As the United States prepare to leave Iraq, the long road of rebuilding begins. Police officers must be trained, soldiers must be drilled, roads must be repaved and schools must be fixed. Traditionally, the United States gave this job to the National Guard, which, since 2003, has served as the “clean-up team” after the end […]
As the United States prepare to leave Iraq, the long road of rebuilding begins. Police officers must be trained, soldiers must be drilled, roads must be repaved and schools must be fixed. Traditionally, the United States gave this job to the National Guard, which, since 2003, has served as the “clean-up team” after the end of principal fighting.
Most of the “part-time” soldiers of the Guard have seen a full deployment tour overseas. Many have seen more than one. Their extended service in the Middle East have torn families apart, caused immense employment tensions and have revealed the flaws in the training and service expectations expected from these “hobbyist” soldiers.
Of the complete American fighting force, National Guard servicemembers represented one in 10 troops killed in action since 9/11. Guard members develop post-traumatic stress disorder at a rate 29 percent higher than that of the active duty military and the suicide rate among Guardsmen is on the rise.
Most Guard members have only the basic required amount of continuous training — one weekend a month and one month a year of training — which is seen to be not enough to keep the soldiers in shape and “trigger-ready.” The notion of taking reservists and placing them into action-ready scenarios is dangerous and reckless, according to many experts in the field.
Gov. Ted Kulongoski (D-Ore.) said, “It’s a manpower issue. And I think, if we continue to use this what I would call sort of like a postage-stamp approach to it, by sticking this up and trying to plug all the holes, this is not good for the country.” And senior journalist Judy Woodruff argues: “The Department of Defense does not explicitly budget and program for civil or domestic support missions” for the National Guard; “the equipment readiness of the Army National Guard is unacceptable.”
More damningly, however, is the realization that while the National Guard is abroad, there are fewer resources at home to deal with disasters here. In 2007, Kansas received severe damage from a chain of powerful tornadoes setting ground there.
The Daily Kos ran that following in response to this: “This morning on CNN, Gov. Kathleen Sebelius (D) said that the state is missing vital National Guard equipment because of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Usually the state has approximately 70-80 percent of its equipment at any given time, but it currently has just 40-50 percent. She added that these shortages “will just make it [recovery] that much slower.”
However, despite all of the misgivings, the National Guard has and will be a significant part of the United States’ military presence.
Role of the National Guard
The National Guard is part of the federal government’s reserve military component. Each state and territories of Guam, the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia all have at least one National Guard unit stationed within its borders. The National Guard is part of the Militia, as defined by 10 U.S.C. § 311. There are two components within The National Guard: the Army National Guard, which is the reserve component of the United States Army and Air National Guard, which is the reserve component of the United States Air Force.
The National Guard has two separate, but equal roles. First, the National Guard serves as the de facto militia for their respective state or territory. When the Guard is not called into federal service, the state’s units are commanded by the governor of that state. At this time, the governor is free to use the Guard for whatever reason — in accordance to the state’s constitution and statutes. Typically, governors use the Guard for disaster relief, homeland defense and as a response to civil strife.
Second, the Guard can be federalized or integrated into the active duty fighting force by order of the president. Typically, the Guard member may be asked to join the regular forces, may be asked to respond to a particular event or disaster or be pressed into active service for a term of no greater than 24 consecutive months.
Twenty-two states (Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, South Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, California, Oregon, Washington state and Alaska) and Puerto Rico have state defense forces or state militias in addition to their National Guard complement that are solely under the command of their governors and cannot be federalized.
As reported from StraightDope.com, “The Constitutional Convention was called in part as a reaction to Shay’s Rebellion, and Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution contains the “armies clause”; “Congress may declare war [and] raise and support armies …” The Constitution did not, however, eliminate militias; today’s National Guard still derives its authority from a series of constitutional “militia clauses.” These clauses establish congressional power to “organize, arm and discipline” the militias while ensuring that Congress cannot disarm them. This is where the federal government gets the authority to deploy the various states’ National Guard units overseas.”
The truth about serving in the National Guard
In reality, the National Guard became a way for politicians to deal with manpower rollbacks and public war exhaustion. In 2009, there were 123,843 reservists deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, with only 33,974 that voluntarily deployed. The reserve component of manpower strength is currently about 550,000. As of 2009, 574,257 reservists have been deployed to the Middle East since 9/11.
The military brass see this in multiple ways. First, as reservists constitute up to 40 percent of the active fighting force in the military, reservists are seen as a ready manpower source to meet shortages that have occurred from a lack of recruitment or budget constraints. Second, reservists are seen as a ready-trained force, as most come into service with the skills they carry and use in their civilian employment.
“The Army National Guard is ideally suited to move into an area that has been cleared and start the process after it’s cleared before the civilian agencies come in,” said Army Major General Ron Chastain, National Guard deputy commander. “The civilian skills that our Guardsmen have are well-suited to dealing with Afghan civilians.”
“If we have a unit that just got to Iraq and they’re no longer needed, it’s not right to those soldiers to just send them home and de-mob them,” Chastain continued. “If there’s a need at that time for them to go to Afghanistan, [then] that is one of the options.”
Regularly, when the military “draws down” after the end of combat, the National Guard is left behind to rebuild the peace. The reason for this is perception. For most of the wars the United States have fought, the primary fighting force were state militias and reservists. The Revolutionary War, the War of 1812 and the Mexican-American War were fought almost exclusively by state militias, and reservists and state militias were the primary fighting force in the Civil War until training of drafted units could be completed.
