Army Pfc. Justin Jackson, of the Alabama Army National Guard's 1670th Transportation Company, provides flood response security for residents of Concord, Ala., May 9, 2011. Jackson is one of nearly 2,000 Guard members assisting with security, logistics, aviation and other support missions throughout Alabama’s affected regions. (Alabama National Guard photo) (Released) http://www.nationalguard.mil/news/archives/2011/05/051011-Alabama.aspx

An Alabama National Guard private stands watch after a devastating 2011 tornado.

CAPITOL HILL: When the armed services come here to make their case to Congress, the Army tends to be the elephant: huge, grey, and kind of clumsy. But this year, as the regular Army heads into what will likely be a bitter battle over fiscal 2015 funding with the Army National Guard, the service’s leadership is showing some style and unaccustomed savvy — according to no less an authority than its chief opponent,  the powerful National Guard Association of the United States (NGAUS).

Two years ago, the Guard association took on the Air Force and won most of the battles over cuts to the Air National Guard. But “this one may be worse,” said Gus Hargett, the retired Tennessee Guard two-star who’s CEO of NGAUS. “I think the Army learned from the mistakes the Air Force made, and that they will be – let me phrase this the right way — a worthy adversary.” (While Hargett focused mostly on Odierno, some of us think Army Secretary John McHugh, a canny long-time defense lawmaker, has helped the service look a bit more nimble.)

“They have done an excellent job of educating people on the Hill” about the Army’s case for cutting the National Guard by 35,000, Hargett told me in an exclusive 75-minute interview at NGAUS’s Capitol Hill headquarters last week. “I think that’s the difference [from] where we were with the Air Force,” which shot itself in the foot by keeping its 2013 planning secret, he said. “A lot of people were shocked at the Air Force budget when it got to the Hill. I don’t think there’s anybody on the Hill that will be shocked at the Army budget.”

(This year, Hargett said as an aside, “I don’t look for an eruption with the Air Force again. I think that we will have some differences, [e.g.] the fight over the A-10 [retirement, but] you’ve got a new secretary and a new chief of staff who are far more willing to reach out to all of the stakeholders.”)

While anything’s possible before the final budget is released in early March, Hargett seems grimly resigned to the Guard having lost what had looked like a major battle inside the Pentagon — and it doesn’t take much reading between the lines to see he holds Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel responsible.

“The thing that bothers me the most is not the Army position. Hell, if I were an active [duty] guy, my position might be just like theirs,” Hargett said. “I’m disappointed at the senior leadership of the Pentagon for not being more involved in this decision process, not listening more to the TAGs [the adjutants general who command the Guard in the 54 states and territories], not listening more to what the governors have to say” — or to 57 of Hagel’s old Senate colleagues who wrote him saying the Army plan cut the Guard too much.

“If you get a letter from 57 senators — and last time I looked there’s only 100 of them over there…would you not say, ‘hey, we’ve got a problem’?” Hargett asked. But “the senior leadership of the Department of Defense have not been there when they were needed.”

(Of course, that’s from a pro-Guard perspective. From the regular-Army perspective, it’s Hagel and his staff who have pushed cuts that all the service chiefs consider dangerous and forced them to cut the Guard by a fraction of what the regular Army has already lost).

Nor does Hargett consider the National Guard Bureau and its chief, Gen. Frank Grass, to have been successful advocates inside the Pentagon. Indeed, as Hargett noted from his own time serving at the Bureau, the NGB’s role is difficult by design, requiring it to explain the Pentagon to the states and the states to the Pentagon and frequently under fire from both. Hargett made clear which side he’s on: “Gen. Grass is, I will say, a close personal friend of mine but he’s not somebody I go to for advice. I talk to the adjutant generals.”

“We will be in lockstep with the states and the adjutants general,” he said. “You will probably find many times when we disagree publicly with the Guard Bureau. And I think that’s ok.”

So what’s next? The White House may intervene to overturn both Hagel and the Army leadership on the subject of Guard cuts, just as it reportedly overruled Hagel and the Navy on proposals to retire an aircraft carrier. But if Obama — or the real center of gravity, the Office of Management and Budget — does not act, the Guard cuts will go to Capitol Hill.

On the Hill, however, Guard advocates have the homefield or rather home district advantage.

“I doubt you could find a zip code in America that doesn’t have a Guardsman in it,” Hargett said. “These guys are in every congressional district.”

When he was listening to the radio after one of 2011’s brutal tornadoes in Alabama, Hargett recalls, “they asked this one lady from Tuscaloosa when the tornado came through… ‘When did you feel that everything was going to be all right?’ And she said, ‘when that young Guardsman knocked on my door.'”

