The Space Force, federal recognition of Guard officers and the threats of bureaucracy were among the topics discussed by the director of the Air National Guard during an event in Washington on Tuesday.
Lt. Gen. L. Scott Rice broached those topics during a wide-ranging discussion that was part of the Air Force Association’s Breakfast Series of seminars.
Rice, who has led the Air Guard since May 2016, said U.S. military leaders were “all in” on including the Guard in plans for a future Space Force, although details are still being worked out.
Currently, the Air Guard has approximately 1,500 airmen in seven states assigned to units with direct space operation missions. Two more squadrons are set to be formed in two other states in the near future.
Rice said he believes a Space National Guard should come from those nine states and not include states that do not currently have a space-related mission.
“I would not do 54 states of Space National Guard,” he said.
Ultimately, a Space National Guard that includes between 1,500 and 2,000 airmen – out of a total Space Force of between 30,000 to 35,000 service members – would be a good thing that can add value to the fledgling force, Rice said. “That’s how I would do it.”
Alaska, California, Colorado, Florida, New York, Arkansas and Ohio currently have space-related units in their Air National Guards. Rice said the two new squadrons would be formed in two yet-to-be-determined western states.
There are no timelines for the creation of the Space Force, Rice added, as officials wait on Congress to establish and fund the new service.
On the topic of federal recognition, Rice said the Air Guard has not experienced the hefty delays faced by some in the Army Guard, some of whom have waited a year to receive promotion – and added pay that comes with a higher rank.
But the general said the Air Force is supporting Army efforts to further streamline the federal recognition process by merging active and reserve-component promotion scrolls.
Currently, he said an officer must be re-scrolled and re-approved by Congress if he or she moves between the active and reserve components. Rice said he wants there to be a single process so that Congress only needs to approve such an officer once.
Currently, it would take a Navy F-16 pilot between nine months and a year to transfer to the Air Guard to perform the same job, he said. About half of that delay would be due to scrolling.
“We need congressional authority to merge the lists,” Rice said. “I do not want to take authority away from Congress. I just want them to do it once.”
Much of the general’s remarks were focused on the need to rein in the military bureaucracy that casts a large shadow over the force.
He said he learned early in his job as director that such a bureaucracy should help service members, not crush them.
“There’s a fundamental balance we have of being in control and being aware,” Rice said. “I try to tell people that are running a bureaucratic machine – you don’t need to be in charge, you don’t need to run it, you just need to understand it, be aware of it and add value to it.”
That isn’t always easy, especially as the military has remained engaged at the highest prolonged period of conflict in the nation’s history.
Rice cited as an example the recent mobilization of more than 4,000 Guard soldiers last month, only for those mobilization orders to be rescinded and soldiers left with medical bills after their TRICARE benefits were also revoked.
The orders were rescinded because officials are still waiting for the Defense Department to approve the Global Force Management Allocation Plan, or GFMAP, which allocates rotational forces to combatant commanders around the world.
The GFMAP is typically submitted late in the year and approved in December or January before being implemented in the fall. But dynamic threats facing the U.S. have led to a delay in that document’s approval, Rice said.
“That’s a real problem for us, for the active force and the Guard force, because we don’t quite know what forces are going to go forward,” he said. “Our bureaucratic machine has left hundreds of Army Guardsmen with debt from being activated, put on TRICARE and then have that taken away.”
Ultimately, Rice said the force must be predictable, but also flexible enough to respond to looming threats.
“You never know when something might flare up tomorrow,” he said.