National Guard Transformation 'Remarkable,' Chief Says
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
COLLEGE PARK, Md., Feb. 16, 2006 Today's National Guard is dramatically different from the National Guard of even five years ago, the Guard's top officer said here today.
Army Lt. Gen. H Steven Blum, chief of the National Guard Bureau, told journalists at the University of Maryland's Knight Center for Specialized Journalism that the National Guard has undergone dramatic changes since Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Photo by Rudi Williams
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
"What I'm watching in the last two years is absolutely unprecedented, unexpected and absolutely remarkable," said Army Lt. Gen. H Steven Blum, chief of the National Guard Bureau.
Blum spoke to an audience of journalists at the "U.S. Military at Home and at War" conference at the University of Maryland's Knight Center for Specialized Journalism.
"The National Guard that I joined was strategic reserve -- deliberately under-resourced, deliberately undermanned and deliberately under-equipped," said Blum, a 38-year guardsman. "That was part of our national military strategy."
Blum said the national wisdom at the time was to save money by not fully equipping, manning or training the Guard. "We were going to fight an enemy that was a symmetric threat, and they looked a lot like us -- the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact."
If war broke out during the Cold War era, the United States felt it could win because it would fight against a threat-based force "that we really understood very well, because they were copying us to a large degree. So it was going to be like fighting your own sparing partner." '
Back then, it would have been a time-phased war, where the National Guard was to be called in the later innings of the game, Blum said. "We were going to be the second or third people that report to the field," the general noted. "And we weren't going to be fully manned, because 34 years ago we had something called a draft."
When the draft ended in the early 1970s, everything changed, Blum said.
"What exists today is a volunteer, recruited force," he said. "We don't have ample time for a big buildup; we often get called with no notice or very limited notice."
Blum said the Guard goes almost anywhere and at any time. "And we're not fighting a threat-based force that we clearly understand," he noted.
The general said today's world requires a capabilities-based force and fighting in modular units. "The units on the field today are nothing like the units that were on the field even ... when we went in for Desert Shield and Desert Storm" in the early 1990s, he said.
Units fighting in Iraq today are completely different from units of that era, the general said. "It will be even more different in the coming years," said he added. "We're fighting an asymmetric threat. There's no general that can accept surrender. There's no head of state that can admit defeat and sign a truce document with us to end what we're involved in."
Blum said guardsmen are in about 40 countries around the globe. "About 75,000 citizen-soldiers and airmen this morning are deployed all around the world," he noted.
He said many guardsmen are serving in Afghanistan, Iraq and Kuwait. The National Guard has taken over the entire mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in Kosovo, and has taken over counter terrorism activities in the Horn of Africa and the Sinai peacekeeping mission between Egypt and Israel.
"Last year, we provided more than 50 percent of the combat forces on the ground in Iraq," the three-star general noted. "This is a different paradigm, a different National Guard than any of us in this room ever envisioned being even possible, let alone being practically employed." Blum said the National Guard and the Coast Guard are the only organizations he knows of that haven't been criticized for their efforts in Hurricane Katrina. For Katrina, the National Guard had 8,500 citizen-soldiers called to duty and in place to respond before the hurricane made landfall.
"We thought we had what we needed; we were wrong," Blum admitted. "We needed four times that. So in the next six days I sent 42,000 additional citizen-soldiers from every single state in the nation and the territories of Guam, Virgin Island and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia.
"Fifty-four of the 54 National Guards sent troops to Mississippi and Louisiana post-Katrina," Blum noted. "It was absolutely the largest and fastest military response to a domestic event in the history of this nation."
Blum said 133 Army National Guard helicopters were responsible for saving 17,443 people's lives. "I'm not talking about moved, I'm talking about saved," he emphasized, "taken from deep water where they were going to drown to dry spaces where they were going to live."
The Air National Guard moved 70,000 Americans out of the affected area to other places around the country so they had hope to restart their lives. "A lot of people missed that," the general noted. "That's almost 90,000 Americans that were moved or saved by the National Guard. That's bigger than a small city."
And when Katrina hit, the Guard was fighting floods in New Hampshire and Vermont, fighting forest fires in Idaho and Montana, blizzard conditions in North Dakota, dealing with issues on the southwest borders of the United States and guarding critical infrastructure in New York, Blum pointed out. And 13,764 guardsmen from Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida were overseas fighting, he added.
Blum said a snapshot in time taken Sept. 1, 2005, shows 78,000 National Guard soldiers deployed overseas, and at the same time, 50,000 deployed to Katrina. "That's almost 140,000 National Guard soldiers deployed out of an inventory of a total of 460,000," he said. "When you count all the people making it happen, it probably goes to about 190,000. So about one out of every two National Guard soldiers were either deployed overseas or working to support the Katrina effort."
Blum closed with a mix of pride and optimism. "We're trying to be a ready force, and I think your Guard today is more ready than it has ever been," he said. "It has proven itself as a reliable force and Sept. 1 was probably proof positive. When you call out the Guard, you truly do call out America."