NGAUS 2013 Year In Review

As 2013 draws to an end, there is a strong sense that change is in the air. The United States finds itself winding down a major ground campaign in Afghanistan and pivoting its security doctrine towards the Pacific. New threats in the cyber domain have placed additional roles for our nation’s military. In Washington, partisan squabbling resulted in a government shutdown and a last-minute effort to come to agreement on defense spending. The status quo of over a decade of war will no longer be the case, nor will the blank-check that the Department of Defense has grown accustomed to. NGAUS takes a look back at some of the key events of 2013 - many good, some not as good - and what 2014 will look like for the National Guard.
Military Drawdown in the Middle East
After over 12 years of persistent conflict, the United States will no longer find itself engaged in major ground campaigns as combat operations in Afghanistan are expected to end in 2014. Currently, there are 39,500 U.S. military personnel serving in Afghanistan, including many members of the National Guard. This is down from a high of 66,000 at the beginning of 2013. As Afghan security forces continue to take the lead throughout the nation, the United States and NATO forces have transitioned their role to training and mentoring their Afghan counterparts, as well as providing close-air, logistical and intelligence support. What remains unclear is whether or not American and NATO forces will remain in Afghanistan post-2014, and if so how many. 

sequestrationIn 2011, Congress passed a law that created $1 trillion dollars worth of automatic, arbitrary and across-the-board budget cuts should lawmakers be unable to agree on a $4 trillion budget deficit reduction plan. Those harmful automatic cuts in the name of debt reduction – known as the sequester – threatened hundreds of thousands of jobs, vital services and our men and women in uniform. Though technically sequestration took effect this year, Pentagon leaders avoided the so-called “meat axe” method cutting by using unobligated balances in select cases to essentially pay down sequestration-related cuts rather than taking a hit out of 2013 funding. With the coffers nearly depleted, the prospects for 2014 were pretty bleak. However, by year’s end, a breakthrough emerged as Republicans and Democrats in Congress struck a deal - $31.5 billion in sequester relief over the next two years. The Murray-Ryan budget deal passed both chambers of Congress in December and was signed by President Barack Obama before the year’s end. The restored funding over the next two years is expected to buy back readiness shortfalls and critical modernization programs within the Department of Defense.

