VIRGINIA BEACH, Va., May 14, 2010 — The National Guard is uniquely poised to be part of the solution to many of the Defense Department’s future budget woes, the National Guard’s top officer told an audience at the Joint Warfighting Conference here yesterday.
Air Force Gen. Craig R. McKinley, chief of the National Guard Bureau, noted that Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has strongly asserted that the defense budget is going to have to come down, maybe considerably, over the next several years.
“We in the Department of Defense are going to have to look very seriously at what we can afford to do and how we meet the commitments of our combatant commanders in the future,” the general said.
McKinley said difficult decisions will have to be made, and that he believes the National Guard is going to be part of the solution, even while taking its share of the cuts and maintaining an effective force that can continue for years to come.
The Guard’s strength, he said, is that it’s a mostly part-time force with full-time capabilities.
“We do have an advantage, that in the days when a [National Guard] soldier or airman is not mobilized or not volunteering for duty, those are days when you don’t pay that soldier,” McKinley said. “You have the advantage of having that soldier or airman who can integrate as needed, and it’s not costing the nation for that service. We get paid for the service that we perform.”
Despite its cost-effectiveness, the Guard will continue to see changes, such as integrating with active-duty components to share equipment and resources, the general said. An example of this construct exists at Langley Air Force Base, Va., where airmen from the Virginia Air National Guard have integrated with the 1st Fighter Squadron to fly the F-22 Raptor.
“We know that we are not going to replace aircraft one for one,” McKinley said. “We know we are going to have to come up with new models, so that we can share the equipment so we can all remain trained on that equipment. Those are new paradigms that we in leadership are going to have to pursue.”
McKinley said the Guard will continue to be at the forefront of operational needs, rather than reverting to the often underfunded and underequipped strategic reserve that existed before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks put the nation on wartime footing.
Deputy Secretary of Defense William J. Lynn III said the National Guard must maintain its role as a full-spectrum force, McKinley said. “I think that is an acknowledgement that … the last eight and a half, almost nine, years of kinetic operations overseas has given the National Guard a fighting spirit and a capability that, quite possibly, they haven’t had since Korea.”
That fighting spirit can be seen in some of the niche missions the Guard has filled overseas, such as the agribusiness development teams that draw on civilian agriculture experience that Guard members may possess, McKinley said.
“These agribusiness experts come in and try and turn the Afghan countryside back into what it was at one time, which was a breadbasket,” he said. “It has potential beyond belief, but because of decades of war, [many Afghan farmers] have lost the skill sets to grow their own crops. Trading in poppies for grapes is a tough choice, and it doesn’t happen overnight.”
McKinley said that as operations continue to shift to Afghanistan, the Guard will again fill the niche missions as well as more traditional operational roles there.
But being able to provide that capability as a full-spectrum force has had associated costs, the general acknowledged. “Full-spectrum doesn’t come easy,” he said. “With full-spectrum, there is a burden and cost, and we shed blood alongside our active component counterparts. We’ve paid in blood … to become a National Guard that is deemed today by others to be a full-spectrum force.”
In the next five years, the Guard will see an indefinite commitment to those operational needs, but with a greater sense of stability, McKinley said.
“We believe that we can have 55,000 to 60,000 Army Guard soldiers in the Army force-generation cycle indefinitely if we build in rotation times and mobility times, much like our United States Air Force has done with our aircraft,” McKinley said. “That is giving families and employers predictability and stability and lead time to those citizen-soldiers and airmen, so they can continue to contribute at the national level.”
It also will allow the Guard to be able to continue its role of responding to natural disasters and other missions at home.
“Governors can call out the National Guard in state active duty status and can use those National Guard airmen and soldiers for augmentation of their security forces to help during crisis like we’ve seen recently in the Oklahoma tornados, the Nashville floods and we’re even putting Guard members on orders to help with the Gulf oil [spill],” McKinley said.
Along with their warfighting skills, Guard members will need to continue to hone those homeland-response skills.
“The American public demands that we be there … quickly with the right equipment, with the right formations, with the right leadership, and we’re not arguing about who is in charge when we show up, and we get it done,” the general told the conferees.
“We will continue to work with our Army and Air Force to provide the combat forces that the combatant commanders need,” he said. “And we are an eager and willing partner with our allies, with our state partners, with our interagency players to make sure that the National Guard of the 21st century is ready, is capable, is accessible, is adaptable and is affordable.”
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)