Gates Salutes Guardsmen for Missions at Home, Abroad
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 22, 2008 Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates saluted the men and women of the National Guard during a speech in Baltimore today. Video
Gates spoke at the 130th conference of the National Guard Association. He said the military could not perform its missions without the Guard.
“Today the Guard is engaged in more than 40 countries around the world, in places such as Bosnia, Kosovo, the Sinai, the Horn of Africa and Guantanamo Bay,” Gates said.
Since Sept. 11, 2001, more than 660,000 citizen-servicemembers have mobilized – the largest such mobilization since World War II and the first extended mobilization of the reserve components since the founding of the all-volunteer force in 1973.
“Seven years ago, members of the New York National Guard were among the first to respond when the World Trade Center collapsed,” Gates said. “Today, many of them are serving in Afghanistan – their unit has not been deployed in such numbers and for such extended time in over 60 years.”
And Guardsmen are also serving in Iraq. “As you know, we recently celebrated the handover of Anbar province to Iraq,” the secretary said. “Backing that effort were hundreds of Guardsmen, such as Rhode Island’s 169th Military Police Company.” Tens of thousands more have served in Iraq since hostilities started in March 2003.
The Guard has the highest percentage of combat veterans serving in its ranks since World War II, and Gates promised that those who need care will receive it. “Behind winning the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, my No. 1 priority is providing our wounded warriors with the care they have rightly earned and justly deserve,” he said.
The unprecedented nomination of Air Force Lt. Gen. Craig McKinley for a fourth star and service as the next chief of the National Guard Bureau highlights the importance of this reserve formation, the secretary said. The appointment of current bureau chief Army Lt. Gen. H Steven Blum as deputy commander of U.S. Northern Command positions him to be the next chief of that command, Gates said. If the next administration nominates him, he would be the first Guardsman to command a combatant command.
Beyond war, the Guard has been equally busy in the United States. More than 16,000 Guardsmen responded when Hurricane Gustav threatened the Gulf Coast. “In one weekend alone, they evacuated more than 17,000 citizens from New Orleans and almost 600 special-needs patients,” Gates said.
When floods hit the Midwest, the Illinois Guard repaired levees and sandbagged, the Indiana Guard protected water and sewage facilities, the Wisconsin Guard provided aerial damage assessments and the Iowa Guard screened water reservoirs for poison and other toxins. Most recently, thousands of Guardsmen again mobilized to action in the wake of Hurricane Ike.
“The Guard stands ready to tackle such missions at home, as well as both its traditional and nontraditional missions abroad,” the secretary said. “The department made a commitment several years ago to ensure that the Guard is fully manned, fully trained and fully equipped.”
In the fiscal 2009 defense budget, the Guard’s share is more than $30 billion, an increase of $1.2 billion from the previous year. “Spending on Guard equipment – critical because of its dual use for overseas and homeland missions – is projected to be at $32 billion over the next four fiscal years,” he said. “This level of resources for the Guard is unprecedented. As a result, nearly 80 percent of Army National Guard equipment on hand will be fully modernized by the end of fiscal year 2013. For the first time ever, the Guard will receive the latest equipment provided to the active force – a change that is long overdue.”
Another aspect of reserve-component service also has been one of the secretary’s priorities: mobilization. Stress on the force has mounted with repeated mobilizations.
“The mobilization policy I outlined in January of 2007 set a goal of one year mobilized to five years at home,” he said. “We are not quite there yet on dwell time, but nearly three-quarters of mobilizations over the past nine months have been above the 1-to-4 ratio of mobilized-to-dwell time.”
The secretary also capped mobilization time at 12 months for the reserve components and ended the 24-month lifetime limit for individuals. “We’ve shifted from a mobilization policy focused on individuals to one based on units,” he said. “The aim was to minimize the practice of cobbling together personnel from different units to fill out a particular battalion or brigade. Those from a community or state who train together should deploy and fight together.”
Gates acknowledged that adjusting to the new policy has presented some problems, particularly in the Army. But the Defense Department and the services have increased notification time for units, with a goal of 24 months, so that troops are better able to ensure employer and family affairs are in order before they deploy, he noted.