On Guard


Duplicitous. Scheming. Lying. Self-serving. That's how some National Guard leaders and their advocates describe senior Army leaders. The basis for their contempt? The Army tried to make good on a Defense Department recommendation to restructure the Army National Guard's combat divisions, cutting 38,000 of the Guard's 367,000 soldiers.

The recommendation was made under the Quadrennial Defense Review, the Pentagon's latest blueprint for revamping the military to meet future needs. It is one in a string of internal reviews, blue-ribbon studies, and independent panel reports that have recommended cutting what is considered by most analysts to be excess and antiquated combat capability in the Army National Guard. When negotiations over the recommended cuts fell apart last summer, the debate took on an unusually bitter tone.

The outcome of the standoff between the Army and its politically well-connected combat reserve force could well determine the future course of the Army. At stake are billions of dollars in a shrinking budget and key decisions about the shape and size of U.S. land forces.

Affordability Issue

More than half of the Army, 54 percent, is in the Army National Guard and the Army Reserve. "No other service has that amount in reserve. We depend on our [reserve component]. We cannot go to war without them. We cannot even do Bosnia without them," says Col. Stephen Cook, the Army's deputy director of programs, analysis and evaluation for reserve affairs.

The Army's dependence on reserve units is spelled out in the Defense Department's Total Force Policy, which was adopted after the Vietnam War to ensure the United States would never again go to war without the participation of the American people through the mobilization of the National Guard. The other services also depend on reservists, but to a much lesser extent: 32 percent of Air Force members are reservists, and 19 percent of the Navy and the Marines.

The successful participation of Guard and Reserve troops in recent operations, including the Gulf War, a peacekeeping rotation in Egypt, contingency operations in Haiti and Bosnia, and their ongoing participation in training and nation-building missions in Latin America is a testament to the success of the Total Force Policy, Cook says.

But such success is not unqualified. During the Gulf War, the Army mobilized but did not deploy three high-priority Guard combat brigades that were intended to fill out active divisions deployed to the war. The Army deemed the brigades not ready to fight, a fact Guard officials dispute. By the time the Army qualified the brigades for deployment, the ground war was over.

To many Army leaders, the cost of maintaining such a large reserve component is not justified given the service's budget constraints and the tremendous difficulty of maintaining combat skills in a modern, part-time force. Since 1992, the Army has pumped $21.5 billion into upgrading Guard and Reserve equipment. That's in addition to personnel and training costs, which add up to about $9 billion a year, a significant chunk of the Army's $60 billion annual budget. All of this spending comes at a time when the Army has canceled or delayed several major weapons programs because they are no longer affordable.

"The bottom line is, we're spending scarce resources on units that few people outside the Guard ever expect will see a battlefield. We just can't afford to do that," says one former Army staff officer familiar with the issue.

Maj. Gen. William Navas, director of the Army National Guard, acknowledges the Army has devoted more money to the National Guard in recent years. But "equating the increase in dollars to an increase in support of the [Guard] is exactly the wrong conclusion," he wrote in response to a query from Government Executive. (Navas declined to be interviewed for this story.) While Army funding has increased, it still falls far below what is required to keep forces trained and ready, he says. Guard officials estimate that by 1999, the Guard's funding shortfall will reach $2.5 billion.

"If we're not as ready as everyone thinks we should be, it's because the Army isn't funding us at the level we need to be at," says one Guard officer who asked not to be identified.

Budget cuts and an increase in military operations have made reshaping reserve forces critical to the Army. Since 1989 the Army's budget has dropped 40 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars and active-duty troops have been cut 36 percent, from 790,000 to about 490,000 today. During the same period, troops have been continually engaged in contingency operations around the world.

Over the last several years, the Army has reshuffled the 208,000-member Army Reserve (down 35 percent since 1989) and the 367,000-member Army National Guard (down 20 percent since 1989) to meet Defense plans for the post-Cold War force.

The two reserve components are vastly different. The Army Reserve is a federal force under direct Army control, while the Guard reports to state governors for civil operations and to the Army for military operations. Under a controversial 1993 agreement between the Army, the Guard and the Reserve, reserve combat capability was consolidated in the Guard, while most service support functions, such as medical and logistics units, were transferred to the Army Reserve.

'One Thunderous Voice'

Restructuring the Guard has been a tremendous challenge for the Army, says an Army staff officer familiar with the negotiations between the Army and the Guard. The chief point of contention is the future of eight Guard combat divisions, containing 110,000 troops.

