USA — National Guard Chief Notes Pain of Transformation

WASHINGTON, May 4, 2010 — The Nation­al Guard is trans­form­ing itself to meet the threats of the 21st cen­tu­ry, but the tran­si­tion is hard and will be painful for units, the chief of the Nation­al Guard Bureau said here today.

Air Force Gen. Craig R. McKin­ley spoke dur­ing a break­fast meet­ing of the Defense Writ­ers Group.

“We are in tran­si­tion to a new type of force to be more rel­e­vant in today’s wars,” McKin­ley said.

Bal­ance is the oper­a­tive word in the Defense Depart­ment this year, the gen­er­al said.

“How do we make a bal­anced force – both Army and Air Guard – that allows us to do the ser­vices’ require­ments, but still gives the gov­er­nors flex­i­bil­i­ty and capa­bil­i­ty at home?” McKin­ley asked. “The Nation­al Guard is adapt­ing to the chang­ing styles of war­fare. I could­n’t have pre­dict­ed 15 years ago that we would have used more that 80 per­cent of our Army Guard in full rota­tion fight­ing over a peri­od of almost nine years. But we were able to adapt.”

In the mid-1990s, McKin­ley said, it was dif­fi­cult to train up Guard for­ma­tions for oper­a­tions in the Balka­ns. “Now, we can take of for­ma­tion of 2,000 peo­ple and with­in 90 days have them ready to deploy to Afghanistan,” he said. “I don’t think we could have done that 15 years ago.”

Times have changed, the gen­er­al said, and so has the Nation­al Guard. “We have to be a more agile and quick response force,” he said. “The old rules of the 20th cen­tu­ry are just not rel­e­vant.”

The tran­si­tion will be espe­cial­ly painful in the Air Nation­al Guard, where new mis­sions, new equip­ment and new threats dri­ve the process, the gen­er­al said. The Air Guard still oper­ates at bases they start­ed using at the end of World War II, he explained, and many units are fight­er units fly­ing air­craft that are end­ing their oper­a­tional lives. Now, he said, the coun­try needs units that can oper­ate unmanned aer­i­al vehi­cles and man­age intel­li­gence, sur­veil­lance and recon­nais­sance assets, McKin­ley said. Oth­er per­son­nel will be need­ed in com­mand and con­trol and intel­li­gence func­tions.

“We are tran­si­tion­ing to a new place,” he said. “But it’s going to be painful for many of our units.”

The Army Nation­al Guard went through a mod­ern­iza­tion effort after the Sept. 11, 2001, ter­ror­ist attacks. The Army equipped Guard units with the lat­est equip­ment and inte­grat­ed them into the larg­er force.

“It’s pro­duced a force that is on aver­age between 50,000 and 60,000 sol­diers fight­ing … in Iraq and Afghanistan,” McKin­ley said. “With an over­all force of 358,000, we believe we can sus­tain this indef­i­nite­ly.”

Army Guard troops are in a 1‑to‑3 ratio of years deployed to years at home, the gen­er­al said, and he would like to see that ratio at 1‑to‑5. “The Army Guard worked as it was sup­posed to,” he said. “[The Unit­ed States was] con­front­ed with two land wars and used the Army Nation­al Guard as a shock absorber, because the U.S. Army was­n’t big enough. And it still may not be big enough.”

Even with the high deploy­ment rate, Nation­al Guard recruit­ing and reten­tion num­bers “defy all log­ic,” McKin­ley said.

“They are the high­est they’ve ever been,” he said. “Our reten­tion in the Army Guard approach­es 100 per­cent. We’ve had to shut down recruit­ing, because we have already met our goals, and I believe it is sus­tain­able.”

The Guard is a joint force, espe­cial­ly in the Unit­ed States, McKin­ley said.

“The fact that we have an Army Guard and an Air Guard some­times is irrel­e­vant when you’re fight­ing a flood or doing things in the Gulf of Mex­i­co,” he said. Gov­er­nors use the high­ly trained and high­ly skilled Guards­men as need­ed, he added.

“There are 66,000 Guards­men work­ing around the world in var­i­ous capac­i­ties – most­ly Army Guards­men in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also a large num­ber of Air Guards­men,” McKin­ley said. “We are proud of what we are, and proud of what we’ve become. We’ve trans­formed our­selves.”

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