Guard General Says Steps Now Will Prevent Future Crisis
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 13, 2005 The United States "should never go to war without its National Guard," the chief of the National Guard Bureau said during an interview today on CNN's "American Morning."
While stressing that he supports the National Guard's key role in U.S. military operations, Army Lt. Gen. H Steven Blum said during CNN interviews aired today and Jan. 12 that it's critical that political and military leaders take measures now to ensure the Guard is manned, trained and equipped to keep up its current pace.
The general said he's requested $20 billion for the National Guard. Three- quarters of it is to cover equipment shortages he said hamper the Guard's readiness and the rest is to boost recruiting and to sustain the Guard's overseas operations during the next three years.
About 120,000 citizen-soldiers and airmen are currently deployed all over the world, and the National Guard and reserves will soon make up a full 50 percent of the combat force in Iraq and Afghanistan. "We're being used as an operational force both here at home and abroad," Blum said.
This operational tempo has left the Guard short in several respects, with recruiting falling short of goals and equipment wearing out quicker than planned.
While acknowledging that he's "very concerned," about shortfalls, Blum said the Guard will recover relatively quickly, given the equipment and resources it needs, "so that we can be always ready, always there when our nation needs us."
The general said he's "optimistic" that changes under way -- from increased signing bonuses to new mobilization policies -- will help boost recruiting and retention, possibly as soon as this summer.
And despite his concerns, he insisted that the Guard is not in a crisis mode, and that taking steps now will prevent it from going into one down the road.
"We're far from (being) 'in crisis,'" Blum said. "What I'm trying to do is alert our political leaders and our military leaders and our policymakers that if we do not take some measures now, and we ignore the problems that are starting to develop, we could be in crisis."
These measures will help ensure that the United States has "a ready and fully equipped National Guard" capable of responding when it's called to duty, he said.
Blum said America's founding fathers never intended that the nation's active forces shoulder the full load of the nation's defense alone. They "clearly wanted a strong citizen militia that would augment a small regular Army so that the citizenry would be behind the American soldiers when they had to go into harm's way," he said.
"When you call up the Guard, you call up America," Blum said. "And I think that has a significant impact and sent a strong message to our adversaries."