Guard Works to Balance State, Federal Missions
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 13, 2004 Unlike their active and reserve counterparts, members of the Army and Air National Guard can be called on to serve two different masters: their state governors and their commander in chief.
They serve as their state militias, available at the bidding of their governors in the event of emergencies, insurrections, attacks or acts of nature, such as last fall's multiple hurricanes in Florida. But guardsmen also play an increasingly important role in national defense, with some 100,000 of them deployed overseas in 44 countries, including Iraq, where they make up 34 percent of the U.S. force.
Army Lt. Gen. H. Steven Blum, chief of the National Guard Bureau, told the American Forces Press Service balancing the demands of these dual missions takes careful coordination to ensure no state governor is left short in the event of an emergency because the state's Guard force is overextended overseas.
Blum said state governors have demonstrated overwhelmingly that they understand their National Guard members are needed to reinforce the active Army and Air Force overseas, particularly during the war on terror.
What they don't want, Blum said, is to have their states left "uncovered" because they've contributed too many troops to the national mission.
"We will make our fair contribution," Blum said the governors tell him. "But we don't want to make a disproportionate contribution that leaves our own constituents at risk."
Blum said he's made a concerted effort to strike a balance between Guard members deployed overseas, those preparing for deployment, and those available to carry out state missions, if required, since taking over as chief of the National Guard Bureau in April 2003.
"We've been pretty successful at doing this," he said. All but just two states are now "in very, very good shape," to carry out state missions, with at least 50 percent and in some cases, more than 70 percent of their Guard forces at home. Only New Jersey and Vermont fall short of that goal, he said, with 48 percent of their Guard members available to the governor a figure Blum said he is working to increase.
It's a delicate balancing act, Blum explained. Rather than taking "once giant slice" out of one state, it means "taking a smaller piece out of two or three states" for the federal mission.
But it's more than just a numbers game, he said. "It means ensuring that we have the right capabilities in the right numbers in the right places, distributed all around the country so that each of the governors would have the essential capabilities they need," he said.
These capabilities include command and control, communications, transportation, medical, aviation, engineering and security assets, he said.
"And they (the governors) would all have to have some of that left in their state, even while they are executing the global war on terror overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan and in other places," he said.
One problem in this balancing act, Blum said, is that deploying guardsmen often are required to leave their equipment overseas when they return home. It's a concept Blum said he understands and fully supports, because it saves time, money and pressure on a highly complex logistics system.
The problem, he said, is that it leaves the states with Guard troops akin to firemen in an empty firehouse -- ready to respond if needed, but lacking in the necessary equipment.
"When these people come home and they're back here, they have to have the equipment they need to be able to respond," Blum said.
Blum said he's pushing this point within the Defense Department so he can keep his promise to the state governors that he'll ensure they have a ready force on hand to handle state missions, if needed.
"If I left my bulldozers and graders and engineering equipment in Iraq for the next unit to come in and use, that's fine," he said, but he added it's up to the Army or Department of Defense to ensure the unit gets replacement equipment quickly.
This, Blum said, will help ensure that the unit is again "trained, ready on arrival and equipped not only to be able to go back to Iraq again and do the job, but to be able to respond in case they are needed for homeland defense or to support the homeland security operation."