Guard Demonstrating Versatility, Capability, Chief Says
By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 4, 2006 Over the past year, the National Guard has demonstrated not only its ability to be the nation's "minutemen" and respond to calls immediately, but also its ability to sustain several different missions at once, the chief of the National Guard Bureau said here yesterday.
"It is a different National Guard than existed five or six years ago," Army Lt. Gen. H Steven Blum said at the second hearing of the Commission on the National Guard and Reserves. "It is not only not your grandfather's National Guard, it's not your older brother's National Guard. It's not the same National Guard that existed on the 10th of September, 2001."
Since the war on terror began, the National Guard has sent soldiers and airmen to Iraq and Afghanistan to participate in all aspects of combat, support and training, Blum said. The Guard also provides counterterrorism forces in the Horn of Africa and stability and support operations for all the regional geographic combatant commanders around the world, he said.
When Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in August 2005, the Guard produced 50,000 servicemembers in a little more than a week to respond to that disaster while still maintaining its contributions to the war on terror, Blum said. On Sept. 2, 2005, when President Bush visited New Orleans, the National Guard had more than 135,000 soldiers and airmen deployed in Mississippi, Louisiana, and around the world, he said.
"It was probably the Guard's finest hour," he said.
The National Guard's ability to respond to Katrina was not negatively affected by its commitments to the war on terror. During the height of the relief efforts, the Guard still had more than 100,000 available servicemembers around the country, Blum said.
"I don't want somebody to think that we can only do hurricanes, or we can only fight the global war on terrorism," he said. "I think we've demonstrated we can do all of those things simultaneously rather well."
The National Guard should not become a separate service, but should remain a federal reserve and maintain a balanced mission of defending the nation at home and abroad, Blum said.
"Defending the homeland is a noble mission, and we consider it our number-one priority, but it's not the only thing we do, and it should not be the only thing we should prepare to do," he said.
The National Guard has a presence across the nation, wherever there is a significant population buildup, Blum said. In each state, the Guard has pledged to make sure governments have access to 10 essential capabilities: command and control, aviation, engineering, civil support teams, security forces, medical, transportation, maintenance, logistics, and communications. The component is meeting this commitment and, right now, no state has less than 50 percent capability in these areas, he said.
Deploying to support the war on terror has had an effect on the National Guard, but it has been a positive effect, Blum said. The Guard is now seeing its best-led, best-trained, best-equipped, combat-experienced troops of all time, he said.
"They can take that experience, that training, and that kind of know-how and commitment and apply it to a problem here," he said. "That's quite powerful when the governor calls."
The fiscal 2005 National Defense Authorization Act created the Commission on the National Guard and Reserves. The commission is charged by Congress to recommend any needed changes in law and policy to ensure that the guard and reserves are organized, trained, equipped, compensated and supported to best meet the U.S. national security requirements.