Gen Gordon Sullivan @ AUSA Winter 2014

The National Guard has lost the budget battle inside the administration. But it has hardly lost the war. “We are disappointed by today’s budget preview, but we are not surprised. Nor are we defeated,” declared retired Maj. Gen. Gus Hargett, president of influential National Guard Association of the United States, in a statement released shortly after Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s budget briefing yesterday afternoon. In fact, the odds are looking pretty good for NGAUS because the next fight will be on Capitol Hill, where the Guard’s home-state roots give it a home-field advantage.

That fight will center on the NGAUS-backed proposal to get an independent entity to make decisions about the entire structure of the Army — regular active-duty, National Guard, and Army Reserve. That entity would probably be the same kind of commission a gridlocked Congress has already created for the Air Force and military compensation.

How hot is this issue? One Guard leader, Minnesota Adjutant General Maj. Gen. Richard Nash, formally renounced his membership in the Association of United States Army because AUSA opposes the idea. “It is now clear to me that AUSA does not view the Guard and Army Reserve as full partners,” Nash wrote to AUSA chief retired Gen. Gordon Sullivan, who has written Congress denouncing the independent panel idea. “Why would AUSA oppose an open, transparent commission?”

“We do not need help from outside,” said Sullivan, a retired active duty officer and former Army Chief of Staff himself, when I spoke to him Friday in Huntsville, Ala. at AUSA’s winter 2014 conference. “I don’t think the chief or the secretary need help from the outside from some group that’s not responsible, not accountable, to put the Army together in the future.”

“I’m very well aware that NGAUS is a political powerhouse,” Sullivan told me, hinting vaguely at his own plans to visit “certain select members of Congress” and restore harmony between the regular Army and the Guard. Won’t that be an uphill battle? Sullivan smiled: “Y’know, that never stopped me before.”

While AUSA is categorically opposed to a commission, “we are categorically supportive of it,” NGAUS spokesman John Goheen told me this morning. “We think the nation would benefit from an independent look at the Army….In the interim let’s not do things that are irreversible.”

On paper, the Army structure that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel outlined yesterday seems to split the difference: Regular Army leaders wanted to cut the Army National Guard from the current 350,000 to 315,000, Guard leaders proposed 345,000, and Hagel said 335,000. The problem is those are magic numbers, castles built on the cloudy prospect that Congress will do away with the 10-year, half-trillion defense cut known as sequestration, which a budget deal in December merely deferred. If the sequester stays, Hagel warned, the Guard would have to go down to 315,000 personnel.

“The number 315 is still there, and it’s only going away if Congress does something that is fairly monumental,” Goheen said, noting how hard it was just to get December’s deferral of sequestration. “When we talked in January, we thought there was a chance” to avoid Guard cuts,” he sighed. “There were some rumblings and chatter that there was a chance late last week. Didn’t work out. I’m not surprised.”

Even in the no-sequester scenario, Hagel has approved the Army plan to strip the Army National Guard of all its AH-64 Apache attack helicopters as part of a general downsizing and reorganization of its aviation.

“Whoa! Do we absolutely have to take all the Apaches out of the Guard?” Goheen said. “Do we have to decide what the Army’s going to look like in five years, six years, in the next two months?….We don’t, and there’s a growing number of people in Congress who feel the same way.”

“Let’s open up this process to all of the stakeholders,” Goheen concluded.

Sullivan sees that as a dangerous diffusion of responsibility. “People have a hard time understanding that when you are responsible, when you are responsible for the outcomes on the battlefield, your brain cells become very focused, and it’s different than just being responsible for writing a report,” Sullivan told the audience at AUSA Winter, to loud applause and the occasional “Hooah!”

While Maj. Gen. Nash’s letter accused the AUSA chief of “driving a wedge between the Active Component and the Guard,” throughout the conference, Sullivan in fact hammered passionately on the need for regulars, Guardsmen, and reservists to pull together.

“We are very supportive of our Guard and Reserve,” Sullivan declared in his first remarks opening the first day. “We’re all one Army,” he declared on the last day. “If there’s any press here who feels inclined to write this,” he said as he closed the conference, “the Army needs active, Army National Guard, and Army Reserve. It is a total Army.”

“He talks about the components need to work together and to come together to find a solution that works for one Army, Goheen told me this morning. “Yeah! That’s the way the process should work, but it hasn’t worked like that.”

Sure, it would have been ideal to have resolved the regular-Guard dispute within the Army family, Goheen said. “It appears to be too late.”


