Relations between the “big” Army and the National Guard are badly frayed. It hasn’t been this bad since the post-Quadrennial Defense Review civil war of the late 1990s. It goes beyond the dustup between Army brass and the adjutant generals over the Aviation brigade restructuring plan. Neither team seems to have a clue about how to forge a workable partnership that will deliver a better land force for the future, one that is not only sustainable but also more appropriate for delivering the kinds of capabilities needed to protect vital national interests in the decades ahead.The solution starts with building a better conceptual foundation for the total force and then developing a more realistic strategy for getting active and National Guard leaders engaged in a fully cooperative mission: reenvisioning the National Guard force of the future and partnering to build it.Rewriting the RulesFormer Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird promoted the notion of thinking about the active, Reserve and National Guard forces as a strategic imperative. He inherited a force broken by the Vietnam War and was tasked with creating a credible conventional deterrent to the Soviet military in Western Europe. Laird reasoned that, since the Pentagon lacked the requisite money, time and troops, he would have to throw everything available into the mission. He believed active and reserve components should be viewed as one pool of resources for the fight. The total force construct was born.The construct ultimately embraced three rules: mirror imaging, cascading modernization and first-to-fight funding. Mirror imaging required, for example, that if the active force had a combat heavy brigade, the National Guard would, too. Cascading modernization dictated that, when there wasn’t enough new equipment to go around, the active force would get the latest systems and the Guard would get the hand-me-downs. First-to-fight funding meant that active, forward-deployed forces would be fully funded for training and readiness; other units would receive lesser amounts based on the order in which they would likely be deployed.These rules made sense at the time, but the rationale for them collapsed along with the Soviet Union. Today’s Pentagon must recognize that, in thinking about how best to structure and employ the National Guard, the first and only criterion is the fundamental constitutional requirement to “provide for the common defence.” Given that requirement, the thinking should be guided by the national strategy for utilizing military power.Pentagon’s Game of ThronesThe governance of National Guard forces makes their reorganization a unique challenge. When not deployed as federal forces, Guard units remain under the command of their respective states, and their functions under states are determined by each state’s constitution and laws. Forces are commanded by the adjutant general (AG), who reports to the governor. Federal resources, training requirements and other administrative details flow from the Army staff through the National Guard Bureau to state Guards. Meanwhile, the Army Reserve’s remaining federal forces are supervised under a separate chain of command, even though Guard and Army Reserve forces may be resident in the same state.This peacetime organizational structure, while admittedly complicated, evolved for legitimate purposes. The state’s National Guard forces, until mobilized under federal service, remain an independent, constitutionally authorized militia in service of the individual states and territories. As long as the U.S. maintains dual-use forces, efforts to maximize both obligations will be in tension. For example, combining forces by folding the Guard into the Reserve would leave governors dependent on the government’s approval to mobilize forces for state missions. Alternatively, folding the Reserve into the National Guard would needlessly complicate the Army’s access to reserve forces.The current arrangement, however, has its virtues. It offers flexibility and adaptability in structuring, manning and utilizing the armed forces. This alone makes the overhead worth it. Moreover, it is hard to conceptualize a more efficient relationship between the Army staff, the Guard Bureau and AGs. It might seem simpler to empower the bureau to ride roughshod over AGs; the Pentagon then would not have to consider the interests and concerns of each state and territory. That would rob the governors of their legitimate leadership role, however, and undermine their independence in commanding “their” militia. In addition, making the bureau too powerful could create, in all practical terms, a second Army—one that would compete with the big Army for resources and influence. That, too, would be a mistake.The goal in building a better total force ought to be to lessen friction between the active and reserve forces, build trust and confidence, and promote cooperative action. Organizational reforms are likely not the best way to achieve this. The crossing lines of authority and interests make leading the active-reserve force in peacetime a very nonlinear activity. What’s needed is a better leadership environment, not a futile effort to make everything work better by straightening out the lines.Rhythm of HabitsThe relationship between the active and Reserve forces atrophied in the 1960s, bottomed out in the 1970s and rebounded in the 1980s. The partnership soured in the 1990s. Politics were put aside after 9/11, when all of America’s Army went to war. Now the Army’s civil war has resumed.Why? When resources are constrained and when the Army has more missions than ready forces, both the active and reserve components pay the price. They descend into unproductive squabbling. When the Army gets the resources it needs to do the job, both flourish. That formula is unlikely to change.Today’s Army faces the same challenge posed in the wake of Vietnam and under the “peace dividend” era of the post-Cold War 1990s. There are not enough capabilities to meet the demands our missions require. We lack the necessary resources to provide adequate trained and ready forces, undertake current missions, and prepare for future threats all at the same time. America’s military is on course to become “hollow.”There is no substitute for having enough military power to protect U.S. vital interests. Certainly, trading off wholesale capabilities between the active and reserve components is no answer.Arguments that Reserve forces are far cheaper to