Guard Border Mission Won't Detract From Other Roles, Officials Say
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 24, 2006 The National Guard's support for the border security mission won't detract from its warfighting and disaster support roles, but will actually sharpen its ability to carry them out, senior defense officials told Congress today.
"National Guard combat readiness will not -- will not -- be degraded," Army Lt. Gen. H Steven Blum, chief of the National Guard Bureau, told the House Armed Services Committee today, putting added emphasis on his second "will not."
President Bush proposed using up to 6,000 National Guard members on a rotational basis for up to a year to support the U.S. Border Patrol as it recruits and trains more members. If needed, the Guard would contribute up to 3,000 troops for another year.
"This limited, temporary deployment will not adversely affect operational readiness or DoD's ability to conduct the global war on terrorism, nor hinder the National Guard's ability or capacity to aid their states in the event of a natural disaster or other emergency," Paul McHale, assistant secretary of defense for homeland defense, said in his prepared remarks. The maximum 6,000 National Guard members to support the mission represent just 2 percent of the Guard force, Blum noted. That number, even when added to the 71,000 National Guard members currently deployed in support of the war on terror, "still leaves a pretty robust inventory of over 350,000 citizen soldiers" to respond to hurricanes and other natural disasters, he said.
McHale told committee members the border-security mission will track closely with the counternarcotics mission the National Guard has been conducting along the southwest border for more than two decades. "The difference is the size of the force, and the commitment of resources will be far greater than anything we have done in the past," he said.
As they support the Department of Homeland Security, the Guardsmen will sharpen the military skills they apply to both their warfighting and disaster response missions, Hale told the committee. "The man and women of the Department of Defense will work diligently and professionally to support DHS, improving our land-border security while providing excellent training to our soldiers and airmen," he said.
Hale called the Guard mission "an important but temporary bridge to improve civilian security capabilities."
Blum compared the mission to the post-Sept. 11, 2001, airport security role the National Guard assumed as the Transportation Security Agency recruited and trained more workers. Just as the Guard turned that mission over to TSA when it was ready, it will turn the border security support role over to the Border Patrol as soon as possible, he said.
"We expect to work ourselves out of a job" as quickly as the Border Patrol is ready to assume the entire mission, Blum added.
Blum called the mission another example of the National Guard stepping up to the plate to serve the country when it's needed. "Once again, your Guard has been called for the security of our nation," he said. "And once again, we will answer that call. This is a mission ... the National Guard can do and can do well."
Army Maj. Gen. Richard Rowe Jr., U.S. Northern Command's chief of operations, assured committee members that as the Defense Department supports civil authorities in responding to natural disasters and security borders, it won't lose sight of its "primary mission of homeland defense."
David Aguilar, chief of the U.S. Border Patrol, told committee members the capabilities the National Guard will bring to the effort "are absolutely critical as we move forward."
Aguilar cited the Border Patrol's "very proud history" of cooperation with the military and specifically, the National Guard. "We look forward to building on that proud history," he said.