Thank you, General McKinley.
I have a special connection with the National Guard.
Years ago I worked for Senator Kennedy. I was his defense aide. And in that role, I worked closely with the Army and Air National Guard of Massachusetts.
As you know, the Guard has quite a history in Massachusetts.
The first Bay Colony regiment was founded in 1636.
140 years later, it was Massachusetts militia members who fired the first shots of the American Revolution.
Every state in the union went on to levy a militia. And for the next two hundred years, the Guard played a leading role in each of our military conflicts.
Those of us who know the Guard’s history know that people today have it backwards.
The United States Armed Forces are the newcomers. It’s the Guard that’s been with us since before the Republic.
The Guard has come a long way since 1636.
Pequot Indians are no longer the primary threat. Muskets have given way to M-16s.
And few periods in the Guard’s history rival the transformation it has undergone since 9/11.
What was a strategic reserve during the Cold War is today a fully operational component of the total force.
More than half a million Guard members have served overseas since 9/11. Most have seen combat. Many have served three or four tours.
Recruits now join the Guard because they want to be part of the fight.
This transformation has been essential to our national security. As leaders of the Guard, you have overseen it with admirable resolve.
We have countless families to thank for supporting their sons and daughters—and mothers and fathers—as they serve.
Employers of deployed soldiers and airman also deserve our nation’s gratitude.
Police patrol cars with one officer rather than two, or a school without its nurse, are the less spoken about consequences of Guard deployment.
Most of all, we have Guard members themselves to salute. They have left their families at home, put their careers on hold, and risked their lives for their country.
Secretary Gates and I recognize and honor their sacrifice.
To sustain it long into the future, we are expanding our total force structure and the medical and social programs to keep it healthy.
I have visited Guard units in both Afghanistan and Iraq, and met with their families here in the U.S.
In recognition of the burden they bear, Secretary Gates has placed limits on the length of Guard deployments. And we have made a commitment to increase dwell times for Guard and Reserve components. The goal is five years home for every year deployed.
Select Guard units will need to mobilize more frequently than this standard. And reaching it will take time. But it is the policy of this Department to bring greater predictability to the rotation of our forces.
When Guard units do deploy, we need to take better care of their families.
Spouses of deployed Guard members wake up without their husbands or wives beside them, far from a community of other families who share in the burden of protecting our nation. Serving these geographically dispersed families is a priority.
Our FY11 budget is the second in a row to dramatically increase support for family and medical care.
We have also made substantial investments in equipment recapitalization.
It used to be that Guard trucks were twice as old as the soldiers driving them. This is no longer the case.
Guard units deployed overseas are now equipped with the full measure of advanced technologies.
It has been a priority of Secretary Gates to ensure the Pentagon is fully focused on our current conflicts. The Guard has benefited greatly from this commitment.
Redirecting resources to fight the wars we are in is only one plank of our strategy.
Let me tell you about some others.
We now face a security environment in which even weak states and terrorists have access to the most sophisticated and deadly weapons.
Insurgents now have IEDs that can penetrate heavy armor. Rogue states seek nuclear devices. Terrorists try relentlessly to strike our homeland. Even our computers are no longer safe from attack.
In this era of hybrid warfare, asymmetric tactics, including cyberwarfare, are especially pernicious.
So we are broadening our military capabilities to counter unconventional weapons.
This includes anti-satellite technologies and cyber threats on the high-end, and IEDs and guerilla tactics on the low end.
The Guard has an important role to play in this new era of hybrid threats.
In the two wars we are fighting, it has not been the intensity or scale of the initial combat phase that proved most challenging.
Rather, after eight years in Afghanistan and Iraq, we're finding that it is the duration of these conflicts that places the most stress on our military.
Indeed, these wars have now lasted longer than the U.S. participation in World War I and World War II combined.
Guard and Reserve components have once again filled the gap between the manpower we need and the active duty forces we have.
How we achieve a longer-term balance between active and reserve forces is the subject of an ongoing review. Dennis McCarthy, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs, is leading this review, and will report back this year.
We believe this review should examine how the Guard will fulfill three objectives.
First, the Guard must maintain its role as a full spectrum force. From catastrophic events at home to deployments abroad, the guard and reserve must seamlessly integrate with the broader force.
Second, we must strive to maintain the significant investment in readiness made over the last eight years. Guard units must be trained, equipped, and ready for semi-routine deployments.
Third, we must ensure the Guard is prepared to carryout its homeland defense and disaster response mission. With members in nearly every zip code, you are our military’s first responders.
Let me turn to the defense budget that we proposed to Congress this month.
Despite the severe fiscal constraint that we face, this budget, like last year’s, has real growth.
The pressure of two wars, along with the need to confront a diversity of new threats, has led the President to exempt DoD and other national security agencies from his spending freeze.
That said, however, this budget, like last year’s, contains hard choices.
In fiscal year 2010, Secretary Gates canceled or curtailed programs that, if taken to completion, would have cost the taxpayer $330 billion dollars.
This year he is curtailing five more.
We have clear criteria for exercising program discipline.
Programs that are performing poorly--either over budget, behind schedule, or delivering less capability than promised--open themselves up to reconsideration.
Programs that offer elegant capabilities, but at too high a price or in too small of a niche area, are also ripe for reshaping.
And programs that provide capabilities we already have enough of will be supplanted by others that help us meet new threats.
The bottom line is that by exercising program discipline we’re becoming a better and more capable department.
In the aggregate, these tough decisions enhance our ability to protect the American people.
So as we meet today to discuss the future of the Guard, we face an array of challenges.
We are at war on two fronts. Our forces and families are under stress. And new and dangerous threats loom on the horizon.
Yet I am confident we will be able to protect the nation.
You are part of an unbroken chain of citizen-soldiers that have served as custodians of our security for 373 years.
The Guard is a force that is as diverse and talented as America is today.
The creativity and resilience in this force is substantial. And we have taken important steps to ensure its long-term viability.
With your help, we will sustain the transformation the Guard has successfully undergone from strategic reserve to operational force.
And our nation will remain more secure because of it.