By Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.
DoD News, Defense Media Activity
WASHINGTON, March 19, 2015 – The nation’s investment in the National Guard transformed it into a premier operational force, but sequestration spending cuts scheduled to begin Oct. 1 will create challenges, the chief of the National Guard Bureau said during a congressional hearing this week.
Army Gen. Frank J. Grass, joined by other senior reserve force leaders, testified before the House Appropriations Committee’s defense subcommittee March 17 about the fiscal posture and readiness of the National Guard Bureau and its subordinate components.
“For the past 13 years of sustained conflict,” Grass said, “with the help of the Congress, the Guard has transformed into a premier operational force serving with distinction as the primary combat reserve of the Army and Air Force. The nation’s investment in the Guard has resulted in the best trained, led and equipped Guard in history. It is the finest I have seen throughout my career.”
The general thanked the congressional panel for its support in funding programs such as the National Guard and reserve equipment appropriation, and for improving Army National Guard readiness, Humvee modernization, providing new radars for F-15 fighters, Black Hawk helicopter procurement and other critical priorities.
Facing Three Realities
Looking to the future, Grass said, military leaders face three realities shaping the security environment: global realities, fiscal reality and the reality of change.
“A global reality that includes asymmetric adversaries and regional instability,” he explained, “is intertwined with the fiscal reality that requires us to balance the need to provide security to the nation with other domestic spending requirements. These realities exist [beside] the reality of change -- change that has resulted in a borderless world.” Change also has resulted in “a more informed U.S. population that expects the government to respond to natural and man-made disasters at greater speeds,” Grass said.
The general also addressed the pending return of sequestration and its impact on the National Guard Bureau.
“In view of these realities and the security environment,” he said, “I am concerned that with sequestration, the nation will have its smallest National Guard since the end of the Korean War despite the U.S. population approximately doubling since 1954.”
This will create challenges in responding to the needs of state governors, Grass said, at a time when the Army and Air Force rely heavily on the operational reserve to accomplish combatant command missions.
Finding the Right Balance
Sequestration funding levels are below President Barack Obama’s budget request, Grass said.
“We risk not being able to execute the defense strategy [if sequestration returns],” he added. “The soldiers and airmen who serve -- and their families, communities and employers who support them -- are our most treasured resource.
“The nation’s investment in developing combat and mission-ready Guardsmen through a wide array of resourced, accessible and effective programs is greatly appreciated,” he continued, “but must not be left to degrade our return to a strategic reserve.”
Moving forward, the general said, finding the right balance in the military -- active, Guard and reserve -- will be more critical than it has been in history.
“Your National Guard is a proven option for rapid, cost-effective and seamless expansion of our armed forces,” Grass said. “Modest but necessary investments in training, manning and equipment will maintain the readiness of the National Guard as an operational force.”
Air National Guard
Air Force Lt. Gen. Stanley E. Clarke III, director of the Air National Guard, said he sees no slowdown for his component in the next year.
“We have up to 105,500 consistently deployed members of the Air National Guard,” he said. “In fact, over 2,000 are deployed today across the globe doing a variety of operations.”
Clarke said the Air Guard supports combatant commanders around the globe, and continues to be a proven choice for the war-fighting operations they support.
The general also noted that the Air National Guard provides multiple capabilities used at home and abroad on a daily basis, including firefighting, explosive ordnance disposal and rescue operations.
With regard to security cooperation, Clarke said the Air National Guard continues to support the National Guard Bureau’s State Partnership Program around the globe.
“We also have bilateral relationships that don’t even exist inside the State Partnership Program that we support,” he said.
“An example of that would be what we do for the air forces of Iraq -- we’re doing the training for the C-130J’s at one of our units,” Clarke said. “Additionally, the F-16 foreign training is all done at Tucson [Arizona] by the Air National Guard.”
Air National Guard Priorities
Clarke discussed the Air Guard’s priorities, an assessment he noted always begins with “taking care of our airmen.”
“That always stays at the top of my list,” he said. “I look at that from a variety of lenses. Whether it’s preventing sexual assault, diversity -- those kinds of programs are important.”
Other priorities Clarke emphasized were the modernization and recapitalization of the legacy force, and maintaining a strong operational reserve force through funding for exercises with the Air Force.
Clarke also noted his concern with the future of funding for military personnel programs needed to sustain the force.
“That is an important funding stream,” he said. Those funds are critical, Clarke said, to get service members to required schools and follow-on courses for future education and training to ensure they’re good partners with the Air Force and the joint community.