MARCH 23, 2015, WASHINGTON – Continuing to invest in the National Guard to ensure it remains accessible, responsive and capable will provide the nation a force that is proven on the battlefield and in the homeland.
That was the core message shared by Army Gen. Frank Grass, chief of the National Guard Bureau; Air Force Lt. Gen. Stanley Clarke, director of the Air National Guard; and Army Maj. Gen. Judd Lyons, acting director of the Army National Guard, during testimony before members of the House Appropriations Committee Subcommittee on Defense on March 17.
“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 keep the National Guard an operational force.
“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.”
The three – along with Army Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Talley, chief of the Army Reserve – testified about the posture of their components, an annual update to legislators typically given by all the services and combatant commanders in a series of House and Senate hearings here each spring.
Three realities shape the security environment, Grass told committee members: Global reality, fiscal reality and the reality of change.
Global reality includes issues such as asymmetric actors, cyber terrorism, transnational organized crime, regional instability and natural and man-made disasters. The reality of change includes an increasingly borderless, information-flooded world where, Grass noted, “Our adversaries influence events and garner support using unconventional methods that include the cyber domain.”
On fiscal reality, Grass sounded a warning. “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,” Grass said. “This will create challenges in responding to the needs of the governors at a time the Army and Air Force will rely more heavily on the operational reserve to accomplish combatant command missions.
“The funding levels are below the President’s budget request,” he continued. “We risk not being able to execute the defense strategy.”
Sequestration is automatic spending cuts – an austerity measure – in specific categories, including defense, stemming from the Budget Control Act of 2011. Grass’ warning echoed those of other members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other senior military and civilian leaders.
The reality of change means that the nation must be ready for the unexpected, Grass said, recalling meetings with other senior leaders a year ago about the year ahead – meetings that anticipated neither Ebola nor events in the Middle East. “If you look back a year ago at what we knew about the world situation and what happened, it was a surprise to everyone,” Grass said.
Nevertheless, he added, “the Guard stands ready to face these realities as part of the joint force,” noting that individual service member readiness is the key to organizational readiness.
Clarke noted the excellent relationship between the Air Force, Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve. And, the director said, “I see no slowdown whatsoever for the Air National Guard in the next year.”
Like Grass, Clarke also noted budget concerns. An operational force means operational in large-scale exercises, not only real-world operations, he told the committee. The National Guard must have the ability to take part in large-scale exercises to maintain readiness.
Clarke also expressed concern about modernizing equipment and recapitalizing the legacy force, drawing on a personal example from a trip to observe Antarctic operations last year:
The director flew from McMurdo Station to the South Pole aboard a New York Air National Guard LC-130 Skibird. The New York Guard’s 109th Airlift Wing is the only home to this ski-equipped military transport aircraft, a variant of the C-130 Hercules that can land on snow and ice.
The aircraft Clarke flew on was built in 1972. The 43-year-old Skibird had seen service for the U.S. Navy; been retired from service and sent to the boneyard; then pressed back into service for the Air National Guard, well-known for pushing equipment way beyond its originally intended service life.
“With a 43-year-old airplane, at some point that airframe’s got to be recapitalized,” Clarke said.
Lyons sketched similar challenges for the Army National Guard, such as the average age of its facilities in almost 2,600 communities across the United States is 43-years.
“The Army National Guard is at a pivotal moment,” Lyons said, in written testimony. “Should the Army National Guard return to sequestration-level funding, the resource reductions will have an immediate, severe impact on … readiness and our ability to respond at home and abroad.”
The National Guard and Reserve Equipment Account, known as the NGREA, plays a critical role in maintaining readiness and enabling the Guard to be an operational force, the leaders said. Since 1981, Congress has used the NGREA to provide direct funding to the Reserves for equipment and modernization upgrades.
“If it wasn’t for NGREA, the combatant commanders wouldn’t let us into their [areas of responsibility,” Clarke said.
Other topics discussed in Tuesday’s hearing included the National Guard’s State Partnership Program – relationships between the states, territories and D.C. and 74 other nations – as well as the emergence of cyber capabilities in the Guard and Army Reserve, the potential money-saving impact of so-called 3D printing technology and the continuing challenge of suicide prevention.
Suicides decreased in 2014 in the National Guard and Army Reserve, and initiatives to address underlying issues continue to increase. Gen. Talley noted that, contrary to stereotypes, suicides are typically young males who have never deployed to a combat zone and that failed relationships appear to be the primary cause, closely followed by financial problems.
“Our Soldiers and Airmen are our most important resource – and we are fully committed to their well-being,” Grass said.