National Guard Association Pushes Back on Defense Department Cuts

The association that represents the interests of the National Guard says that the Defense Department's plan to cut military resources misses a potential opportunity to expand the Guard as a cost-saving measure.

When Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel presented his plan to cut the size of the U.S. military, the pain perhaps was not felt more acutely than among supporters of the National Guard.

And the association that represents the Guard—along with the governors in a number of states—are speaking up on the issue. More details:

About the cuts: On Monday, Hagel released a plan to scale back the military that was created with current political and fiscal realities in mind, such as budget cuts and the end of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Under the proposal, the U.S. Army would shrink to about 440,000 to 450,000 troops—a low not seen since 1940, before the United States entered World War II. It’s a size that critics say would be large enough to fight a war, but not large enough for the kind of continued occupation troops have performed for the past decade. “You have to always keep your institution prepared, but you can’t carry a large land-war Defense Department when there is no large land war,” an unnamed Pentagon official said, according to The New York Times.

A brewing fight: Even prior to Hagel’s announcement, the issue of budget allocations and troop levels had been a contentious one between the National Guard Association of the United States (NGAUS) and the Army. NGAUS argued in December that boosting the Guard’s presence could make up for troop losses within the Army’s ranks. “The nation cannot afford to have a large standing army right now,” NGAUS spokesman John Goheen told USA Today. Despite this stance, the National Guard has struggled to make its case to the Pentagon and is instead hoping to gain traction through Congress, creating an independent commission to consider restructuring efforts that could benefit the Guard. The Association of the United States Army (AUSA), however, opposes creating such a commission. “Such a commission is unnecessary, could damage Army readiness, and would impede the Army’s ability to implement spending reductions required by the 2011 Budget Control Act,” AUSA President Gordon Sullivan wrote in a letter to House Speaker John Boehner regarding the plan.

Guard feels the impact: The Army National Guard did not see its troop levels reduced as severely as Army officials had recommended in the proposal—as Breaking Defense notes, Hagel recommended a decrease from 350,000 troops to 335,000, assuming no sequestration-related spending cuts—but the plan nonetheless put the association on the defensive. In comments released after Hagel announced his proposal, NGAUS President Gus Hargett expressed anger that a plan to increase reliance on National Guard members was not considered, despite the potential for cost savings.

“Secretary Hagel did admit that Guard units are less expensive to maintain; however, he was also quick to add that they cost about the same when deployed. This is essentially true. The Guard is largely a pay-as-you-use-them force,” he said in a statement. “But on most days only a fraction of active-component personnel are actually in the fight or deployed in a quick-reaction capacity. Most of the rest—amounting to hundreds of thousands of personnel—are in reserve, just like the Guard. One force the nation pays for every single day—one it does not.”

The potential impact of the National Guard cuts was not lost on the states, either. President Obama’s Monday meeting with members of the National Governors Association touched on the issue, as National Guard members often are first responders during emergencies at the state level.

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story included a quote that was incorrectly attributed to AUSA President Gordon Sullivan. The quote, in reference to the differing capabilities of the Army Guard versus the U.S. Army, was made by Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno. We regret the error.

(photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images News/Thinkstock)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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