“So you know it’s hard to beat that on Capitol Hill — and it should be,” Hargett said. “It’s what’s right about our country.”

“When Martin Luther King got killed in Memphis….I was actually in the bowling alley, heard he’d been shot, and went home and starting packing my bags,” recalled Hargett, who was a young Guard officer at the time. “Within three hours, I was sitting in the middle of Memphis.”

Hagel has made an effort to prioritize such homeland defense missions. But, said Hargett, “Congress will do a better job of taking a look at is the requirements in the homeland, which I don’t think the Department of Defense does a great job of looking at.”

That said, what’s most under assault is the Army Guard’s capacity to fight wars abroad, a mission at least as central to its identity as disaster relief. “I see all of this as an attempt to really lessen the role of the National Guard as warfighters,” Hargett said. “When we start losing attack helicopters, reconnaissance helicopters … I just see tanks and Bradleys and all the other stuff coming next.”

“I will be the first to say the Guard needs to take some cuts,” Hargett emphasized. “We need to pay our percentage of the Budget Control Act, and I don’t think there’s a TAG in America that doesn’t agree.” And, he added emphatically, “I did not advocate for taking the Army down. We’re telling the story that we need 350,000 people in the Guard.”

(Again, that’s from a pro-Guard perspective. From an active-duty perspective, the budget has become a zero-sum game in which keeping more Guard troops means fewer active-duty regulars).

“We can get beyond bitterness,” Hargett said. NGAUS has publicly denounced as “disparag[ing], disrespectful and simply not true” comments about Guard readiness made by the Army Chief of Staff, Gen. Ray Odierno. But “I have the utmost respect for him,” Hargett insisted. “He and I just disagree….If he came in today, I think I could have a cup of coffee with him, I wouldn’t be mad at him.”

“He might be mad at me,” Hargett added, chuckling as some of his aides laughed out loud.

“To Gen. Odierno’s credit, I heard him make the statement the other day that he thought a 315,000-[strong] Guard is too small, but we can’t afford one bigger,” Hargett said. “[But] we can’t afford the active army we’ve got, so we have to have a Guard of 350,000″ to reinforce it in time of war, Hargett argued. “That is the real crux of where we disagree.”

Comments

  • Gary Church

    Hmmmm. When he sees attack helicopters and recon helicopters going….

    That is not what he should be worried about. Only the last item he mentioned- the Main Battle Tanks, are indispensable in battle. Transport helicopters are indispensable for the rescue and disaster and troop medevac missions. What the Guard and Reserves should be trying to hold on to with all their might is INFANTRY. The last global conflict was more than anything else won by Infantry at the tip of the spear and truck drivers pushing it in. Twenty something infantrymen are the most priceless weapon system on Earth. It takes a couple years to get them trained and they are only good for a certain number of years (or a certain number of days under fire) after that.
    I suspect everything else in this war for money is about votes and political positions, jobs and power, pricey toys and……etc.

    • Gary Church

      and no, I was not an eleven bang bang.

  • Larry Johnson

    I agree with Gary. IMHO Infantry should be the mainstay of the Guard. They are capable of many roles; disaster relief, in lieu of missions, and of course closing with and destroying the enemy. As a former active duty armored cavalry officer and current guardsman I do not believe that the guard can effectively master and sustain the skills necessary to conduct mechanized and armored warfare. On active duty we spent every morning in the motor pool maintaining our vehicles. In the guard those vehicles are stored in a MATES and maintained by full time technicians. Getting back to the point. The Guard is necessary for our overall defense posture and they are a bargain. Since 9/11 the Guard has proven it can deploy and be effective. Provided the Guard maintains its status as an operational force it will continue to be a bargain for the country’s defense.

    • Gary Church

      I hate to disagree with someone who just said they agree with me. But the infantry skill set is just as demanding as the tanker. As I commented, the Main Battle Tank is the one indispensable item mentioned. If the guard and reservists cannot master and sustain the basic skills for armor then they cannot do it for the infantry role either. The problem with tanks is track maintenance- that is the big time consumer. Every mile they roll they generate sweat and tears by way of sledgehammers and pry bars. I doubt you busted much track as an officer. Or were a very good tank crewman. Correct me if I am wrong. Of course a full time tank crew is going to be better at it- that goes without saying- and the guard and reserve crews have always had to rise to the occasion. We are not looking for bargains here- we are looking at survival in the event of a war. Reservists and guard tank crews are a vastly better force than recent conscripts. There is no free lunch.

