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Guard Must Maintain Readiness, McKinley Says

By Army Staff Sgt. Jim Greenhill
National Guard Bureau

ARLINGTON, Va., March 19, 2010 – A new threat environment means a transformed National Guard should maintain its force after drawdowns in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Guard’s highest-ranking general said here this week.

“The National Guard must remain a full-spectrum force, available to our governors to assist when disaster strikes and available to the president to execute his duties as commander in chief,” Air Force Gen. Craig R. McKinley, chief of the National Guard Bureau, said March 17 to the Advisory Panel on Department of Defense Capabilities for Support of Civil Authorities After Certain Incidents.

The Air National Guard has been at war for almost 20 years – since Operation Desert Storm and the no-fly zone enforcement that followed until the war in Iraq – while the Army National Guard has fought for almost a decade since the attacks of 9/11. The National Guard, McKinley said, has transformed in that time from a strategic reserve to an operational force.

“We have proven we can operate side by side with our active-component brothers and sisters on the battlefield,” McKinley said, “and, in doing so, have built a National Guard that is better-trained, better-equipped and better-led than at any other time.”

Throughout its 373-year history, the National Guard typically has been put back on the shelf following major conflicts, the general said. As a consequence, he noted, training fades, skills atrophy, equipment ages and readiness recedes. McKinley urged the congressionally mandated panel not to let that happen this time.

“The current threat environment does not allow us to accept this risk,” he said. “Our enemies can strike us here at home. We are unlikely to get advance warning.”

In the Cold War paradigm, the United States would dust off the Guard, re-equip it and devote months to pre-mobilization training, but times have changed, he said.

“We must be prepared, like the Minutemen of our heritage, to immediately make the transition from citizen to soldier or airman,” McKinley told the panel. “We must maintain the readiness we have built.”

The advisory panel is assessing how the Defense Department can support civil authorities for chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosives incidents in the homeland. It is chaired by retired Navy Adm. Steve Abbot, a former presidential assistant for homeland security and deputy commander of U.S. European Command.

Former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating, who has served as associate U.S. attorney general and assistant treasury secretary, is the vice chairman. Also among the panel’s 13 members are five current or former Guard senior leaders.

To some people, the statutorily established panel, a new Council of Governors and enhancements to the National Guard “seem to reflect a sense to Congress that [the Defense Department] has not adequately planned for or provided resources to respond to catastrophic incidents,” McKinley said.

Not true, he told the panel.

“I want to challenge the assumption that [the Defense Department] is either complacent or takes this mission lightly,” he said. McKinley noted he is included in meetings with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other top-level discussions, and he meets regularly with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the secretary of defense. He is the first four-star general to serve as National Guard Bureau chief.

“I can attest that the department’s senior leaders take no issue more seriously than the safety of our citizens here at home,” he said.

The panelists are navigating a labyrinth that requires lessons in constitutional law; the relationships between local, state and federal authorities; the different statuses National Guard members serve under with their “dual-hatted” state and federal missions; and the interplay among institutions such as U.S. Northern Command, the National Guard Bureau, the Defense Department, state emergency managers, governors and other institutions and individuals.

The panel is will report its findings to the secretary of defense and the House and Senate armed services committees.

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Air Force Gen. Craig R. McKinley

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National Guard Bureau

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