Active, Reserve Relationship Forever Changed, Panetta Says

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — The rela­tion­ship between the active duty and the reserve com­po­nents has fun­da­men­tal­ly changed in the past 10 years, Defense Sec­re­tary Leon Panet­ta said here today.

“All told, more than 370,000 Guards­men have been deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan since 2001, many of them mul­ti­ple times,” he said to the Nation­al Guard’s Joint Senior Lead­ers Con­ven­tion. “It’s a sim­ple, and wide­ly rec­og­nized, real­i­ty that we could not have sus­tained this war effort with­out the ser­vice and con­tri­bu­tions of our Guards­men � more than 670 of whom have paid the ulti­mate price for their ser­vice.”

The Guard and oth­er reserve com­po­nents are inte­gral parts of the finest mil­i­tary in the world, the sec­re­tary said, and Guard mem­bers and their fam­i­lies have borne a heavy bur­den.

“These men and women have writ­ten a new chap­ter in this institution’s sto­ried lega­cy, and firm­ly estab­lished the Guard as a vital oper­a­tional arm of our mil­i­tary � a force far dif­fer­ent from the strate­gic reserve many envi­sioned dur­ing the Cold War,” he said.

The Air Nation­al Guard pro­vid­ed 50 per­cent of the tanker capa­bil­i­ty for U.S., NATO and allied air­craft oper­at­ing over Libya, the sec­re­tary said. “Hav­ing respond­ed to the call at a moment’s notice, Air Nation­al Guard tanker assets from 10 states were in place and ready to oper­ate the same day that the U.N. Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil passed the autho­riz­ing res­o­lu­tion,” he said.

And the Nation­al Guard also has a large state­side mis­sion. “When Hur­ri­cane Irene hit the east­ern seaboard this year, near­ly 8,000 Guard mem­bers from 18 states deployed, with equip­ment pre-posi­tioned to ensure it was avail­able for use,” he said.

The storm marked the first time the mil­i­tary des­ig­nat­ed dual-sta­tus com­man­ders in response to an emer­gency, Panet­ta not­ed. “As sec­re­tary of defense, I was proud to be able to par­tic­i­pate in this new approach to fos­ter­ing greater coop­er­a­tion between fed­er­al and state author­i­ties.”

The sec­re­tary tout­ed the move toward bol­ster­ing the Guard’s capa­bil­i­ty to respond to the hor­rif­ic pos­si­bil­i­ty of a chem­i­cal, bio­log­i­cal, radi­o­log­i­cal or nuclear inci­dent. The Guard has stood up 10 home­land response forces pre­pared to deploy with­in hours to save lives and pro­vide essen­tial com­mand and con­trol and secu­ri­ty capa­bil­i­ties.

“Whether engaged in these domes­tic sup­port mis­sions or serv­ing on the front lines in Iraq and Afghanistan, the men and women of today’s Nation­al Guard have proven them­selves to be an extreme­ly effec­tive oper­a­tional force over a decade of great demand,” Panet­ta said.

The Guard’s equip­ment is often the same or even ahead of their active-duty coun­ter­parts, the sec­re­tary said, and the qual­i­ty of per­son­nel has sky­rock­et­ed. “The Guard and reserve are increas­ing­ly indis­tin­guish­able from the active com­po­nent,” he said. And active and reserve com­po­nent per­son­nel of all ser­vices have worked togeth­er close­ly for a decade. That expe­ri­ence “of fight­ing along­side each oth­er,” has built trust and respect across the force, he said.

All U.S. troops will be out of Iraq by the end of the year, and in Afghanistan, Afghan secu­ri­ty forces will take over all secu­ri­ty there by the end of 2014, Panet­ta not­ed.

“While this will pro­vide Guard mem­bers and their fam­i­lies with much-need­ed respite and a more bal­anced mobi­liza­tion sched­ule, we need to be all the more thought­ful and care­ful in how we man­age the reserve com­po­nents going for­ward � par­tic­u­lar­ly because it coin­cides with a time of grow­ing fis­cal con­straint at home that will require tough deci­sions about force size and capa­bil­i­ties based on clear strate­gic pri­or­i­ties,” he said.

This does not mean that the active and reserve com­po­nents can or should go back to the old rela­tion­ship. The mil­i­tary must not for­get the lessons learned about the Nation­al Guard’s cen­tral role and rel­e­vance in the mil­i­tary of the 21st cen­tu­ry, Panet­ta said.

“A decade of war has honed the Guard into an effec­tive, lethal, fight­ing force, and it would be a tremen­dous mis­take, in my view, to put that capa­bil­i­ty back on the shelf,” he said.

Panet­ta asked the Nation­al Guard lead­ers to take back word to their troops that just as they have fought the wars the nation asked them to fight, he will fight the bat­tles in Wash­ing­ton to ensure they get what they need and deserve.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)