  • Truthiness

    I spent 8 years in the Guard before going active duty. I agree with other posters that their capabilities are extremely limited. Just look at how they were mainly used in Iraq and Afghanistan. Instead of being put side-by-side with active duty units to fight and hold ground, they were used as mentoring/training teams, theater convoy security, and base security. Even the Guard division(s?) that owned land’ had to be heavily augmented with active duty staff and were placed in the least dangerous areas. Sure, there were exceptions, but a honest look at the patch charts shows the leadership’s concerns with their capabilities.

    • Gary Church

      I was at the Armor Center in Fort Knox for a couple years where the tankers are trained. The worst tank crews I have ever seen were Saudi’s. No concept of teamwork- all they did was argue with each other. If we are having this problem with our officer culture then an “honest look” is certainly what is needed.
      Maybe “leadership” needs to stop looking for bargains and fix the problem. The money to train up Infantry and Tank crews is there. Plenty of it. How much of it is going to Apaches and Kiowas and too many officers and not enough 20 something enlisted might be the problem. Ya think?
      As for how “they were used” in the sandbox- that is exactly the point- regular units would have had to do what they were doing- if the enemy is over running your position I do not think you are going to be that choosy about who is pulling your ass out of the fire.

    • Duane Williams

      Your statement is a continual myth . . . the 48th infantry Brigade Combat team entered Iraq and took over combat patrols in the “Triangle of Death” in 2005 and only later in the brigade’s tenure after heavy fighting were they rotated into division security . . . they fought magnificently . . . I was there and know why the decisions were made . . . the 30th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (NCArNG) was responsible for Diyala in 2004-2005 and the lead element at the Battle of Buquba . . . the 81st Armored Brigade (WAArNG) relieved the 82d Airborne Division from defending Baghdad in 2004 . . . 2d Brigade, 28th Division (PAArNG) was centered in Ramadi starting in 2005 from which they conducted combat patrols, suffering 13 KIA and 156 injured in action . . . the 155th Heavy Brigade Combat Team (Mississippi ArNG) was assigned to the II MEF as a combat unit conducting patrols in its sector . . . you may also not understand that the 42d Infantry Division had two Active Army Brigades and two Army National Guard Brigade’s assigned to it when it relieved 1st Calvary Division of combat and security in the Baghdad Province. As a footnote you may not realize that we opened the war with nearly 50,000 reserve component troops on the ground in February 2003 . . . the majority of our combat sorties were flown by the Air National Guard . . . just so that you know . . .if we ever bothered to resource our reserve components just imagine how much more capable they would be at less costs.

      • Gary Church

        Go Infantry! Go Armor! Thanks Duane.

      • Truthiness

        Not a myth…for every NG brigade you mentioned, there were two or three that were assigned to admin duty in Kuwait, convoy security, base security, and mentoring/training missions in Iraq of Afghanistan. The NG brigades filled in gaps until the Army could grow enough active brigades, which is what Big Army needed. Once that growth finished around the Surge, NG brigades shifted to more supporting roles in less threatening areas. The patch charts from the last 12 years do not lie.

        • Gary Church

          Your “patch charts” that “do not lie” are not impressing me at all mr. truth. Who was going to do all those missions while “growing” the army? What exactly is your point? That the NG and Reserves suck? You went active and transcended all the weekend warrior stuff and played with the big boys? Congrats. Now you have expressed you concerns over capabilities- do you have a solution? I am sure we would all like to see your patch charts improve.

        • Duane Williams

          What you are saying isn’t based in fact . . . the Active Army leaders were afraid that too much use of the Army National Guard would demonstrate less of a need for so many Active Army units of the same capability . . . the National Guard actually demonstrated that though it had been cheated of equipment, cheated of training space on our Army installations, cheated out of the validated full time manning required they could still finish mobilization validation in a short period and deploy . . . the Active Army leaders who have a dislike for reserve component military members in general had to pretend they were too expensive; WHAT HAPPENED TO ACTIVE MILITARY LEADERS WHO CLAIMED THEY COULD NOT TELL THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN OUR RESERVE COMPONENTS AND OUR ACTIVE DUTY UNITS IN THE COMBAT ZONES? You forgot that part . . . in spite of the fact that every study done by the Pentagon demonstrates that reserve component units cost 95% what Active Duty units costs even when mobilized . . . the real fear was that the public would see the cost savings and would also see the real impact of the wars because wounded and killed members come back to mostly small town USA . . . that was the other reason for the prohibitions on photographers at Dover AFB . . . keeping the country from feeling and seeing the impacts of the public’s decisions to go to war, failing to mobilize the country for victory as required, and making the war irrelevant to the rest of the public. . . once more of the military is in the reserve components it will restrain political leaders from using the military without clear objectives in the future because the public will clearly weigh the costs of leaving their civilian jobs to go to war; you cannot avoid the appearance of towns and cities lining the streets to honor our war dead as has happened with our reserve components . . . understand the total picture . . . the elements of national power should not be restricted to a large standing active component military, information power, economic power, and diplomatic power are just as important as military power which can easily be contained in a small active duty force with the bulk of combat power in our reserve components . . .and just so you understand the reason for using reserve components on training missions that include the rule of law and governance is based on the ADDED VALUE THAT RESERVE COMPONENTS bring to the table, since many of those same infantry and armor Soldiers are police officers, lawyers, judges, mayors, farmers, and elected government officials . . .a capacity you do not get in any active component unit . . . you get twice the capacity in the reserve components.

