On Capitol Hill, fortune often favors the persistent.
This is not just a product of today’s deeply divided Congress. A measure of resolve has always been necessary in navigating the legislative process our fore-fathers created. Their sense that most laws were made to be changed, but not on a whim, endures.
Consensus must be forged, which takes time and persistence, both by lawmakers and by those petitioning for a change, especially when taxpayer dollars are involved and now with so many competing interests.
NGAUS is persistent.
Take, for example, our effort to fix the flaws in mobilization authority 12304b. It took four years, but it’s now complete.
Congress created the new authority in 2012 to give the services easier access to the National Guard and Re-serve. But it lacked the personnel benefits provided by other authorities, including premobilization and transitional health care and credit toward the GI Bill and early retirement.
This unfairness became evident as the services began to increase their use of 12304b, and NGAUS along with individual Guardsmen and Reservists brought it to the attention of Congress in 2016.
Change didn’t occur quickly, but it did come. Guard supporters on Capitol Hill began introducing legislation, which, as a result of sponsor and NGAUS persistence, slowly found their way, one benefit at a time, into larger policy bills.
In the summer of 2017, the Forever GI Bill included 12304b. A few months later, the fiscal 2018 National Defense Authorization Act provided premobilization and transitional health care to those on the new mobilization authority.
In 2018, we took two more steps forward. The fiscal 2019 NDAA authorized high-deployment allowance accrual and prevented reserve-component members who work fulltime for the federal government from losing pay when on 12304b orders.
And last year, the fiscal 2020 NDAA included a provision that provided credit toward early retirement pay for those mobilized under the new authority.
I don’t think all of this would have been possible if we and our friends on Capitol Hill had settled for anything less for deployed Guardsmen than full benefits parity with their active-component counterparts.
We were persistent.
Also in 2019, we gained a foothold in enabling Guardsmen and Reservists who work full time for the federal government — including dual-status technicians — to purchase TRICARE Reserve Select.
TRS was a product of a seven-year NGAUS push for a low-cost health care option for drilling Guardsmen and Reservists. However, the same 2007 law that created it also prohibited full-time federal employees from participating. They must get their medical coverage through the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, which can be hundreds of dollars more ex-pensive a month.
A provision in the fiscal 2020 NDAA will open TRS to federal employees in 2030. The year is not a typo. Lawmakers are less than enthusiastic about the change. They have to find the money in the defense budget to cover the initial costs, even though it’s no worse than a wash overall for the federal government.
But lawmakers have now agreed to figure it out. They have 10 years to do so. We will be working to move that deadline to left, which likely will take a lot of persistence.
We cannot fight shoulder to shoulder with active forces if we are not also alongside them in equipment fielding plans.
NGAUS ALSO WON some major equipment battles in 2019.
The biggest is 64 new UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters for the Army National Guard. The figure is what the Army requested for the Guard in the president’s budget request, but we have been working directly with service officials for a few years to reinforce the urgency of Guard aviation needs.
Another victory is four more new C-130J Super Hercules cargo planes for the Air Guard. This brings to 20 the number of C-130Js Congress has added to the president’s budget for the Air Guard in recent years. It means we are now only four aircraft short of outfitting three Guard C-130 units with brand new aircraft.
Congress also authorized the creation of a separate Space Force under the Air Force. It will be the first new independent military service in 70 years, following the establishment of the Air Force in 1947.
This is exciting news. The Guard contribution to U.S. military space operations is currently only about 1,100 personnel, yet it provides 40% of the expeditionary space electronic-warfare capacity and 100% of the reserve-component, unit-equipped surge capability. And there is potential for growth.
We’ll be watching the development of the Space Force to ensure it fully leverages Guard capabilities and includes a Space Guard, not necessarily in every state, but where it make sense.
But not all of our accomplishments last year occurred on Capitol Hill. I’m proud to tell you that we increased our membership for the second consecutive year. The boost is modest, just one percentage point, but it represents 600 more Guard officers on our rolls.
This is significant in an environment in which people don’t join associations like they once did, military and veterans service organizations especially. It strongly suggests that we are on the right track.
A growing membership also helps us on Capitol Hill. As I mentioned last year, lawmakers understand numbers. They count votes to gain and stay in office, and they notice when an organization asking for their support has the backing of its constituency.
We also grew our Capitol Summit program. Made possible by the savings we incurred by paying off the mortgage on the National Guard Memorial in 2013, it brings company-grade officers, warrant officers and chief warrant officer 2s to the nation’s capital to see how our association and Washington works.
