Sgt. Mike Stone, left, stands at parade rest as the Delaware National Guard hosts a welcome-home ceremony at the Army Aviation Support Facility in New Castle for approximately 40 members of Detachment 1, 150th Engineer Company, Horizontal Construction returning from Afghanistan on July 1. (Suchat Pederson/The News Journal)
The Delaware Army National Guard has canceled this weekend's monthly training drills due to a national budget shortfall, state Guard officials say.
The shortfall is the result of the National Guard Bureau, and as many as a dozen states, overspending their accounts by a total of more than $101 million, according to the state Guard.
Although state Guard officials says Delaware was not one of those, it is returning $450,000 — the amount it would have spent on September's weekend training.
Some other states also are canceling training and returning funding — if not in the same amounts — to "make up for the sins of others," said Maj. Gen. Frank Vavala, the state's top officer, who acknowledged he probably didn't have to do so. The Guard bureau asked states to give back, he said, so that the National Guard is not deficient.
Vavala said he felt obligated to do so.
"As a member of the Guard, and somebody who is always carrying the standard for the citizen-soldier, I'd be hard-pressed to say that I want to see my National Guard take on the stigma of not being able to meet its commitment," he said.
Vavala, however, isn't happy about the situation.
"I'm very disturbed by it, because it affects the lives of my soldiers," Vavala said. "I'm extremely upset that this has taken place."
He called it "kind of embarrassing" and, in an Aug. 28 memo to the force, a "tax."
In addition to the loss of income, training and the impact on career development, Vavala said a training hiatus hurts because of the impact on family life.
"People plan their lives around their unit training assembly schedule," he said. "They and their families want some degree of predictability, and know what they're going to do and when they can plan events other than training."
Vavala said the Delaware Guard "performed flawlessly" in executing its budget for the current fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.
The National Guard Bureau first reported the shortfall to the state Guard last Wednesday. On Tuesday, it couldn't offer specifics on how the shortfall went unnoticed.
"The budget shortfall is largely due to fewer mobilizations, higher than planned training attendance and historical high pass rates at schools," spokesman Jeremy Webster said in an e-mailed statement. "The National Guard is committed to resolving the issue with least impact to our Citizen-Soldiers and ensuring they are ready for missions whether at home or overseas."
Vavala said there's "some truth" to those assertions. For instance, deployed Reserve troops, he said, are paid out of Overseas Contingency Operations funds — money appropriated separately from the base defense budget. When they return home, their state units once again pick up the funding.
Not all states have canceled their September drills, state Guard spokesman Lt. Col. Len Gratteri said. And Delaware is planning for a Sept. 27-28 training weekend should funding become available via reprogramming by the National Guard Bureau. Such a move must be approved by Congress, Vavala noted.
In the meantime, Vavala has canceled all training and other events for this weekend, save for troops taking part in a welcome-home ceremony for 70 members of the 238th Aviation Regiment - who are returning Saturday from 10 months stationed in Kuwait — and a Sunday ceremony at which Brig. Gen. James Begley takes over as the state's assistant adjutant general (Army). Only full-time reservists may take part in the homecoming, along with members of the 287th Army Band, he said.
The state Guard retains some funding for training in its Recruit Sustainment Program, Officer Candidate School, troops on their two-week annual training and support for events such as the band's homecoming duty, Gratteri said.