WASHINGTON, April 6, 2011 — The Army Reserve’s top officer made the case today for legislative changes that would allow his troops to respond to homeland disasters or attacks when federal military capabilities are needed.
Army Reserve Chief Lt. Gen. Jack C. Stultz made clear during a roundtable discussion at the Heritage Foundation here that he has no interest in undermining state governors’ authority or stepping on the toes of the National Guard that currently provides homeland support under their state governors’ orders.
But in light of budget constraints and vast improvements in the Army Reserve’s readiness and capabilities during the past decade, Stultz said it doesn’t make sense to be able to use these capabilities only during overseas missions.
“The primary focus of the Title 10 reserve has always been on the expeditionary,” he said. “We have been saying for some time is: ‘We should be playing a role in the homeland.’ But it is going to require legislative change.”
Current law, he said, allows an involuntary call-up of the Title 10 reserve for a homeland mission only for crises involving weapons of mass destruction. In the event of natural disasters such as hurricanes or floods or an outright attack on the homeland, local first responders — police, firefighters and emergency medical technicians — are likely to be the first on the scene, Stultz said.
State governors also have authority to mobilize their National Guard forces if needed.
“But at the point where that governor, that state says, ‘We need federal assistance now. This is beyond our capability,’ ” Stultz said. Current law, he added, requires the active component to be employed as the default federal force.
Testifying March 30 before the House Appropriation Committee’s Defense Subcommittee, Stultz used his home state of Florida as an example of how the current law requires that federal assistance be provided during a homeland emergency.
“It makes no sense to me when Hurricane Andrew hits and we have to have federal response, that the 82nd Airborne comes from Fort Bragg, North Carolina,” in light of vast Army Reserve resources already in Florida, he told the panel.
“The Army Reserve has an engineer battalion sitting in Miami with scrapers, with bucket-loaders, with bulldozers, with dump trucks … I’ve got [military police] units in Ocala and Tampa and Fort Lauderdale… I’ve got hospital units in the south Florida area, Jacksonville and Tampa area… I’ve got a [medical evacuation] unit … with Blackhawk helicopters sitting in Clearwater, Florida. And I’ve got transporters, trucks sitting around the state,” he said.
These units are made up of “citizens of Florida … who want to help, and yet we don’t have the authority,” he said. “Now, we do not want to try to take the job of the National Guard,” Stultz said. The National Guard, he told the House panel, responds “magnificently” when called to the scene. “What we’re saying is when the federal response is needed,” he continued, “currently you go to the active force, when you have Title 10 Reserves sitting there inside the state that are ready, available, and in a lot of cases, more capable.”
Stultz told reporters today the Army Reserve’s makeup, which includes a major percentage of the Army’s medical, engineering and transportation units, makes it the more logistical federal choice.
“The capabilities that you really need for the homeland response reside in our force much more than they reside in the active Army,” he said. Stultz’ concept isn’t new. Legislative changes needed to use the Army Reserve stateside have been proposed at least twice on Capitol Hill, only to get push-back from governors and others who Stultz said didn’t fully understand the intent.
“They are looking at it as the federal government trying to usurp the state,” he said. “This is not about the federal government taking over the state’s authority. This is not about the state having the authority to call up the federal reserve [forces], either. This is about when the state requires federal assistance, what force do we employ? “Do we employ that active force that comes from Fort Bragg with a bunch of infantry soldiers,” the general continued, “or do we employ the Army Reserves who happen to be present within the state with the capability [needed]?”
Stultz said he’s seeing more openness today to legislative change. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and the administration are interested, he said. Paul N. Stockton, assistant secretary of defense for homeland defense and Americas’ security affairs; and Richard Reed, special assistant to the president for homeland security, are exploring the issue. And in a promising development, Stultz said the National Governors’ Association has expressed an interest in moving the measure forward.
“I don’t think it is going to happen overnight,” Stultz said of legislative change. “But I think you have both sides now, from the state and federal level, saying, ‘Why aren’t we doing this? What is getting in the way?’ ”
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)