Last year, we increased the event to two full days in the nation’s capital and added a third iteration. Attendees heard from NGAUS and National Guard Bureau leaders. They also visited lawmakers and their staffs on Capitol Hill and toured the Pentagon.
The feedback we receive from our guests is overwhelming. I’ve had many tell me that they leave with a better understanding of exactly how things in Washington affects their careers and their units. More than a few have said it was the most worthwhile professional development they have ever attended.
SO A SUCCESSFUL YEAR IS BEHIND US. And I believe another one is in store.
It’s going to be another busy year for all of you in uniform. Natural disasters are a given. And overseas missions continue. To that end, NGAUS has an agenda to ensure the Guard continues to be prepared moving forward.
You will note a distinct theme to our legislative priorities (see below). At the top is concurrent and proportional fielding of new equipment. This has long been the right thing to do for the Total Force, but the National Defense Strategy and its emphasis on great-power competition makes it imperative.
We cannot fight effectively shoulder to shoulder with active forces if we are not also alongside them in the fielding plans for the most advanced equipment.
For too long that has not been the case, which is why many of our units have the second-best vehicles, aircraft and other systems in U.S. military inventory. And second best reduces the odds that our units can effectively fight, win and come home.
We will also make another push for the Army and/or Congress to address the Army Guard’s full-time manning shortage. The Army Guard provides 39% of the Army’s operational forces, yet is has smallest percentage of full-time support among the seven reserve components.
Also, it’s time Congress and the Defense Department recognized the value of providing medical coverage to every Guardsman year round, not just when called to duty or on a cost-share basis. Yes, it will require more defense dollars for health care, but zero-cost TRICARE would easily pay for itself in increased recruiting, retention and medical readiness.
Duty-status reform is also on our agenda. The Pentagon has been working for quite some time on draft legislation that would combine the more than 30 duty statuses into broad categories that create parity for service members, no matter if they are fighting insurgents in Afghanistan or a wildfire in California.
NGAUS supports this effort in principle, but it is a huge under-taking that involves hundreds of changes to federal law and regulations. It could easily go awry.
Congress expects to receive the DoD proposal this year. We’ll be watching and we will engage to ensure the final bill increases benefits parity and maintains the state role in mobilizing Guardsmen.
We will share developments on these issues in the magazine and in Washington Report, our weekly e-newsletter. In addition, association staff will be attending several state and territory conferences this spring to report progress and to listen to you.
The business conducted at these conferences is groundwork for our general conference, which is in August in the cradle of the Guard — Boston. Attendees can expect a celebration of early Guard history along with fun, great networking and outstanding professional development.
And because this is presidential election year, it’s reasonable to anticipate some very special guests.
Let me conclude by thanking you for staying in touch with your elected officials. It’s very helpful for us at NGAUS when the senator or representative we meet is already aware of an issue because of conversations with Guardsmen back home.
Have a safe and prosperous 2020. And rest assured, we will remain persistent on your behalf.
RETIRED BRIG. GEN. J. ROY ROBINSON can be reached via [email protected].
2020 NGAUS LEGISLATIVE PRIORITIES
The Same Equipment
●Concurrent and proportional fielding of equipment to the National Guard, includes:
●UH-60M Black Hawk, MQ-1C Gray Eagle Extended Range, F-35A Lightning II, KC-46A Pegasus and C-130J Super Hercules procurement
●AH-64E Apache battalions at 24 aircraft each
●National Guard equipment modernization and recapitalization, includes:
●UH-60V Black Hawk, Humvee, M1 Abrams tank and M2 Bradley
●C-130H Hercules, A-10 Thunderbolt II, F-15 Eagle and F-16 Fighting Falcon
The Same Resources
●Future multidomain battlefield interoperability, includes:
●Deployable and interoperable equipment and force structure
●Space National Guard as the primary combat reserve component within the future Space Force
●Continued National Guard integration in the Total Force cyber mission and training
●Increased full-time support/manning
●Increased National Guard military construction funding
●Robust National Guard and Reserve Equipment Account funding
The Same Benefits for the Same Missions
●Zero-cost TRICARE to ensure reserve-component medical readiness
●Ready access to mental health care and suicide prevention
●Protecting National Guard equities in duty status reform
●Tax incentives for Guardsmen and employers
●Providing benefits and leave policies befitting the operational National Guard