National Guard and reserves need more resources, study finds

Despite a high-level commission's 2008 conclusion that the United States must increasingly rely on National Guard and military reserve troops' participation in missions overseas and at home, the government still is not sufficiently investing in the necessary policies, laws and budgets to ensure the reserve forces' ability "to fulfill their critical role in U.S. national security," a new report finds.

John Nagl and Travis Sharp, defense experts at the Center for a New American Security, released the report Monday, arguing for a number of actions to strengthen the Guard and reserves, including decoupling their operational funding from supplemental Defense budget requests and providing a reliable funding stream through the department's base budget.

"Since this supplemental account will vanish as U.S. military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq wind down, the operational functions of the Guard and Reserves -- which will prove essential in future missions requiring specialized and high-tech skills -- are at risk of disappearing along with it, particularly if overall defense spending tapers off as expected," the study said.

Officials at leading organizations representing Guard and reserve issues applauded the call for a separate congressional appropriation to fund reserve operations.

"We need to get funding for the Guard and reserves out of supplementals and into the base budget," said John Goheen, director of communications for the National Guard Association. Goheen said the fight for resources is likely to intensify in coming years, making separate funding streams for active and reserve forces essential.

"We have this unique operational force, but there are elements within the Defense establishment who would let this go away," Goheen said.

David Small, a spokesman for the Reserve Officers Association, said the government has come a long way in improving the operational capability of the Guard and reserves, but agreed that funding for reservists must be appropriated independently of war supplementals if reservists are to continue to play a vital role in military operations.

The report noted the Army and Air National Guard, and the Marine Corps and Army reserves lacked at least 25 percent of their required equipment.

"When Guardsmen and reservists do not possess and train on the modernized equipment they will use during deployments, pre-mobilization readiness declines, boots on the ground time in theater decreases, morale plummets and the flexibility to reassign units from one mission to another disappears," the report said.

In conducting their study, the authors revisited the recommendations in the 2008 final report of the congressionally created Commission on the National Guard and Reserves and found that much remains to be done to manage reserve forces so they might capably meet expectations.

CNAS called for a comprehensive personnel management strategy to replace the convoluted system that governs reserve service and creates problems in administering pay and benefits, including health care.

It also recommended creating a method for comparing the relative costs of full-time active-duty and reserve personnel. "This methodological gap leaves DoD at risk of making future force structure decisions based not on cost-benefit analysis, but on sporadic yet recurring anti-Guard and Reserve cultural bias that motivated previous DoD attempts to reflexively slash the Guard and Reserves when defense budgets decline," the report said.

"While there is some confusion over the method for comparing the relative costs of full-time active-duty and reserve personnel, it is not questioned that the Reserve and Guard are a less expensive alternative when balanced correctly within the total force," Small said.

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