The Connection between Military and Civilian Will is the National Guard

I read with interest the opinion piece by Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in The Washington Post last week.

In The Military Needs to Reach Out to Civilians, the general remarked on the need for a better relationship between the military and the civilian population. I am not quite sure I understood this observation given the tremendous amount of support American communities and private organizations have given those in uniform and their families since 9/11. Perhaps the general was referring to the democratic tension between military policy and civilian oversight, more aptly called American national will.

Having had the great privilege to work with members of the National Guard over the years, I found myself wanting to shout “Look to the National Guard if you want to bridge a perceived gap in military/civilian relationships." One need only look at the history of republics to understand the role of the citizen-soldier is to link the citizens of the United States more closely to the foreign policy of their country and to the decisions regarding deployment of U.S. military forces by giving them a greater and more immediate burden in sharing in the national defense. Such a linkage entails a price, but its rewards are great—restoration of citizen involvement in the nation’s life, abatement of alienation, revival of a sense of national community. The citizen-soldier, man or woman, will have a more immediate stake in national decision making and reign in abuses of power that can occur when, as General Dempsey states, “it can be tempting to stay on our bases and talk to only those we know.”

As former chief of the National Guard Bureau, Lt. Gen. H Steven Blum said, “When you call out the Guard, you call out America.”

General, if you want to understand what it means for American citizens to go to war or understand what it is to bridge that gap between military and citizen mindsets, just spend time talking to any member of the Guard about what it means to them and their families and neighbors when the call comes to serve. Ask that person who balances family, job, renting or owning a home, and civilian life’s other complications what it takes to serve this country. Besides monthly drill duty, Guardsmen are asked every day to help their neighbors during natural and manmade disasters. They await deployment orders to support national security operations abroad. Every day, the National Guard is the face of the military in America and the face of America in the military.

When change is in the air, whether due to foreign policy or fiscal uncertainty, it is tempting for the military elite in the Pentagon to forget their clearest connection to America is that citizen-soldier or airman serving next to them on the battlefield and in the policy rooms. Not one member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff considered the National Guard Bureau chief worthy of membership in that decision-making body, insulting every member of the Guard who believed they had earned that right as patriotic citizens during this decade of war and the 375 years of service that came before. That wasn't a good sign of cooperation and partnership from any true total force-civilian mindset.

“Our fellow citizens may have different perspectives that we need to hear and understand," Dempsey wrote.

So I humbly suggest, General, that perhaps when you and your active-duty colleagues debate policy, budgets and operational priorities, you make sure a member of the National Guard is in every room where decisions are being made and that you remember that the National Guard’s link to America can be your own. Treat the Guard as a partner and as an equal. They validate every operation you undertake. Embrace the Guard and you embrace America.


Ms. Washbourne is spot on. Our active duty forces do a tremendous job, but eventually end up as a cloistered tribe, separated from the larger community. Guardsmen and women as well as reservists are based in their hometowns and are truly the face of the military to America. That is also a good reason why its not always wise to centralized military resources. It may be good military policy, but it is very bad social policy, if you need the support of the citizens.

Well put Grace, to no surprise for those of us who are familiar with your great support of the Guard through the years. This is an articulate and timely piece on what will need to be the centerpiece of an argument and defensive effort to prevent further Guard force structure reductions. The one-two punch from the budget control act and sequestration will no doubt force the active component to shop around for cuts from the National Guard.

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