maintain while providing equal utility are spurious. That calculus doesn’t factor in the cost of the generating force required to maintain both active and Reserve units. For example, part of the “cost” of the Reserve is the active duty acquisition corps that procures equipment for the total Army. Nor does it factor in the time and cost of training to keep Reserve units at readiness levels and deployment equivalent to active forces. That calculus also ignores the strategic need and value of maintaining forward-deployed, ready forces overseas. The promise of a world-class military at bottom-basement prices rests on very fuzzy math.A military that is dependent on Reserve forces for landpower might make sense for some countries but not for a global power with far-flung interests and responsibilities.Building a Strategic PartnershipThe idea that lean times are the best times for militaries to make big choices is rubbish. When militaries are straining to meet their missions, the last thing they need is the added churn and controversy that come with major restructuring. The 1980s taught us that the best time for major restructuring initiatives is when times are good—when militaries are building up, not tearing down. Under those conditions, the Army can build collaborative teams among its active and Reserve leadership to deliver the kind of military America really needs.In lean times, however, active and Reserve leaders need a strategy to just get by. Here are the steps worth taking.Focus on what you can control. The debate over resourcing the armed forces is bigger than the Army. No strategic communications campaign is going to open the floodgate for more resources. The government will have to figure out how to deal with the fiscal mess it has created. Meanwhile, the Army should focus on the backbone of an effective force that’s both cheap and subject to the least interference from its political masters. Preserving the Army’s human capital in character, competence and critical thinking ought to be job one, and it is a task for which active and Reserve leaders ought to be able to partner shoulder to shoulder.Play small ball. Look for win-win solutions. Focus on preserving key enablers first. An enabler is not an enabler unless it’s trained, maintained and ready. The Army Aviation restructuring initiative has been the subject of withering criticism from some National Guard proponents. From an objective outsider’s perspective, it looks like a modest, responsible initiative that retains the most—and the most modern—combat and combat support aviation possible. Delaying implementation will only cost time, money and equipment, leaving the Army less to restructure with. Modest victories that preserve capabilities are better than knock-down, drag-out fights that everybody loses.Deliver continuity of service. The Army is people. The Pentagon can’t force Congress to buy all the modern equipment or all the manpower the military might need, but it can do a lot on its own to preserve as much as possible of its most valuable asset: people. The Army should make it as easy as possible for troops to serve when, where and how they choose. That can best be accomplished by reducing, as much as possible, the friction involved in moving between active duty, Army Reserve and National Guard service.Think big now; act later. Try to hoard as much time and resources as possible to preserve training, readiness and quality of life for soldiers. That said, active and Reserve leaders should engage in a strategic dialogue, not about how to do more with less but about what they would do if they had enough resources to do what they need to do. This way, when the government comes to its senses over the pressing need to rebuild American landpower, the Army will be ready to act.Imagining the FutureWhen active and Reserve leaders sit down for an honest discussion about what the nation really needs—without thinking about out how they will meet next year’s budget—they will discover they have a lot to talk about and a lot of common ground. Here are some big issues affecting the National Guard that should be discussed:Homeland defense forces. After 9/11, the Pentagon recognized the need for forces specially trained, organized and equipped to respond to homeland defense missions. Similar forces might also be needed overseas. For example, the Army might be required to protect civilians or respond to disasters in a complex chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and high-yield explosive environment. Over the last six years, however, the Pentagon has significantly rolled back and underestimated its requirements for these forces. That has to change.Post-conflict forces. Phase 4, counterinsurgency, constabulary—whatever you call it, the Army needs the capacity to conduct major operations in a civil-military environment. Asserting we’ll never do another Iraq or Afghanistan carries as much weight as the previous assertion that we’d never do another Vietnam. Special operations forces can conduct some of the activities, but that model is not scalable to a national-size mission. The Army needs to find a home for this mission, complete with doctrine, forces and equipment.Sustained major combat power. Our enemies can count. They know that U.S. land forces are not prepared for protracted conflicts. They have every incentive to create situations in which the U.S. would be deterred from operating in a theater by presenting just that kind of threat. After 9/11, the Army spent $40 billion building a sustained force projection capability. The government has just thrown that investment away. It’s worth rebuilding.State defense forces (SDF). SDF are state militias separate from the National Guard and not subject to federal service. Well-organized and professionally administered SDF, however, can be a useful adjunct to the state National Guard. In addition, they can assume Guard missions when units are deployed for federal duty.Capacity building. An operational theater can require numerous skill sets that will never be resident in an Army table of organization and equipment (a DoD document prescribing the structure, capabilities and equipment of units). The military needs to figure out the most effective way to harness and employ them in hostile environments.* * *It would be a tragedy if the Army civil war ended in an Appomattox. The internecine fighting must stop. That will happen only when the total Army acknowledges that total Army is more than a catchphrase.