State Guard units press for new Stryker brigade

By Megan Scully

March 6, 2007

Faced with a National Guard-wide readiness crisis, several states are beginning to press Congress to add at least one more advanced Stryker brigade to the Army Guard.

The discussions began just months ago, but already two teams of states are preparing their arguments for the lightweight armored, wheeled vehicle, which would significantly upgrade the capabilities of their Guard units, realigned as part of a new brigade, for missions both in the United States and abroad.

So far, Pennsylvania is the only state with a National Guard Stryker brigade. Under current Army plans, the other six Stryker brigades will involve active-duty units.

The vehicles, produced by General Dynamics and first deployed in 2003, have proven their worth in Iraq -- and have caught the eye of top Guard officials in Kentucky, Mississippi, Alabama, California and Oregon.

But cost could be a major hurdle. Launching the Pennsylvania Guard brigade cost $1.2 billion -- including money for the vehicles, necessary military construction and other associated equipment. The vehicles alone would cost $300 million to outfit an entire brigade.

The Army Guard needs billions of dollars over the next several years to make up deep shortfalls in its equipment inventories, and Stryker does not appear to be a high priority at the Pentagon's National Guard Bureau.

Indeed, the bureau, which serves as a liaison between the states and the Defense Department, recently outlined a $24 billion equipment wish list for items that did not make the Defense Department's latest six-year budget. The list, which includes 50,000 new Humvees and trucks, does not include additional Stryker vehicles.

The issue likewise is not picking up much steam within the Pentagon. A senior military official said the issue of creating another Stryker brigade for the Guard has come up in Pentagon discussions, but it is "not seriously considered, [especially] for state missions."

That may push the Stryker issue into the lap of Congress, where lawmakers are keenly aware of the National Guard's equipping woes -- particularly for homeland missions.

The adjutant generals from Kentucky, Mississippi and Alabama would like to share a Stryker brigade, and view their position near the hurricane-prone Gulf coast as an ideal spot for Stryker-equipped units.

Stryker brigades have "the equipment and organizational aspects that are conducive to answering the call to domestic [missions] as well as the away game," Maj. Gen. Donald Storm, Kentucky's top Guard officer, said in a recent interview. Storm said he is still studying the issue and has not yet heavily pushed his delegation on the matter.

But Storm already has strong support from Rep. Geoff Davis, R-Ky., a House Armed Services member who believes a new stateside Stryker unit would help the Guard respond to homeland defense and disaster relief missions.

In a brief interview, Davis appeared hopeful that the Guard could secure another Stryker brigade, but acknowledged that it wouldn't happen "overnight."

Meanwhile, Oregon and California are teaming up in the hopes that they could use the vehicles -- which can traverse commercial roads without tearing up existing infrastructure and also ride off-road -- to respond rapidly to earthquakes, forest fires and a potential tsunami in the Pacific.

Last week, the Oregon National Guard held a Capitol Hill reception, where the Stryker vehicles were a main topic of discussion. General Dynamics, which has been working the issue behind the scenes, dispatched two officials, who used the event to attempt to sell Rep. David Wu, D-Ore., on the Stryker.

Maj. Gen. Raymond Rees, Oregon's adjutant general, said he first wanted to pursue a Stryker-like vehicle for the Guard nearly two decades ago, when he first saw the Marine Corps' Light Armored Vehicle. Last fall, he teamed up with California to actively pursue the Strykers.

Rees, who has done tours as a general officer at both U.S. Northern Command and the National Guard Bureau, said he already has spoken with Guard officials in Washington and members of his delegation about the Strykers.

When asked how the Stryker could be leveraged for domestic missions, Rees said, "Use your imagination."

By Megan Scully

March 6, 2007