Gates Says Guard, Reserve Roles Need Examining

FORWARD OPERATING BASE SHARANA, Afghanistan, June 6, 2011 — The Defense Depart­ment is tak­ing a look at the roles of the Nation­al Guard and reserve com­po­nents, Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates said here today.
Gates spoke to the men and women of Task Force Cur­ra­hee, a unit built around the 101st Air­borne Division’s 4th Brigade , and based in Pak­ti­ka province.

The sec­re­tary thanked the sol­diers for their ser­vice dur­ing a town hall meet­ing and took ques­tions. One sol­dier asked about the future of the reserve com­po­nents.

Gates said he has been con­cerned about the Guard and reserves since he took office in 2006. “One of my con­cerns when I took the job was my con­cern that after 9/11, we pulled a kind of bait and switch on the Nation­al Guard,” he said.

Since World War II, the Nation­al Guard always had been a strate­gic reserve, and those sign­ing up for ser­vice gen­er­al­ly trained one week­end a month and two weeks in the sum­mer. They under­stood they would be called up for nation­al dis­as­ters or great nation­al crises. Instead, they “found them­selves ulti­mate­ly being deployed for 15 months in the field,” the sec­re­tary said.

Since then, of course, the real­i­ty is that every­one who has joined the Guard and reserve has known they were going in to the fight, he said.

But this is an issue for reservists. The depart­ment is ask­ing what are the right roles for the Guard and reserve going for­ward, Gates said.

One sug­ges­tion is that the Guard be divid­ed into a strate­gic reserve and an oper­a­tional reserve, with each group trained, paid and equipped dif­fer­ent­ly, the sec­re­tary said.

Anoth­er sug­ges­tion calls for mov­ing more of the Army’s heavy infantry brigade com­bat teams into the Nation­al Guard.

“These are ques­tions we are look­ing at, but we need to do some hard think­ing,” he said, “because we could not have done what we did in Iraq and do what we’re doing here in Afghanistan with­out the oper­a­tional engage­ment of the Guard.”

What­ev­er hap­pens, the Guard is going to con­tin­ue to have an oper­a­tional role, Gates said. “How much of the Guard that involves, and how we sit­u­ate the Guard and reserve going for­ward is still a ques­tion every­body is look­ing at,” he said.

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

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