Increased risk for Army, National Guard missions

As we re-balance our military for a post-war force, an unpredictable array of threats around the world dictates that we not make hasty and broad-sweeping decisions that emaciate our military. Even the recently released 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) indicates that the president’s 2015 budget will allow our military to protect and advance U.S. interests, “ but with increased levels of risk for some missions.”

With increased risks for some of our missions, continued federal budget uncertainty with sequestration, and now a very public debate that has pitted our Active Army against the Army National Guard, shouldn’t we pause to consider what is best for our nation, our freedom and prosperity, and the men and women we put in harm’s way to safeguard our way of life?

Before making potentially dangerous and irreversible cuts to the total force, shouldn’t we seek unbiased counsel that considers the future security environment, our requirements, our capacity to protect our nation, allies and lessons from America’s post-war history?

In an interview about rebalancing the military, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, said the current budget path “will take us to a level that puts the nation at risk.” He also noted that our all-volunteer force was never sized to “bear the burden of a protracted conflict and constant deployments.” The intent, he said, was to have an “all-volunteer force at the start of a conflict then reinforce it with a return to the draft or a full mobilization (of the reserves).”

Draft? Our nation’s most recent experience with a draft was during the Vietnam War, and the lessons we learned were that the active component was “over-utilized,” the reserve component was “under-utilized,” post-war reductions could not sustain the right-sized force to meet future threats, and public support was critical to the prosecution of war.

The Abrams Doctrine was borne from these lessons, and established an all-volunteer force that was reliant upon a strong National Guard comprised of units that “mirrored” active duty units — and while maintaining a lower level of readiness, these units would provide a sufficient reservoir to surge our forces, when needed, and be large enough to prevent a return to the draft in most conflicts.

The National Guard’s strength is its deep-rooted presence in communities throughout the nation. When you deploy the National Guard, you deploy communities, and you deploy the nation.

Why is this important to understand? Though the Army National Guard is a component of the Army, a fully committed member of the Army Team, there is grave concern shared by many that the National Guard’s voice and proposals have been muted, and information favorable to the National Guard has gone unacknowledged.

If our elected leaders don’t insist upon complete and impartial information with recommendations to shape a force to meet the needs of our nation’s security, we are at risk of breaking the force that has defended our citizens since before the birth of our country.

As we re-shape to a smaller force, most would agree that a rapidly deployable capability should reside in the Army’s active component. This force must be ready to respond immediately to threats overseas, should be sized and resourced to decisively accomplish its mission, and should be augmented by the Army National Guard as reinforcement is needed. The National Guard must provide capacity, depth, and reversibility in order to meet any overseas threat, while also remaining ready to immediately respond to protect life and defend citizens in the homeland.

The best possible solution is for the mandated budget sequestration reductions to be changed or eliminated. Until and unless this is accomplished, the Army National Guard will begin the process of reducing our force in accordance with the law.

However, before we go “off the cliff,” Congress should establish an independent commission to assess the future structure of the Army, similar to last year’s Air Force Commission, to ensure we’re making the right decisions today to meet tomorrow’s challenges, without breaking the Army National Guard or the total force. Though this may not yield a better solution for the National Guard or the Active Army, it is bound to yield the best solution for the total army — and our nation.

Maj. Gen. Emmett R. Titshaw, Jr. is the director of the Florida Department of Military Affairs.

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