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Guard Gets Some Wins in Compromise Defense Bill

Washington Report

The National Guard would get another four-star general, parental leave parity and progress toward fighter recapitalization in the compromise fiscal 2024 National Defense Authorization Act.

The leaders of the House and Senate Armed Services committees released their final conference report last week. It’s the product of negotiations to settle differences between the two chambers in their separate versions of the annual defense policy bill.

The more than 3,000-page document must still be approved by the full House and Senate and signed by President Joe Biden before it can become law.

But it’s expected to easily pass Congress before the end of the year.

The report authorizes $886 billion for defense-related programs, matching the president’s budget request, including $842 billion for the Defense Department.

However, it only authorizes funds. Lawmakers are still negotiating a final defense spending bill, which will determine the actual topline and specific expenditures.

An exception is the 5.2% pay increase that takes effect in January.

The National Guard Bureau vice chief would be the Guard’s new four-star in the fiscal 2024 NDAA. The post is currently authorized three stars.

A fourth star would place the position on the same level as the other vice chiefs in the Pentagon. The current rank puts NGB at a disadvantage in various meetings, like those involving the Joint Requirements Oversight Council.

The parental-leave parity provision in the compromise defense bill would provide all birth mothers, spouses, partners and adoptive and foster parents with three months of excused absences from drill with retirement points.

Currently, under the Reserve Component Maternity Leave Program, only birth mothers are eligible for the benefit.

Active-duty birth mothers, spouses, partners and adoptive and foster parents are eligible for 12 weeks of maternity leave.

Additionally, the 2024 NDAA would require the secretary of the Air Force to develop a long-term tactical fighter force structure, recapitalization, training and sustainment plan for the active and reserve components of the Air Force.

The defense bill also includes a provision that would extend TRICARE Reserve Select benefits for three years to surviving family members following the death of a covered Guardsman or Reservist.

Presently, this coverage continues for only six months. Surviving active-duty families receive three years of benefits.

NGAUS strongly supports a four-star vice chief, parental leave parity, a fighter recapitalization plan and extension of TRS to surviving families.

However, the fiscal 2024 NDAA doesn't include another association priority — a Space National Guard.

Instead, it would require the defense secretary to conduct a study to assess the feasibility and advisability of transferring "space functions" from the Air Guard to the Space Force.

The study is due to the HASC and SASC by March 1.

NGAUS believes opposition to creating a Space Guard is based on myth.

The compromise defense bill would also raise the fitness standards for some service members in the Army and the Army Guard.

A provision directs the service to increase the baseline scores in the Army Combat Fitness Test for ground troops, including infantry, cavalry scouts and Special Forces within 18 months of the bill being signed into law by the president.

— By John Goheen