The divisions have no role in the Defense Department's current war plans, but they provide the Guard with cherished command slots for senior officers, the officer notes. Various studies have recommended cutting the divisions and converting some of the combat units into support units. The Army also has recommended the Guard convert some heavy combat units to light infantry units, which are easier to train and deploy and would be more relevant in today's contingencies, Army officials maintain.

"We have too much heavy structure in the National Guard," the officer says. "Heavy forces are harder to train than light forces, they're more expensive to train than light forces, they are harder to deploy, and the sorts of scenarios we envision in the future require more lighter forces than heavy. Also, when the governors call up the Guard, do they call up tanks, artillery and attack helicopters? No. They call up organized groups of soldiers to do things typically on their boots-light troops."

Army officials point out that of the 15,000 Guard and Reserve soldiers mobilized in support of the peacekeeping mission in Bosnia, the vast majority are Army Reservists called up to provide medical and support services. "Those are the skills we need and the Guardsmen and Reservists who provide them are very good and very reliable. We couldn't do it without them. It's the combat skills that are the problem," says the Army staff officer. The complexity of modern weaponry and warfare requires more time training than most reservists get, which is often not more than 39 days a year, the required minimum.

Such claims infuriate the Guard, whose history and traditions are inextricably linked to the combat divisions. Guard leaders say the Army continually underestimates the Guard's capabilities and is threatened by the notion of a capable reserve combat force because it could render some of the active force unnecessary.

"The Army would say we were more relevant if we were armed only with batons and sidearms," says retired Maj. Gen. Edward Philbin, executive director of the National Guard Association of the United States. The recommendation to eliminate combat divisions is a backhanded attempt to render the Guard useless, he says. "The next thing they'll say is 'we can't use those divisions-they're light, they'll get killed.' "

Philbin has vowed to fight any additional cuts to the National Guard and recommends cutting the active Army instead.

The Guard contends that since no other superpower poses a threat to national security, the United States should reduce the size of its standing army and return to its historic reliance on state militias, which could be mobilized for national defense should the need arise. The cost of maintaining Guard troops is 25 percent to 80 percent less than the cost of maintaining active troops, Guard members argue, and the savings generated from increased reliance on the Guard could be put into flagging weapon modernization accounts or diverted to other domestic needs.

"The world environment and threats out there do not justify [a large] Army, especially when you have the Army National Guard and the Army Reserve available," says Philbin. In the September issue of National Guard magazine, he calls on Guardsmen to join the fight against what he calls "the great purge." The Guard, he writes, "must offer a titanic political resistance to any assault on its role, structure and heritage. It must speak with one thunderous voice in opposition to military blunders like the attempted destruction of the Army Guard's combat units, the nation's strategic reserve-its insurance policy."

Philbin is not shy about exerting the Guard's political influence. In a letter to then-Defense Secretary William Perry prior to the 1996 presidential elections, he reminded the secretary that the Guard combat divisions are located in 25 states and that a "precipitous restructuring could very well affect the 1996 elections."

No Going Back

Like many of his colleagues in the Army, Col. Douglas Macgregor, a combat commander during the Persian Gulf War who later served as a military fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, believes maintaining a substantial land force is critical to the United States' role as sole superpower.

"There is no going back . . . to the assumption on which the traditional American nation-state was founded: that a small Army, augmented by large numbers of reservists, is all that is needed to hold the enemy at bay while civilian economic facilities are converted to wartime production," Macgregor writes in "Breaking the Phalanx: A New Design for Landpower in the 21st Century," a comprehensive plan for redesigning the Army for future threats.

He notes that such an approach was tried after World War II with tragic consequences: Ill-prepared troops were sent to the Korean War without proper training and equipment. Historians also have cited the refusal of the United States and Great Britain to maintain large standing armies following World War I as a contributing factor to the rise of fascism, culminating in World War II.

But making further cuts in the active Army is an attractive proposition in several camps. Many in the defense industry and Congress see substantial savings that could be used to secure funding for major weapons, including three new fighter aircraft programs the Pentagon is pursuing.

John Hillen, a former Army officer and Gulf War veteran now at the Council on Foreign Relations, says the schism between the Army and the Guard has forged a new relationship between the Guard and the Air Force, which is trying to fund several new weapons systems.

"Right now you've got this weird alliance between the Army National Guard and the Air Force, where they're promoting a new theory of warfare, where the Air Force basically stops [an aggressor] with air power and a year later, the National Guard arrives and sets everything right. It's basically trying to kill the Army," Hillen says.

