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Another Look at the National Guard Readiness Report

About ten days ago, the Congressionally chartered Commission on the National Guard and Reserves issued its report on the Guard’s “state of readiness.” Specifically, the report highlighted the military’s lack of preparedness to deal with a domestic terrorist attack or a natural disaster.

The findings were both disturbing and debated. At that time, our colleague Mike Tanji wrote a post titled “Always There, but Always Ready?”. Among the observations cited in his post was that 88% of the Guard units were not prepared to fight, and were not trained or equipped adequately to respond to a “catastrophic” event.

My comment to Mike’s post included:

”…it seems to me to also be a combination of enabling military actions domestically, plus the need to anticipate the varied skill sets required to address a range of unpredictable “catastrophic” conditions. One of the keys also seems to be the defined role of the military in domestic homeland defense and the 1st responder issues (herein lies the differences between homeland defense and homeland security). It even gets further complicated when you factor in the military medical commands and their roles in domestic disaster response…”

Today, I had the opportunity to speak with a friend, retired Colonel Ken Allard. He and I met about a year ago and have frequently discussed issues regarding critical infrastructure, homeland security and homeland defense. It happens that Ken wrote an opinion piece last Thursday “At the ready?”

Allard referred to retired Marine Maj. Gen. Arnold L. Punaro, the commission chairman’s comments in a Washington Post interview in which he was spoke of "an appalling gap in readiness for homeland defense" — even compromising the Guard's ability to perform such basic missions as responding to a nuclear attack on American soil.

Colonel Allard’s view on the subject is pretty pointed, if not opinionated:

The reason for the appalling gap is appallingly simple. The Guard and Reserves have been used up by seven years of warfare that began on 9-11, military commitments from Kandahar to Kirkuk, while also responding to disasters from Eagle Pass to the New Orleans Ninth Ward.
He then discussed a few facts including that the manpower problem is solvable by withdrawing from Iraq. He cited the situation with the Texas Army National Guard, which just enlisted its 19,000th member, a female non-commissioned officer who transferred in after completing a hitch in the active force.

Last year, the Texas Guard logged some 72,000 man-hours supporting "civilian authority," everything from range fires to Hill Country flooding, tornado response to hurricane contingencies. Sixteen hundred other Guardsmen were called to active duty in places like Afghanistan. Still others took on the job of helping to guard the Texas-Mexico border, but maybe we could just withdraw from there, too.

Ken went on in his article to relate to a phone call he had with Punaro in which the General acknowledged “the Guard's serious problems, its equipment consumed by over-deployment, its people exhausted by over-commitment,” and then discussed a few of the Commission’s recommendations:

● tightening the sometimes ambiguous links between the Defense and Homeland Security departments.

● creating a more coherent system for training, promoting and compensating Guardsmen and reservists not just for 20 years "but for a lifetime of service to the nation."

● reorganizing the nation's reserves into operational and strategic forces for better management of the global support and homeland defense missions as well as a "strategic standby reserve" that could even include retired service members

Colonel Allard’s conclusion was this:

Know what's really happening here? The first, tentative steps toward a future system of tiered military service. Want to energize the presidential debates? Then let's start arguing about requiring a year of national service from every 18-year-old. And start thinking creatively about meaningful civilian service, a broadened array of voluntary military options (active and reserve) as well as a sliding scale of educational benefits tied to those choices.

Its certainly a striking, perhaps startling, perhaps debatable and also, perhaps, controversial end point to a commentary. But it just may be the kind of innovative thinking that is needed to deal with the troop strength requirements of the War on Terror, coupled with the domestic preparedness and response operations in which the National Guard have traditionally served. No one wants their sons or daughters to be drafted. However, in my opinion, the concepts raised by Colonel Allard are worthy of thought.