Defense Budget and Bills Late
In April, the President released his budget request to Congress, two months later than required by law. Congress nearly missed its deadline to pass its defense policy bill, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), but was able to finally move the bill in the last weeks of December shortly before the House and Senate adjourned for the year. Not passing an NDAA would have caused more than just headaches for the National Guard. Without timely passage, many defense accounts would have run dry, causing a lapse in pay and reenlistment bonuses. Additionally, military construction would grind to a halt if the funding authorities ceased, including many Army and Air National Guard facility upgrades. Long gone as well are regular, annual appropriations bills. In the current climate of partisan politics, living under 3-6 month continuing resolutions has become “the new normal” in Washington. In 2013 alone, we saw the government being funded under two continuing resolutions, rather than have budgets planned out in long-term cycles. Many in Washington believe that governing from crisis to crisis will be the way business is conducted for the foreseeable future.
NGAUS Develops Strategic Plan
This year, the NGAUS legislative team developed a Strategic Plan, a three-year guidance that sets the direction for advocacy efforts and drives the work of the NGAUS legislative staff, the state Adjutants General, the Board of Directors, and the Task Forces. 
NGAUS Legislative Successes 
The NGAUS legislative staff worked tirelessly to ensure that National Guard issues and legislative priorities were included in the FY14 NDAA. Accomplishments include:
  • No major changes to Army or Air National Guard end strength
  • Ample funding for National Guard accounts
  • Saved the UH-72 Lakota helicopter from retirement and increased procurement funding
  • Requires the Department of Defense to submit reporting on the role of the National Guard in U.S. Cyber Command and cybersecurity operations
  • Limitations on deployment cancellations and off-ramping for National Guard units
  • Improved mental health care for National Guard service members
  • Stopped the Air Force from divesting the A-10 Warthog
The FY14 NDAA also includes several Guard-related non-binding (but still important) provisions in the reporting language:
  • Encourages the Department of Defense to ensure the National Guard remains and Operational Reserve
  • Instructs the Department of Defense to develop an accurate costing model report comparing Active and Reserve Component service members and units, similar to the Reserve Forces Policy Board costing models
  • Recommends the Army and Air Force is provided the same equipment variants to National Guard units in order to ensure concurrent fielding for domestic and overseas operations.
Since the government is currently being funded under a Continuing Resolution (CR), we will not have a final answer on budget numbers until Congress returns in January and passes a full defense bill. Senior lawmakers on the Senate and House Appropriations Committee have been working through recess to develop an omnibus spending bill before the CR expires on January 15. Though still in development, it is expected that the numbers will be similar to what has been passed by the Senate and House Appropriations Committees earlier this year, both of which included sufficient funding for the National Guard.
Best National Guard News and Reporting
  • Preserve the Reserves” - Christopher Holshek, Foreign Policy - A retired Army Reserve colonel argues that the Active Components need to take a good look at the value of reserve forces.
  • Active vs. Guard: An Avoidable Pentagon War” - Sydney J. Freedberg Jr., Breaking Defense - Freedberg’s long-form piece focuses on the potential battle between the Army and Army National Guard over fewer resources, NGAUS’s efforts to preserve the Guard’s cost-effective operational capability and how the Total Force will be composed in the future.
  • Mansfield, Ohio, Air Base’s Fate Reflects A Larger Battle Between Active Duty, Guard” - Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Washington Post - An in-depth look at how the fight between the Air Force and Air National Guard is playing out at an Ohio air base. 
  • The Army Needs A Better Argument” - Kori Schake, War on the Rocks - Dr. Schake, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, challenges the logic of the Army’s end strength justifications and argues for the growth of a larger Guard and Reserve (for a more in-depth analysis, see Adm. Roughead and Dr. Schake’s report “National Defense in a Time of Change”)
  • Army and National Guard Cross Swords Over Troop Cuts” - Tom Vanden Brook, USA Today - A look at the proposed cuts to the Army National Guard end strength and the potential political battle that may ensue as a result.
Looking Ahead: 2014
The coming year will offer many opportunities and challenges for the National Guard. 
Cuts to Army Guard End Strength, Aviation
As major combat operations in Afghanistan draw to a close and budgets become leaner, several of the services branches are fighting to justify their current end strengths. Faced with meeting budget caps set in place by sequestration, the military is looking at significant reductions in end strength across all services. In the case of the Army, senior leadership is looking to avoid major cuts to the Active Duty component at the expense of the Army National Guard. The Fiscal Year 2015 budget planning calls for a reduction of the Army Guard to 315,000, as well as reduce the number of Army National Guard Brigade Combat Teams to 22. Furthermore, the Army plans to divest all AH-64 Apache and OH-58 Kiowa helicopters from the Army National Guard and cut half of the total UH-72 Lakota fleet. In return, the Army would replace these 342 aircraft with 111 older UH-60L Blackhawks, resulting in a permanent loss of 231 aircraft for the Army Guard. NGAUS is working closely with the Adjutants General, the Council of Governors and members of the Congressional Guard and Reserve Caucuses to ensure this bad policy does not become a reality. Letters from 142 representatives and 58 senators have been sent to Secretary Hagel urging him to ensure such drastic cuts to the National Guard do not occur and that the cost-effective model of the National Guard be taken into account as Army end strength reductions are proposed. 

Pay and Compensation Reform
Military pay and compensation will also find itself under considerable scrutiny in 2014. Secretary Hagel has already indicated that defense cuts cannot be disproportionately made from modernization and readiness accounts. He has pledged a review of military pay, compensation and healthcare and has stated that “all options are on the table.” In addition to troop pay and housing allowances, reservist drill pay may be revisited for reform.
Report from the National Commission on the Structure of the Air Force
In early February, the National Commission on the Structure of the Air Force will present its findings. The commission was established by Congress in the FY13 NDAA after the Air Force attempted to disproportionally cut personnel and units from the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve. The independent panel of former Air Force, Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve leadership is tasked with conducting a comprehensive study of the Air Force, studying its force mix in light of the current climate of fiscal restraint, and make recommendations on future force structure.
Whew - what a year! We couldn't have had the success we did this year without all of our amazing members in the National Guard community that emailed, called and wrote letters to their Members of Congress on behalf of the Guard. Thank you for all that you do and continue to do. Next year is going to be an eventful year as well, so please keep up the good work! 
Have a very happy New Year from our Guard family to yours! 

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