An Air Force officer familiar with the issue concedes there is a coordinated effort between the Air Force and the Guard to force cuts in the Army. "It's a pretty simple equation. If the Army loses troops, that's more money for the Guard and the Air Force."

Macgregor and others, though, question the strategic value of such a plan. "Devoid of a strategically significant objective, an American military strategy based primarily on ships, planes and precision-guided missiles potentially forfeits military flexibility and courts strategic irrelevance in the 21st century," Macgregor writes.

A possible resolution to the rift with the Guard may be found in a reevaluation of Army missions, Cook says: "New missions are evolving and with the missions we're evolving to, there's going to be enough work for everyone."

But will there be enough money?

Despite a significant increase in its commitments around the world, the Army continues to receive the same proportion of Defense Department funding as it did during the Cold War-about 23 percent. "We're asking more of the Army, we're asking more of the reserves, we've cut [troop] strength dramatically, but we haven't adjusted the funding level. It doesn't add up," Cook says.

In the battle for funding, the regular Army and the Guard should stick together, Cook argues. "If we fight for the resources separately, it's not going to get us anything. But it will get the other services more."

Integration Is Critical

Deborah Lee, assistant secretary of Defense for reserve affairs, says it is critical that the Army work out its differences with the Guard. Reservists' participation in military operations across the services has increased fivefold since 1989. The increase has been necessary to relieve tremendous pressures on active-duty troops, especially in the Army, who on average are deployed 190 days a year.

While the size of the Army's reserve components is uniquely high among the services, the Army might take some lessons from the Marines, who have successfully integrated reservists into combat operations, and the Air Force, which relies heavily on Guard and Reserve units for day-to-day operations as well as contingencies.

In the Marines, where the ground combat mission compares most closely with the Army's, reserve combat units are integrated into the active Marine Corps at much lower levels than the National Guard's brigades and divisions.

"We feel that we can maintain well-trained and ready battalions and squadrons, but that given the dynamics of reserve training time, trying to provide anything above battalions and squadrons, like regiments or divisions or air wings that are purely reserve, would be expecting a bit much," says Marine Brig. Gen. Wallace Gregson, assistant deputy chief of staff for plans, policy and operations. The Marines are also helped by the fact that on average, active-duty Marines comprise 15 percent of Marine Reserve units. The high percentage of active involvement in the reserve units ensures that training is consistent with Marine standards and readiness requirements are met, Gregson says.

While the size of the Army National Guard precludes such intensive involvement on the part of the active Army, the Army will soon try a new approach to better integration with the Guard. Six of the Guard's 15 elite combat units, its enhanced readiness brigades (which are not part of the eight controversial divisions), will be formed into two integrated divisions under an active-duty headquarters.

"The idea is that you will have a couple hundred active duty soldiers whose full-time job, 365 days a year, will be to plan for, work with, train with and have ownership of and responsibility for these Guard divisions," Lee says.

"That may not sound like much, and the Air Force has been doing this for years, but that level of ownership in the Army is nearly unprecedented. I think this is a very important step forward," Lee says.

A high level of active participation has been critical to the success of the widely praised Air Force integration of the Air National Guard and the Air Force Reserve into active missions, says Maj. Gen. Robert McIntosh, chief of the Air Force Reserve.

"Reserve components in the Air Force in general have been funded right along to keep the force combat-ready," says McIntosh. "On an average day in the Air Force, there will be almost 100 planes flown by reserve crews that are in Air Force [operational] sorties. I'm not talking about the hundreds that are flown for training. I'm talking about production for the Air Force. When you're integrated in that fashion, and you're operating side by side with your active-duty counterparts, flying in the same airplanes in some cases, then this partnership is almost second nature, rather than something that has to be constantly worked at."

But working at it is something the Army must do, if it is to bridge the current gap between the active force and the National Guard, officers in both camps say.

Toward that end, the Army has begun a number of initiatives to better integrate the Guard with the active Army, says Cook. Included are plans for sharing equipment; creating composite units composed of Guard, Reserve and active troops; assigning active officers to key command and staff billets; and relying on the Guard for more support in ongoing operations.

Such increased reliance would build on the lessons learned from a 1995 experiment in which the Army deployed a battalion of mostly Guard infantry troops to Egypt to conduct a regular rotation in the ongoing peacekeeping mission there. The operation was a success and active and Guard troops worked very well together during the six-month mission, according to a two-year study by the Army Research Institute. The findings support Cook's belief that "the rift between the Army and the Guard is mostly generated around the 20-mile radius of the Capitol."

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