  • TerryTee

    If the Congress Men/Women & Governors stick together on this, they will be able to “Keep” their Air National Guard units ( A-10’s & F-16’s ) in tacked, as well as keeping their AH-64’s & Little birds from going to the Active units. Seems like the Active Military is trying to seriously Disarm the States Guard Units. Why??? If it was just 1 service or just 1 platform it might make sence. But “All Offensive Aircraft” from all Guard Units across the entire country?

    • Dukes

      a) I think you may have meant “intact” b) there are no Little Birds in the Guard c-z) there’s no real point in debating with a crazy person

  • Curtis Conway

    This strong central federal government has been pursuing policies that seem to reduce power form states and concentrate it in Active Duty units. A blind man can see it. I have often wondered why as well. Guard and Reserve forces buy more bang for the buck. We have a national historical precedence of running to the call when the bell rings in the church tower on the Town Green. The counter argument is they take longer to stand up for combat. One must ask if that is necessarily a bad thing.

    The states should not be stripped of their combat units, particularly heavy combat units. This discourages abuse of power by a strong central federal government that has been flexing its muscles lately.

    • Dukes

      Terribly ironic coming from someone who appears to be a Navy officer. Prior to 1915 many states had Naval Militia. The reason we don’t have a Navy National Guard or a Marine Corps National Guard today is because a hundred years ago the Congress and the President recognized that national defense was the first and foremost responsibility of the federal government, and we would be worse off with this power diffused among the governors.
      I’ve never met anyone in the Navy who felt placing sailors under the control of the states would be a better system than today’s federal Navy Reserve.

      • Curtis Conway

        I give deference to your comment, but find it strange given the current situation in our nations defense. Why would the federal government remove all the heavy combat capability from the state National Guards when the strong central federal government is grasping for power across the board. As a practical matter a National Guard Troop cost much less than an active duty troop, and that tradition of call-up has always been in our history until the nuclear age. The federal government is a creature of the states, not the other way around. We should be citizens of principle, and not permit tyranny to rear its ugly head ANYWHERE! I fear that the reduction of Guard and Reserve forces is just that, an attempt to concentrate combat power in the Active forces, and taken from the states via reductions in the Guard & Reserves.

        • Dukes

          Then by your own logic we should also arm the States with nuclear weapons to prevent federal tyranny.
          Further, you lump the Guard and Reserve into the same bucket. Regardless of which state they are located in, Reservists are federal troops just like their active counterparts. By the way, all members of today’s National Guard, as members of the “National Guard of the United States,” are also federal troops. Is the Guard really the bulwark against federal “tyranny” you claim it to be?
          We’ve been having these same debates since the Constitutional Convention…

          • David

            What Mr. Conway seems to be stating is that power seems to be getting centralized. I’ve been an Army officer in the active component, Army Reserve, and now National Guard. I can tell you that, even though reserves are federally-aligned, they are made of of troops from the surrounding communities; the same holds true with the guard.

            Why is this important? For disaster response (DSCA), it means that units can respond almost immediately, and this is important when seconds count. Now, and more importantly, why is it important to the federal government to centralize combat power? Because federal troops are more likely to enforce federal action against citizens. I.E. if New York (or any other state’s) National Guard units were mobilized and told they had to enforce gun control by going door-to-door and taking action against those who refuse, many would balk. The reason is that they have ties to their fellow statesmen; not so with federal units.

          • TerryTee

            Someone who gets it.

          • TerryTee

            Looks like Connecticut could be your first example of “Enforcing Gun Laws” considering only 50K registered their “Assault Rifles” and they know of 385,000 more & plus 1.2 Million High Capacity Mags also weren’t registered. This could get Very Ugly

  • Mike

    While the active Army is the “Tip of the Spear”, the guard and reserves are the shaft…. Not even counting the huge ability of the Guard and Reserves to step forward during local disasters, when the next war comes, if there is little Guard or Reserve, we will be screwed…

    Many forget that the majority of the Guard and Reserves are “prior service” and those skills would be lost forever when those members leave active service were it not for the Guard and Reserves… I served many years in a National Guard Special Forces unit after active duty. A number of years ago, that very unit stood up right alongside our active Special Operations Forces in Iraq and Afghanistan and carried out the same missions with very little “update time” and might I add at a much lover cost….Why is this so hard for the current Congress, Pentagon and DOD to understand?

  • ycplum

    Because of the arbitrary and immediate fixed cutbacks, there simply hasn’t been enough time to think things through. The haste is making waste. If the military was given 5 years to cut 27.6% of their the budget (which would be equivalent to 5% every year for five years), they probably would play with the cuts so there would be a lot less disruptions and waste.