It was World War I and II that saw the draft replace the reserve component as the primary abroad fighting element, and under the administration of Lyndon B. Johnson, the National Guard was de-emphasized as a fighting resource and placed in homeland service. Many Americans dodged being deployed to Vietnam by joining the National Guard. It was at this time that the slogan “one weekend a month and two weeks a year” showed up to reflect the commitment expected of Guard members at this time.
After the end of the Cold War, military budgets bottomed out and there was a real need to find soldiers for various oversea engagements. The National Guard offered a quick fix toward solving manpower problems. This is reflected in the retirement of the “one weekend a month …” slogan; it has been recently announced that the training requirement will be raised to up to seven weeks a year.
Most importantly, the National Guard is not part of the active component; the president can order the active component home, leave the reserve component behind and both have coverage abroad and the appearance of bringing soldiers home.
Ultimately, the National Guard serves overseas because they can. The Guard offers the Pentagon and the White House a way to “hide” the true size of the deployed fighting force. As the military leadership is calling on soldiers and airmen that are already part of the reserve forces to fight, they can increase their frontline presence without the need of drafts or lowering enlistment standards. This, of course, runs afoul of Guard members seeking only a part-time commitment.
The National Guard as peacekeeper
In 2003, the Maryland National Guard entered Bosnia and Herzegovina with the intent of helping the country rebuild after a destructive war for independence and succeeding infighting and civil unrest. Ten years later, the Bosnian Ground Forces emulate the National Guard and use the National Guard’s structure as a model of what the modern army should look and feel like.
Lieutenant General H. Steven Blum, chief of the National Guard Bureau, was asked by Bosnian officials during a bilateral meeting with the Bosnia and Herzegovina’s joint staff what would be his advice for Bosnia as the country continues its military reforms. Blum pointed out that the National Guard is an all-volunteer response team that can be found in every American community.
“I used a phrase that means ‘seen as a force for good,’” Blum explained. “I explained to them the dramatic recruiting turnaround that the Guard has seen post-Katrina. Certainly bonuses and benefits have a role to play, but there’s a tremendous sense of pride in belonging to an organization that can save 17,000 American lives in the wake of a hurricane and can send 50,000 troops from every state and territory on a moment’s notice, truly the 21st century Minutemen and -women. People want to be part of something that is a force for good and not seen as a threat, and the Guard is your world-class model of that.”
A key component of the National Guard’s mission is the State Partnership Program (SPP). Under this program, each of the 54 National Guard state divisions is partnered with a country in order to offer support for American national interests and security cooperation goals. For example, the North Dakota National Guard is partnered with Ghana, the Minnesota National Guard is with Croatia and the California Guard is matched with Nigeria.
“Working with the Nigerian Air Force is an ongoing component of the California SPP,” said Captain Clayton Smith, director of the California National Guard State Partnership. “We have been working alongside U.S. Air Force Europe and U.S. Air Force Africa in hosting a variety of familiarization visits to demonstrate to the Nigerians typical USAF C-130 flying and maintenance operations focusing specifically on overall flying operations, airframe/engine maintenance and airframe corrosion control operations.”
“The State Partnership Program has the advantage of creating relationships that endure for many years, and serve as a model of success for sharing expertise, knowledge, skill sets and developing lasting relationship on the continent of Africa,” United States Army Africa Commander Major General Patrick Donahue said. “Additionally, the states can readily access a wide variety of skills and specialties, given the size and composition of states’ National Guard forces and the civilian skills that National Guard personnel bring to the table,” he said.
The National Guard, under the SPP, support several areas of potential interest to the Congress, including helping prevent failed states and creating stable regions, improving the capabilities of partner nations to protect their citizens, strengthening relationships to facilitate access and interoperability, improving cultural awareness and skills among U.S. military personnel and fostering the integration of reserve and active component forces into a “total force.”
While the National Guard must serve the military operational plan for an area first, the Guard can be used in cooperation activities under SPP, including emergency management and disaster response, border and port security, leadership development, medical support, economic security, natural resource protection, peacekeeping operations, counter trafficking and counter terrorism.
The United States engage in this program for various reasons, which can include offering practical training to Guardsmen, developing a friendly rapport with the partner country and — most importantly — encouraging the partnering country to deploy to Afghanistan or Iraq. An example of this is Maryland’s partnership with Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Maryland National Guard helped the country with noncommissioned officer development, military police exchanges, civil security and joint engineering projects.
“They admire and respect the National Guard greatly because we have been the force that they’ve seen wearing the American flag over here for about the last eight years and they’ve really developed a tremendous respect and admiration for the Citizen-Soldier,” Blum said.
“They also understand the huge capability it brings to our nation back at home, and they’re looking for a way to emulate that,” Blum continued. “So it would not surprise me that they adopt that for their own system. First of all, it’s cost-effective. And second of all it would then overcome one of the greatest barriers this nation has. It has in the past feared its army and the army has actually turned on its citizenry. With the Guard, they see … that people respect us and know that their lives are either going to get saved or their lot will be made better because of our presence. They want to move to a system that allows them to have Citizen-Soldiers with the professional capabilities the Guard has developed and have the respect and admiration and support of the community and the government that the Guard enjoys.”