England Urges Careful Review of Proposals to Change National Guard
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jun. 14, 2006 Proposed legislation that would elevate the National Guard Bureau's status within the Defense Department needs extensive review and discussion, Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon R. England said at a House Armed Services Committee hearing here yesterday.
The committee was soliciting DoD opinions regarding the National Defense Enhancement and National Guard Empowerment Act introduced recently in the House and Senate.
Known as H.R. 5200 in the House, the proposed legislation would, among other things, reposition the National Guard Bureau as a joint activity of DoD, rather than placing it under the Departments of the Army and Air Force as it is now. Also, the rank of the chief of the National Guard Bureau would be elevated from lieutenant general to general, who would then have a seat on the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
In any deliberations to update the Guard it's essential to recognize that "the National Guard is not a separate military service," England said. Placing the National Guard directly under DoD with a general's chair at the Joint Chiefs' table would effectively create another, separate armed service.
"The National Guard is an integral part of the U.S. Army, an integral part of the U.S. Air Force," England said. "And any future organizational changes need to reflect this vital feature."
That's one reason why DoD doesn't support establishing a four-star chief of the National Guard Bureau, England said, "nor the bureau chief's membership on the Joint Chiefs of Staff."
The reserve components, as well as active military forces, are undergoing transformation to become more relevant for 21st century challenges, England told committee members.
"A major premise of the transformation is the reality that the National Guard is an inseparable component of the joint Total Force and will play an ever more prominent role in the future," England said.
Part of military transformation efforts, England said, involves assessing how Guard forces can be structured, resourced -- and integrated -- to deploy with active-duty and reserve troops, he said.
There's long been debate about the most effective role of the National Guard, the deputy secretary said. Therefore, he said, it's important for senior federal and state officials to recognize the Guard's multiple responsibilities as a homeland defender, a responder to natural disaster, as well as a deployable military force.
"As we go forward, these responsibilities need to be well-balanced and well-understood," England said, "especially if the National Guard takes on more of the burden of operations abroad and here at home."
England said he was glad Congress authorized a special commission to study the National Guard and Reserves.
"While the department does not support H.R. 5200 as proposed, it does look forward to evaluating the findings and recommendations of the commission," England said. "It is also important that the Congress not rush to judgment with H.R. 5200."
England said it took more than four years of study to produce the 1986 Goldwater and Nichols Act and sixteen years of study and discussion before the commandant of the Marine Corps became a full member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
"Profound issues are contained in H.R. 5200, and time is needed to allow for thoughtful and constructive discussion and evaluation," England said. "I personally ask the committee not to adopt H.R. 5200, but at a minimum to wait until all review efforts are completed next year before a decision" is made.
Navy Adm. Edmund P. Giambastiani Jr., vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, accompanied England at the hearing. The admiral told committee members that it's important to carefully organize, train and equip the National Guard because of its important roles in homeland defense and national security strategy.
"It is also more important that we get this right," Giambastiani said, "rather than implementing some type of solution quickly."
He also thanked the committee for its much-appreciated support of active, Guard and reserve military members and their families.