      • Elihu Root

        Good points. The other massive contribution the Guard made was enabling the Army to modularize.
        Minor correction…42nd ID relieved 1st ID (not 1 CD) in MND-North Central (not Baghdad). Further, only three ARNG division HQs deployed. Would be curious to know your thoughts on whether the Guard still needs division HQs.

        • Duane Williams

          There is no good reason that the guard division headquarters shouldn’t be doing more than rotations to Kosovo. . . they could have just as easily have been used in Iraq or Afghanistan.

    • Tierce

      Although I was fortunate to serve with Guard units that had regular, full-spectrum mission (30th HBCT in OIF, 2/34 ID and 45th IBCT in OEF), I don’t disagree that most Guard units were (mis)used in convoy security missions, but that was primarily because the senior Army leadership (all active-duty) had (and has) a pre-conceived idea that the Guard is not capable, and wanted to give active-duty units the “sexy” missions with all the glory.

    • Brandon Meadows

      I am not sure what you guys were doing but the 278th was not just sitting around and training people when I was there. We were doing the same exact stuff an AD unit would do. BTW, FOB McHenry was ran solely by Guard soldiers when I was there and at that time it was considered the most dangerous place in Iraq (per DoD) so either something has changed since I was there or you have a rather limited view of what Guard units are doing.

  • Elihu Root

    “let me phrase this the right way — a worthy adversary.”
    The President of NGAUS, upon pausing to consider his words, calls the Army an adversary. One wonders what word first came to mind.

    “I doubt you could find a zip code in America that doesn’t have a Guardsman in it,” Hargett said. “These guys are in every congressional district….you know it’s hard to beat that on Capitol Hill — and it should be,” Hargett said. “It’s what’s right about our country.”

    Conversely, one could argue that’s what’s wrong about our country. Hargett proposes to make a decision in the best interest of the individual TAGs rather than one based on the best interest of the nation (as offered by NGB and the Army). Here we go again (see Federalist #25).

    “When we start losing attack helicopters, reconnaissance helicopters … I just see tanks and Bradleys and all the other stuff coming next.”
    The story here is that the Army will divest its ENTIRE fleet of reconnaissance helicopters, not just the Guard’s. The ARNG operates the OH-58D in only one state…Hargett’s home state of Tennessee. So if NGAUS so badly wants the Guard to mirror the active duty, then say goodbye to the Kiowa.
    As far as taking tanks and Bradleys, does Hargett have any evidence whatsoever that the Army or NGB plans on taking away the Guard’s tanks and Bradleys? If you’re smart enough to be reading this article you’re smart enough to recognize fear mongering. The massive insecurity of the National Guard is rivaling that of the Marine Corps.

    “From an active-duty perspective, the budget has become a zero-sum game in which keeping more Guard troops means fewer active-duty regulars.”
    This should say “from an OSD perspective.”

    • Gary Church

      I just want to repeat my view on this; training up and maintaining Infantry and tank crews and upping their 20 something enlisted numbers should be where the money is going. I would bet quite a bit of it is going to things like Apaches and officer billets. Criticizing the Guard and reserves for infighting obscures this need for ground pounders and armor. The fear-mongering may be a feature but the devil is in the details.

  • Sam Silverton

    Know the facts! Learn more @ http://www.SavetheGuard.weelby.com

  • Hammer6

    We must be very careful about the missions we assign the RC. Recent operations show that RC formations can perform missions tasked. But this level of performance very often resulted from extensive cross-leveling of soldier power and equipment, requiring extensive time to train and build teams. This “rob Peter to pay Paul” approach worked well enough to support two sustained counterinsurgency efforts, where we could plan and predict rotations. Could this approach work as well in scenarios placing greater direct risk to the nation? Only if everyone can admit/commit to resourcing RC formations at a level consistent with expected missions, something we’ve never done.

    • Gary Church

      Pentagonese. Speak english.