    • jgelt

      What you are saying would be correct, if we had a functional budget system and effective leadership. We have neither. Budgets are written by staffers in tight collaboration with lobbyists. The only time congress jumps in is to have a turf battle over a cut in their district. To most of congress the job of the DoD isn’t defense, it’s a federal jobs program. The defense budget (and likely the rest of the federal budget) has been under the control of an alliance of corporate interests and corrupt bureaucrats for decades. If you gave this system another 5 years, they’d spend the 5 years lobbying to undo the cuts or they would form packs to cannibalize the DoD functions that didn’t have the tight connections that they did. I agree with you that the way the cuts are occurring are painful to watch. However, there is far more at issue here than timing.

      • ycplum

        I meant that the timing (or lack of it) is a new wrinkle to the Defense Budget Cutting game.

  • 2bnfl

    “Let’s open up this process to all of the stakeholders,” Goheen concluded. TO PROVE WHAT THAT NONE OF THEM WILL AGREE EVERY TIME THERE NEEDS TO BE CUTS. WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME THE NG SAW CUTS…CRICKETS. Now lets talk end strength vs. MOS qualified…look under the tent. Numbers across the board are dismal at best (65%) with very little plan to fix it as long as end strength is good who cares about if a Soldier is qualified and can go to war we will just pass back to another state or NGB and fill it that way instead of making a Soldier get qualified. So there is recruiting and readiness – NOT THE SAME THING! Let’s look at equipment readiness (OR Rate) – go to the motor pools and move all the equipment on a 10 mile convoy. Not gonna happen successfully. All of this is basic stuff. AC vs RC is not the same – you get what you pay for. Cheaper is cheap. Go to War – 6 month train-up at least for NG – form the unit and get cross-leveled, pass backed (6-12 months because too many people are not MOSQ), pre-mob, post-mob etc. 12 months later we can go. RC doesn’t equal AC. Oh medically qualified – look at the real numbers, abysmal but don’t show that to SecDef Hagel. You see it easy to talk a good game we are as good as…but when you look under the tent it is not a pretty picture. The Army should start inspecting NGB and the States to see what is really happening…the taxpayers would be disappointed with the product.

  • David Lloyd

    This argument highlights the mindset of most of the Regular Army towards the National Guard and Army Reserve. Basically, that non-active Soldiers are just “weekend warriors.” In reality, many in the guard and reserve are prior-service active duty. And even those who aren’t have likely deployed at least once.

    I’ve been active duty, and let’s face it: the only really challenging aspect of being active is deploying or going through an NTC / JRTC rotation. The rest is no more demanding than most civilian jobs (and even less than police work), as Soldiers get 30 days of vacation per year, are often off by 1600 each day (earlier of Fridays), and have every federal holiday off. So, the most difficult parts of being active are things that the guard and reserve have done / do on a regular basis. I’ve deployed to two theaters, and have buddies who have 4 or 5 deployments under their belt. Sure, some active Soldiers have averaged more during OIF/OEF, but they also have no civilian job to worry about.

    In addition to performing combat roles at a fraction of the cost, guard and reserve forces bring skills to the table that the active component does not. This is why most of the Civil Affairs, PSYOP (MISO) and PRT units come from the reserves. It’s not uncommon for guard/reserve units of any type to have electricians, engineers, police officers, etc. in their ranks. And these additional skills have paid dividends when interacting with the local populace.
    With this in mind, why gut the guard and reserve? I’m no statistician, but I think you’d have to cut 10+ guard/reserve Soldiers to equal the savings of cutting just one active Soldier. And when the cuts are fiscally-driven, wouldn’t it make sense to make the cuts that have the most savings for the least impact?

    • 2bnfl

      With the schedule you explain, where the hell were you, because I need to be there! Again it is not Mday salary vs. active duty salary – EVERYONE WANTS TO SEE IT THAT WAY…EVERYONE. IT IS ABOUT READINESS – WHO IS READY RIGHT NOW TO FIGHT AMERICA’S WARS. Let’s talk costs – how much does it cost to get a NG guard unit going? First of all, it requires a huge AC support training chain and AC bases, training areas, barracks, personnel to get the units ready to go anywhere. It costs a lot of money no one factors that into their RC costs…NO ONE! Training, training, training. Have you seen drill weekend lately!? When was the last time a NG unit goes to the field? Maybe during AT; maybe.