USA — Guard Can Aid Budget Challenges, General Says

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)