Nonpartisan commission needed in Army/National Guard debate

Forty-seven of our nation's governors recently made an emphatic suggestion to Congress: The acrimonious debate between the Army and the National Guard should end and a dialogue should begin with the enactment of H.R. 3930. The proposed legislation sets up an objective, nonpartisan commission to answer a vital question: “What strengths and what force structure of active duty, National Guard and Reserve Army forces will most cost-effectively protect our country at home and abroad?”

If the commission proposed by H.R. 3930 looks to budget facts and not obfuscating bluster, it will quickly discover that the present budgetary process is rife with equivocation. An example is the Army’s budget that is scheduled to increase by $1.2 billion from 2014 to 2015, reaching a massive total of $85.2 billion. This increase will occur at the same time the Army National Guard and Army Reserve will be required to undergo a $0.9 billion decrease in their funding. A commission will surely raise the question, “When our Country should be investing its scarce defense dollars in the most fiscally responsible option — the National Guard — why is the Army marking plans to do the opposite?”

Without a commission to guide budgetary decisions, the arguments will continue in Washington. Even though the National Guard now has its chief sitting as an equal with other members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Guard has little or no voice in budget preparation and can only react after the fact when budgets determining its mission and force structure are presented.  Recently, Guard leaders presented plans to the Army staff for taking their share of the cuts without decrementing their strength and force structure. The Army staff rejected these suggestions out of hand but does not feel compelled to say why they have done so.

The statement that the Guard cannot deploy its troops as rapidly as may be needed is another issue with which a commission should deal. The Army claims that the National Guard’s brigade combat teams, or BCTs, can never be made ready to go to war in a timely fashion and so a large, standing Army is a requirement. This argument is based on the questionable assumption that all active component BCTs can be immediately deployed and sent to a designated area of operations in the opening hours of a conflict. This is simply not the case. A commission would discover that the nation’s airlift capability mandates a phased strategy for any deployment — that neither the active component Army nor the Guard can send all of its BCTs into a combat zone at once. The airlift constraint and a graduated deployment of units over time means that Guard BCTs would have more than enough time to mobilize and deploy wherever they are needed in the world.

An independent commission authorized by Congress would serve as an honest broker in a dialogue and not an umpire in a debate. Congress set up a commission and mandated a review of the Air Force, Air Guard and Air Force Reserve last year. The commission’s resulting report revealed valuable information that could not have come to light any other way. As a result of the commission’s deliberations, Congress and the Pentagon now know how to best craft a viable Total Air Force for the future. The optimal force structure of the active duty Army, the Army Reserve, and the Army Guard can be found using the same method — a congressionally mandated commission.

To borrow in spirit from a well-known statement in naval history, I suggest that the signal of Lord Nelson to his sailors prior to the Battle of Trafalgar should give the Army and the National Guard their marching orders: “Our country expects every one of us to do our duty.” Let’s get with it.

Schober served as the Adjutant General of the California National Guard during the first administration of Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr. A veteran of the Vietnam War, he commanded a battalion in that country’s Mekong Delta. Schober spent 25 years in the Army, 17 of those years in the active component and eight years in the National Guard.

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