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A Fight Worth Our Time

04-23-24 WR Rogers Op-Ed WEBSITE
04-23-24 WR Rogers Op-Ed WEBSITE

— By Maj. Gen. Frank M. McGinn (Ret.), NGAUS President

A prominent member of Congress told a reporter April 17 that NGAUS should not "waste their time" fighting a legislative proposal from the Department of the Air Force to transfer the Air National Guard's space units to the Space Force.

It wasn’t news to us that we’re in an uphill struggle. The proposal has the full backing of the federal chain of command. Some key congressional defense leaders are also on board.

But we have never run from a tough fight. And more than Guard equities are at stake here.

The Air Force wants permission from Congress to bypass longstanding federal laws and take 14 Air Guard units from seven states without the required consent of those states' governors.

These laws have been on the books since 1903. Their intent is clear: to prevent exactly the kind of federal overreach Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall has proposed.

Guard units belong to their state or territory's governors until mobilized by the president. Federal officials may employ them, but they can’t take them and keep them.

Not surprisingly, the nation’s governors oppose this scheme. They see an attempt to erode their authorities.

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, a Democrat, and Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican, have already written to President Joe Biden or Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III about this situation. So has the Council of Governors, a 10-member group created to provide a state perspective to federal officials about matters involving the homeland and national defense.

Air Force and Space Force officials say all of this is an overreaction, because they only want to bypass federal laws this one time. But just once will open the doors to temptation in the future.

Simply put, it’s a very dangerous precedent.

The same officials said last week that the transfer "only" involves 578 airmen. They said it was 700 service members two weeks ago. Earlier this year, they said 1,000 personnel were in the 14 Guard units.

Clearly, these officials' evolving talking points are an attempt to minimize the proposal’s impact. They reached a lower number of airmen by cutting support personnel from the total. But as any military leader knows, support personnel are critical to mission accomplishment.

Air Force and Space Force officials have also alluded to the "bureaucratic problems" of managing space units in different services. However, they don’t mention the significant costs and challenges associated with their proposal.

According to the Space Force, the Air Guard's space units provide more than 30% of the U.S. military’s space capabilities. These Guardsmen have been conducting their missions for over 20 years. But transferring these units would effectively empty them, making them combat ineffective.

Surveys of these units' members indicate that up to 86% don’t want to leave the Guard. Part-timers also make up 60% to 65% of these units. There are no part-time slots in the Space Force today, and officials say it could be more than five years before such positions are available.

The National Guard Bureau says it would cost nearly $1 billion and up to nine years to refill these units and regain their current level of expertise.

Meanwhile, the U.S. military will have diminished space capabilities at a time when Russia and China are rushing to bolster their presence in space.

The Department of the Air Force has proposed a solution that would create more problems than it solves. Trying to defeat it is not a waste of our time.

The author is the NGAUS president. He can be reached at [email protected].