Grass: Guard Well Beyond 39 Days of Training

By Rebecca Autrey

(Jan. 10, 2014) Between drills, preparing for drills, professional development classes and more, Gen. Frank J. Grass says he’s hard-pressed to find a member of the National Guard who trains only 39 days a year.

The chief of the National Guard Bureau was pushing back at a statistic often used by Army brass who claim Guard capabilities are not interchangeable with those in the active duty. The great amount of time put in by Guardsmen, especially those in leadership roles, is something Grass says he frequently notices.

“The idea of training 39 days a year,” he said, “doesn’t exist anymore.”

His comments came during a luncheon Thursday at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., two days after Gen. Ray Odierno, the Army chief of staff, used the same podium to cite the 39-day figure in a swipe at Guard readiness.

Grass pointed out that diligence in training is essential to success, particularly with the reliance on rapidly changing technology. Proper training allows the Guard to seamlessly support active-duty troops overseas while also fulfilling its mission at home.

Maintaining a total end strength large enough for the Guard to complete that dual federal and state mission is key as defense officials restructure forces after a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, Grass said. But the nation also must have an active force that’s big enough to respond immediately in a post-9/11 world.

Grass said the post-war environment, combined with a smaller budget, requires some belt-tightening. Defense officials from all branches are charged with creating the best force for the least amount of money. 

Though changes are needed, Grass cautioned against quick decisions on end strength. He emphasized that Congress gave defense officials time to find an appropriate balance between active and reserve components, and he believes officials owe it to the nation to get it right.

 “What we don’t want to do is rush into failure,” he said.

Grass mentioned the importance of having the chief of the National Guard Bureau on the Joint Chiefs of Staff. During major events like the bombing at the Boston Marathon and Hurricane Sandy, he’s been a direct pipeline between the adjutants general and the president, able to quickly share vital, relevant information with senior defense officials and the White House.

That access, he said, has caused him reflect on the situation before the National Guard Bureau chief was in that position.

He said, “I wonder who was talking for the states before I was in [that] room.”