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Blum: Requirements, Not Budget, Should Drive Air Guard Strength

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

DEMING, N.M., Nov. 30, 2006 – Although the active Air Force and Air Force Reserve are downsizing their ranks to free up funds for new aircraft and equipment, the chief of the National Guard Bureau said he wants any force changes within the Air National Guard to be driven by requirements, not numbers.

Army Lt. Gen. H Steven Blum responded to an airman’s question yesterday during a town hall session with National Guardsmen serving here in Operation Jump Start, the Guard’s mission in support of the U.S. Border Police.

Blum acknowledged that the active Air Force and Air Force Reserve had a decision to make as they grappled with the challenge of paying for their equipment modernization effort. Ultimately, he said, they opted to do it by cutting their manpower 10 percent.

“The Air Force has made the corporate decision that they are going to downsize their force and take the money savings from paying that force … and apply it to having a smaller Air Force that’s more modernized,” Blum told the group.

But the general said he’s not convinced that’s the best strategy for the Air National Guard.

When Air Force leaders asked him to cut the Air Guard by 16 percent, Blum said he simply said “no.”

“I am not sure the Air National Guard needs to be 16 percent smaller,” he said. In fact, he said, he’s not convinced the National Guard should be smaller at all, and even sees arguments that it might need to grow.

Blum pointed to the active-duty members leaving the Air Force and questioned, “Where are these skilled veterans going to go if we don’t have any spaces for them?”

Giving them an opportunity to serve in the Air National Guard — a force that costs about 10 percent of what the active force costs because members get paid only when they’re actually on duty — makes perfect sense, Blum said. “That is a tremendous bargain for the American taxpayer,” he said, giving the country 24-7 on-call capability, ready to respond to a crisis, at a fraction of the cost of the active force.

“So to me, the logical thing is that if you’re going to shrink the active (force), you ought to grow the Guard,” he said. “Because it’s a pretty dangerous world out there, and nobody has got a crystal ball any better than mine.”

Ultimately, Blum said, decisions about Air Guard strength need to boil down to what requirements they will be required to fulfill. “I’m worried about capability,” he said.

The bottom line, he said, is that every state and territory needs enough Air National Guard members to meet its state and federal commitments. “I want a capability that we are going to deliver 53 governors and one president of the United States, so that when they call on the Guard, we are always ready and we are always there,” he said.

The missions the Air National Guard is performing around the world demand a lot of capability, he told the troops, who are among 6,000 National Guard volunteers from around the country serving along the Southwest U.S. border.

“I can’t do this mission without the Air Guard,” he said. “There is no Air Force Reserve in this mission, and there is no active Air Force in this mission.”

Similarly, Blum said, he needs the 106,000 members of the Air National Guard to keep up with the demand for Air Expeditionary Force units overseas and Air Guard support during natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina. “The response to Katrina couldn’t have happened without the Air Guard,” he said.

He cited the single biggest difference between Air National Guardsmen and their active and Air Force Reserve counterparts. “They don’t have a dual mission,” he said. “The active Air Force and Air Force Reserve don’t get called out by their governors in the middle of the night to do things that you get called out to do in Guam, Tennessee, New Mexico and Georgia, every year when the hurricanes come.

“You have a different mission. So we have a different circumstance,” Blum told the Air Guardsmen in the group. “And should we be a little bit smaller? Maybe, but not 16,000 smaller.”

Blum admitted he’s found himself having to do “a very delicate kabuki dance” with Air Force, Pentagon and congressional leaders as he tries to determine exactly what size the Air Guard should be.

He noted that Air Force leaders promised Congress they wouldn’t change the size of the Air Guard, and language to that effect is included in the Base Realignment and Closure legislation. Cutting the Guard would go against Congress’ intention, he said. “And the last thing the chief of the Guard Bureau is going to do is to defy the will of the Congress of the United States, because they do in fact set the size of the armed forces and the National Guard.”

Blum said he’s “not absolute” about what direction the Guard strength numbers ultimately will take, but is sure of one thing. “I am not going to get driven by a budget to a number,” he said.

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Lt. Gen. H Steven Blum, USA

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