“These mobilizations are streamlined so much now that they can give combatant commanders 12 months boots on the ground,” the chief of the National Guard Bureau told attendees at a Joint Warfighting Conference in Virginia Beach, Va.
Gen. Craig McKinley, USAF, said the reserve components have “been a shock absorber,” particularly for the Army in being able to sustain military operations for more than eight years with an All-Volunteer Force. Guardsmen also are taking on missions such as Kosovo and the Horn of Africa to allow active duty soldiers to be available for other assignments.
He said the Army National Guard could maintain the Army Force Generation Model of 55,000 to 60,000 indefinitely if there is predictability in deployments that employers and families can depend on. “I think that’s significant contribution.” Adding, “I see no end in sight for continuing deployments.”
Citing Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who noted that “the fragile state of the economy is posing the greatest security to the United States,” McKinley said most governors have continued to support the National Guard for state missions “to help them through crises” from Oklahoma tornadoes, floods in Nashville and possible deployment to the Gulf Coast for oil spill clean-up.
McKinley said in his May 13 speech that defense spending will be coming down soon. “When we start turning the spigot off [in the words of Defense Secretary Robert Gates], it can be gut-wrenching. We’re going to have to make difficult choices,” particularly in regard to legacy systems.
“I do not look forward to some of the decisions we will have to make.”
Among the challenges will be maintaining the National Guard as a full-spectrum force. “We have paid in blood and treasure” to become that kind of force, capable of deploying overseas and prepared for a catastrophic event beyond a major natural disaster.
In answer to a question, McKinley said that communications in the armed forces in theater was effective and allowed quick response to changing situations and the sharing of intelligence. “The weakness is here at home. We can’t push intelligence and information to our TAGs (adjutants general) because of firewalls.” Likewise, similar barriers exists in trying to share data with federal agencies, such as the FBI.
McKinley said that included ensuring that the National Guard “can carry out its homeland security missions” by working in tandem with Northern Command “to ensure we do the right thing at the right time.”
Doing the right thing at the right time also means that the state adjutants general have strong working relationships with local elected and appointed officials, as well as emergency first responders “to allow us to get in quickly and provide relief in first 24 hours.”
Noting that 70 percent of the National Guard had prior military experience, McKinley said “this generation has a preponderance to serve.” He used Oklahoma as an example. Following the announcement of an upcoming deployment to Afghanistan in two years, the state had such a rush to recruiting stations that it had to cut off enlistments. “I really can’t explain it.”