Guard Chief Calls Collaboration Vital
By Army Staff Sgt. Jim Greenhill
Special to American Forces Press Service
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo., Nov. 13, 2009 Conflict might have been the 20th century norm, but collaboration is the nature of 21st century relationships between the National Guard and other components of the armed forces, the chief of the National Guard Bureau said here this week.
Air Force Gen. Craig R. McKinley, chief of the National Guard Bureau, speaks at the National Homeland Defense Foundation Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colo., Nov. 9, 2009. McKinley said collaboration has replaced conflict in the relationship between the National Guard and other service components. U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Jim Greenhill
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
“There have always been challenges between the active component forces and the National Guard simply from where we come from culturally,” Air Force Gen. Craig R. McKinley told the National Homeland Defense Foundation Symposium on Nov. 9. “But the events of Sept. 11, 2001, and Hurricane Katrina … have brought us to a point where conflict no longer has a place.”
Collaboration is vital in place of that conflict, the general said. “The governors need a strong, viable, relevant National Guard to protect their citizens at home, and the Army and the Air Force need a strong National Guard that can help alleviate the tempo on the active duty force,” he said.
Leaders and policymakers will always debate the roles of the Guard and other components, McKinley said, but in a crisis, citizens care only about results.
“While those of us in D.C. and state capitals debate who’s in charge, the men and women of the military – active, Guard and Reserve – focus on getting the job done and supporting the local officials who need help,” McKinley said. “The ‘Who’s in Charge?’ game seldom occurs on the ground, where the work is really getting done. We see this over and over again with no-notice incidents and cold-start events – Guard, civilian, local, state and federal responders all work closely together to get the job done.”
Nevertheless – with the Quadrennial Defense Review and a presidential budget review in preparation for 2011 as background – there is a necessary debate about the Guard’s exact role, McKinley said.
“This debate is passionate, and it’s contentious, and there’s good points to be made on both sides,” he told the group.
The debate centers on two primary schools of thought, McKinley explained. “There’s a primarily federal response to a disaster, … and then there’s the state or the regional approach, which, for 372 years, the National Guard has done well,” he said. “It’s a community-based force. It’s dispersed. It’s in the nation. It’s out there every day and can be called upon when needed, and it’s scalable to the disaster.”
In about 95 percent of probable domestic disaster scenarios, the traditional National Guard response in support of civilian authorities works best, McKinley said. “Community-based forces have a familiarity with the local culture,” he added. “They understand the importance of locally elected officials.”
Besides, as a city public safety leader recently told McKinley during a domestic response exercise, “All events begin locally and they end locally.”
What happens in between is what government must continue to focus on, the general said.
In a small number of scenarios, however, such as the use of a weapon of mass destruction in an American city, local assets may be rapidly overwhelmed, requiring an aggressive federal response, and a whole-of-government solution, McKinley said.
The general acknowledged that the debate about the balance between federal and state leadership that started with the writing of the Constitution is likely to continue indefinitely. But both sides of the debate recognize that collaboration is important, he added.
“We in the National Guard know that there must be unity of command,” he said, “and the active component force knows that there must be unity of effort.”
Regardless of exactly how specific policy debates are resolved, he said, the National Guard will form the core of any domestic response, and active-duty forces will be available to fill in the gaps and augment when needed.
“In the end,” he said, “it’s all about preserving the security and safety of our American way of life.”
(Army Staff Sgt. Jim Greenhill serves at the National Guard Bureau.)