By Retired Maj. Gen. Gus L. Hargett Jr.
Congress and the president have an opportunity over the next two weeks to right a wrong enacted two years ago when they saddled the federal government with sequestration.
Sequestration was their clumsy effort to reduce the nation’s deficit through automatic, across-the-board cuts to federal government without regard for individual programs.
Both political parties and the White House said sequester would never come to this, but it has because elected officials couldn’t find common ground. And still can’t. The loser, of course, is the American people.
While it affected nearly the entire government, the military took the hardest hit. Sequestration removed $43 billion from the Pentagon’s coffers in the fiscal year that ended on Sept. 30.
This impacted training, which cut into the force’s readiness. Gen. Ray Odierno, the Army chief of staff, has said reduced readiness may mean increased casualties on the battlefield. It is that serious.
We’ve seen in recent days the worst of our government. The inability of Congress to pass a budget—it’s most basic obligation to the people—and the resulting shutdown of the federal government is inexcusable.
This has produced hardships for both those who work for the government and must do without paychecks and those who depend on government programs that are not functioning.
Soon, Congress will be asked to increase the debt limit. And it seems like this, too, will be fodder in a political game of one-upsmanship and trying to win the news cycle.
But this also presents a real chance for Congress to repair what it has damaged through sequestration. Make no mistake; there will be a deal on the debt ceiling. There has to be, otherwise the nation defaults on its debt. And these discussions provide the framework and the urgency also needed to end sequestration before it causes more harm to our military.
There are myriad worthwhile programs that depend on federal funds, including those that educate our children, feed the hungry and care for the sick and elderly. Each deserves its share of the budget.
But nothing is more critical than national security.
I realize that times are difficult. The nation has fewer dollars and must spend them wisely. So the military must do its part in accepting cuts.
But those cuts should be part of an overall strategy that funds a Total Force—active, Guard and reserve—to a level that will allow that force to protect America from enemies and natural disasters.
I am a National Guardsman. I spent nearly 50 years in that uniform. And I believe this efficient, cost-effective force is a large part of the answer to our fiscal challenges. Let’s use that reality to our advantage.
Guardsmen are on duty every day, at home and abroad. In recent months, they have responded to tornadoes in Oklahoma, floods in Colorado and wildfires in California. They are serving today, tomorrow and the day after that in the sky above our cities and coastlines. And they are in Afghanistan.
Sequestration must end.
Sequestration has made it more difficult for the Army and Air Force leadership to use Guardsmen to perform its mandated missions.
Any decision reached by our elected officials should give the National Guard what it needs to respond to disasters both natural and manmade and to serve overseas in the fight for freedom.
But this is not only about the Guard. This is about the total military that must be properly equipped and trained and compensated so that it can keep our nation safe.
I ask the elected members of Congress to do what they have been elected to do—fund the government in a manner that will ensure national security while uncertainty grows in a dangerous world.
Only when the nation is secure can it go about the business of making sure its citizens are educated and fed and allowed to prosper.
So, Congress, gather with your military leaders and design the right strategy for America’s security. It will be a mix of active-duty troops, reservists and Guardsmen.
And then fund that force so that it can do the job for which it has been created. Do it now before the risk becomes even greater.
Don’t squander this opportunity. It might be our last.
Retired Maj. Gen. Gus Hargett spent nearly 50 years in the Tennessee National Guard and served as the state’s adjutant general for nearly seven years. He is now president of the nearly 45,000-member National Guard Association of the United States, which is headquartered in Washington, D.C.
Reporters, Editors & Producers: Retired Maj. Gen. Gus Hargett is available for interviews or to appear as a subject matter expert on defense issues related to the National Guard. Contact John Goheen at 202-789-0031 to schedule an interview or appearance.
About NGAUS: The association includes nearly 45,000 current or former Guard officers. It was created in 1878 to provide unified National Guard representation in Washington. In their first productive meeting after Reconstruction, militia officers from the North and South formed the association with the goal of obtaining better equipment and training by petitioning Congress for more resources. Today, 135 years later, NGAUS has the same mission.