Guard Leaders Discuss Budget Requests
By Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, April 20, 2005 Funding for recruiting, retention and equipment were among the items National Guard leaders today brought before a Senate subcommittee examining budget requests today.
The administration is seeking approval for its $419.3 billion fiscal 2006 budget request and $81.9 billion fiscal 2005 supplemental budget request.
Army Lt. Gen. H. Steven Blum, chief of the National Guard Bureau, told the Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee that recruiting has been a "special challenge" for the National Guard, which, he added, "is not resourced for high levels of readiness that today's environment demands."
"We are a recruited force, so we've been scrambling to make sure we had the authorities and the resources to actually compete head to head in an environment where we've had to be an operational force," he explained.
Blum noted that over half the Army's combat power in Iraq today is comprised of Army National Guard units. He pointed out that eight of the Guard's brigade combat teams are on the ground there, including the 42nd Infantry Division, the storied "Rainbow Division," stationed in Baghdad.
He told the committee that Guard units in Iraq are "shouldering over half of the load and they are doing exceedingly well."
Blum said the Guard had a "very good" recruiting month in March, but added, "We are not yet out of the woods, but we are starting on the road to recovery."
To help meet recruiting goals, he said, the service had to increase enlistment bonuses and add some 1,400 more recruiters to the field, actions that made a significant difference in the recruiting numbers.
Blum also asked the committee for support of an "affiliation bonus" that would pay $15,000 to active duty soldiers transitioning into the National Guard.
He said the bonus would help the service "immeasurably" in recruiting prior-service troops, which are the Guard's "most experienced recruits and the ones who are most valuable to us."
Lt. Gen. Roger C. Schultz, director of the Army National Guard, also present for the hearing, told the subcommittee that while the Guard has reached 97 percent of it's end strength, what the service really needs is "recruiting performance, more enlistments."
"Today, both in the prior service and non-prior service marks, we are off our objectives by something major," he said. Schultz told the committee he felt more incentives would help the service reach its recruiting goals.
By comparison, he said, incentives Congress passed last year enabled the Guard to enlist "three times" the number of recruits as it did a year ago. "So those items, in terms of incentives, are making a difference," Schultz noted.
The subcommittee also asked if the $190 million it had appropriated for equipment in the fiscal 2005 defense bill would fulfill Army and Air National Guard requirements for the year. Each service was given $95 million.
Schultz replied that though the "money filled a critical need for us," most of the Army National Guard's appropriation was used to buy equipment that "you will find in Iraq, Kuwait and Afghanistan today."
"We bought critical items of need for our units deploying, and of course we deploy units at the highest level of readiness," he explained. "We bought machine guns, night-vision devices, we bought trucks -- all kinds of things our units were short," he said.
Thanking the committee for their generosity, Air Force Lt. Gen. Daniel James III, director of the Air National Guard, said that there are still some requirements he needs funded. "We have prioritized and filled the critical ones that we have, and it has given us the opportunity to do some things we need to do. But there are still some issues that need funding," he said.
One of them, he said, is the large-aircraft infrared system modification, which he said is a high priority for the C-130 aircraft, the military's main heavy-lift transport plane.
While the Defense Department is keenly interested in equipping units for the "overseas war fight," Blum told the committee, Congress must ensure National Guard units returning from the war get equipment replaced that was either left in theater or worn out through fair wear and tear.
He said Guard units must have the proper equipment to train on for "the next time they are needed."