a decade, our National Guard has demonstrated it is a cost-effective, operational force that is critical to our national security at home and abroad,” the letter states. “As commanders-in-chief, we appreciate the need to reorganize, restructure and modernize the military to meet new threats and economic realities. All sectors of the military must be involved in meeting the targets set by the Budget Control Act of 2011 and the realities of having fewer forces engaged abroad. In doing so, however, the Army Guard’s operational capabilities and 350,000 end-strength level must be preserved.”

The governors met during the National Governors Association winter meeting, where they talked to Obama and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel about preserving Army and Air National Guard personnel and equipment.

Their letter to Obama, dated Friday, comes just days after Hagel rolled out key details of the Pentagon’s fiscal 2015 budget proposal. Highlights include the first-ever rollback in Basic Allowance for Housing, a military pay raise of 1 percent, massive cuts to commissary subsidies, and potentially increased health care fees for both active-duty families and retirees.

Hagel also announced that the active Army is slated to shrink to between 440,000 and 450,000 from about 520,000, while the Guard would draw down to about 335,000 from 355,000. The Army Reserve also would shrink, from 205,000 to 195,000.

If sequestration is implemented in 2016, the active Army would draw down to 420,000; the Guard would shrink to 315,000 and the Reserve to 185,000, Hagel said.

The Army’s proposed cuts “suggest a pre-2001 strategic reserve construct,” the governors’ letter states.

“The modern National Guard is a highly experienced and capable combat force and an essential state partner in responding to domestic disasters and emergencies,” according to the letter. “A return to a pre-9/11 role squanders the investment and value of the Guard and discredits its accomplishments at home and as an active combat force.”

The governors also called for a commission to study the future force structure of the Army.

A bill in Congress, HR 3930, sponsored by Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., calls for a National Commission on the Structure of the Army. It also would stop any end-strength reductions in the Army Guard at 350,000.

The Association of the United States Army has said it opposes the idea of a commission in a letter to House Speaker John Boehner, while Guard advocates have stated their support.

In a Feb. 21 letter to retired Gen. Gordon Sullivan, president of AUSA, a senior Guard official blasted the association’s opposition to the commission.

“Sir, it is with a heavy heart that I find myself after 42 years of service to my nation and state that I am returning to you my AUSA membership card,” Maj. Gen. Richard Nash, the adjutant general of the Minnesota National Guard, wrote.

The commission would be “independent, bipartisan, congressionally-mandated,” Nash wrote, and it would “determine the proper force mixture of the Total Army – active, Guard and Reserve.”

“Why would AUSA oppose an open, transparent study unless we do not want to disclose to the Congress – and, more importantly, the taxpayers – the facts about the Army’s strategy and how the active component truly views the Reserve Component capabilities after serving together and being interchangeable?

“After nearly 13 years of sustained combat operations, why are you suddenly driving a wedge between the active component and the Guard and Army Reserve?”

The Army Guard and Army Reserve are “not ‘summer help’ that you can dismiss on a moment’s notice,” Nash wrote. “We fight as a total force. We are one Army.”

“The National Guard can be a larger part of the solution to our current fiscal constraints,” Nash wrote. “History has shown that past cuts have never struck the right balance that prepares our nation for the next conflict. An independent commission may be the solution to address issues surrounding force structure and equipment before we are called again as a total Army.”

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