Guard & Reserve Merger Debate Continues-The System is Broken

Broken Reserve System Needs To Be Fixed
By Gus L. Hargett, Jr., president, National Guard Association
Originally appeared in The Hill's Congress Blog on 8/17/2012

Now is the time to merge the National Guard and the Reserve into one force because, despite a claim in an earlier Congress blog, the system is broken. It does need to be fixed. Doing so would save billions of dollars by eliminating redundancies and wasteful competition. More importantly, it would provide a larger and more versatile force to the governors for humanitarian assistance during disaster response and for the protection of critical infrastructure should the need arise.

Retired Col. James Tyson Currie, the former Army Reservist who began this discussion on these pages back in July, was right when he said the “days are long gone” for there to be two distinct reserve components in the Army and Air Force. Times have changed and the roles they play have never been more compatible.

And my friend Drew Davis, the executive director of the Reserve Officers Association, who responded to Currie’s idea in a later blog post, was wrong when he said that “only in the face of systemic failure” should such a merger be considered. In fact, it is because the two forces have been so successful in the 10 years since 9/11 that we know such a merger could take place and that our men and women and our leadership could navigate this difficult maneuver with ease. We have learned since 9/11 that nothing we ask of our members is too much for them to perform. And this merger, which would be in the best interest of the nation, would be no different. Mr. Davis also notes that no one in a position of authority has sought such a merger. So what? Good ideas can come from anywhere. And this one has been kicking around for decades in the nation’s capital.

But the time is right for it as the nation faces a budget crisis and the military is about to end its involvement in two wars. This is the time for a bold move that will position our uniformed forces for the future. Certainly, the driving force behind this idea should be our nation’s security. But let’s not forget that the budget crisis has been described as a national security issue. Anything we can do to alleviate that burden adds protection to the country. As has been stated, a Congressional Budget Office study 15 years ago estimated a savings of $2 billion over five years if only the Army components came together. The savings would surely be greater now, especially with the Air Force components added to the plan. More than 2,500 people work at the Air Force Reserve headquarters. The Air Guard headquarters has a staff of 1,500. There are duplications galore.

Combining the Reserve and the Guard for the Air Force would eliminate numerous general officer positions alone. We’d hate to see our friends go away, but our duty is to the country. I could point to several locations where Guard and Reserve units share a location and perform the same mission, but do not share facilities or equipment. The components have two separate recruiting programs and staffs operating independently. But the time for theoretical debate has ended. Congress must now make the merger of the Guard and the Reserve one of its major talking points as it seeks ways to cut the cost of the federal government. This idea requires focused and objective study that can come only from the body that controls this country’s budget and is responsible for providing its defense.

This idea should now rest with Congress.


I too think the time has come to consider merging the Nation's Army and Air reserve forces. Mr. Hargett outlines, as have others, many savings and efficiencies we can realize without losing the strengths and capabilities the National Guard and Reserve forces bring to our national defense. The States/governors do need some resources available to them for natural disasters, etc. But does each state, for example, need its own air force? Probably not. The rationale of this move is the easy part. One of the biggest barriers will be the politics of states and their congressional delegations agreeing to give up something. The loss of flag positions will not be easy to swallow in all cases either. And the National Guard will have to start deciding what crosses it wants to die on rather than run to Congress each time DOD threatens the states...assuming DOD has done its homework correctly.

I agree and believe that this is the underlying reason that recommendation number 5 of the Commission on National Guard and Reserves (CNGR) has not been addressed in any manner that I can find. The recommendation is well researched and thought out and makes a lot of sense looking at our Constitution. It's unfortunate that no one is talking about this. Here is the CNGR recommendation:

CNGR Recommendation 5: In accordance with §1815 of the 2008 National Defense Authorization Act, the Secretary of Homeland Security, with the assistance of the Secretary of Defense, should generate civil support requirements, which the Department of Defense will be responsible for validating as appropriate. DoD should include civil support requirements in its programming and budgeting. As part of this effort, DoD should determine existing capabilities from all components that could fulfill civil support requirements and rebalance them where appropriate (consistent with their other obligations), shifting capabilities determined to be required for state-controlled response to domestic emergencies to the National Guard, and shifting capabilities currently resident in the National Guard that are not required for its state missions but are required for its federal missions either to the federal reserve components or to the active duty military, as appropriate.

Sir, I am not sure I can agree with you on this issue, at least without further information.

-I must caveat this discussion with the fact I am an Army Reserve AGR Soldier, so I am somewhat biased against the concept. However, I must also say I am open to it if someone in government really took a serious look at the pros and cons and gets buy-in from the leadership.

-Bottom Line Up Front, there needs to be some serious discussions in government concerning this. I do see some areas where it is beneficial, but also see some areas where there may be issues of concern.

-Redundancies seem to be everywhere between the National Guard and the Reserve, but I believe they are needed, and the monetary savings may not be as much as one might expect if the two forces were merged. For instance, as I'm sure almost everyone knows, there are not enough maintenance personnel in the Army, there are also not enough in the Army Reserve, and I am willing to bet there are not enough in the National Guard either. If the forces merged into the National Guard, how many maintenance positions would be eliminated? Does the answer matter? In my opinion it does not, almost any reduction would be too much for the force. The current amount of maintenance personnel in the Army cannot support the force without civilian augmentation, the Army will need even more civilian augmentation if some redundancies are reduced too much.

-This new National Guard would provide a much larger force for a governor to use for humanitarian assistance during a crisis, but there are newer laws in place that make it easier to use federal forces (i.e. Reserve Forces) for state emergencies since Hurricane Katrina showed us the problem with federal support. How much faster would this be if all Reserve forces were National Guard?

-Sir, you say the driving force should be the nation's security, and state the budget crisis is a national security issue. I agree that the budget issue is a national security concern, but is the risk of a much smaller force (one conceivably smaller than the drawdown we are currently undergoing) worth the savings? At some point there are diminishing returns between the amount of money saved and the number of Soldiers and positions eliminated.

Thank you,


Add new comment