Funding fight pits Army against Guard
WASHINGTON — The National Guard hopes to gain from pending cuts to the regular Army's ranks, arguing that part-time soldiers are more cost-effective than their active-duty peers and could save $13 billion annually.
The Guard's gambit, revealed in interviews and documents obtained by USA Today, exposes a widening rift among and between the services as the fight over funding intensifies in the era of Pentagon austerity. Guard leaders maintain that the Army could be cut to as few as 420,000 soldiers if the Guard is allowed to expand. Army leaders say a force that small cannot defend the nation. The Army has about 540,000 soldiers and is scheduled to reduce its ranks to 490,000 by 2017. Dipping below 450,000 soldiers could prevent the Army from winning a war, according to documents.
“The nation cannot afford to have a large standing army right now,” said John Goheen, spokesman for the National Guard Association, the body's lobbying arm in Washington. Guard personnel represent a better bargain than full-time soldiers as the nation ends its combat commitment in Afghanistan in 2014, Goheen said.
Guard soldiers cost less than their active-duty counterparts because they train less frequently, don't live in subsidized housing and are called upon only when needed.
“The nation needs to have a debate on this topic,” he said.
Spokesmen for the Army at the Pentagon declined to comment for this story.
Each state has a National Guard, which can be called upon by the president to fight. Guard units served alongside regular Army soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. They often serve in combat-support roles, such as driving truck convoys, but also maintain fighting units.
Those units known as Brigade Combat Teams could be cut from the Army and shifted to the Guard where they could be called upon when needed.
Some of the money saved by slashing the Army by 70,000 soldiers would be used to build six combat brigades for the National Guard, according to documents used to brief members of Congress. The Guard Association estimates that change could save $13 billion per year.
How much — not whether — to reduce the Pentagon's fighting ranks is an issue coming to the forefront. Although the automatic budget cuts known as sequestration have eased for the Pentagon for the next two years, they still remain in effect thereafter.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has indicated he prefers a smaller force of troops equipped with modern weapons. Last week, Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, noted that cuts in troop levels are coming. “Some of the force structure changes, force structure reductions that we had planned based on sequestration will march on,” he said.
The Guard is positioning itself to take advantage of the reductions, and the White House strategy states long-term occupations such as those fought in Iraq and Afghanistan will be avoided. The military's combat mission in Afghanistan will cease at the end of 2014.
The Guard's approach is a smart one, and the active-duty Army is out of step with the times, said Gordon Adams, a professor at American University and a former Clinton-era Pentagon budget official.
“With the end of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army needs to be neither as large nor, frankly, as ready as it is today,” Adams said. “Even at 420,000 it will be by far one of the largest ground forces in the world — and we are not going to ground combat with the big ones in Russia or in China.”
The Guard approach is at odds with that of Gen. Raymond Odierno, the Army's chief of staff. He has briefed top Pentagon officials, saying a force of 420,000 active-duty soldiers cannot adequately defend the nation.
Army leaders have expressed concerns that sequestration is forecast to hit active duty forces more than the National Guard, according to a presentation they made to the National Governors Association last month.
The ranks of active-duty soldiers would decline 26 percent from 2011 to 2019 compared with a 12 percent drop for the National Guard.
The presentation notes that active-duty soldiers train about 220 days per year compared with 39 for the Guard. Active-duty soldiers may cost more, it says, but they're ready to fight and more proficient at it. The Guard can “surge to higher levelsâ(euro) ⅛as needed.”
Goheen disputed the notion that guardsmen aren't ready to fight. After more than a decade of war, many Guard units have plenty of experience at war. “We have some combat-hardened soldiers in the Guard,” he said. “These are experienced warriors.”
The Army swelled its ranks to about 570,000 to accommodate demand for troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Shrinking it now and investing more on the Guard makes sense, Adams said. “The experience from 2006-09 was that it was easier than even the Army expected to increase the size of the ground force rapidly, with good capability,” he said. “A well-prepared Guard and Reserve would make it even easier.”
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Carnegie Mellon expert to school Congress on security
- Tribune-Review poll: Cable news rises as network news falls
- Lawmakers press Veterans Affairs for improved access to rural health care
- $4.8M in gold taken in armored truck hijacking in North Carolina
- Dems keep blocking joint negotiations on immigration orders
- EPA ripped for evading request for information
- Several states in path of wintry blasts
- Gag order challenged in W.Va. mine disaster case
- Clinton portrait refers to Lewinsky scandal, Philadelphia artist says
- Republicans try to jump-start food stamp reforms
- Natural gas royalties lawsuit hinges on transaction date