National defense priorities require a fundamental change in the employment of the Army National Guard. By moving past the binary construct of a strategic versus operational reserve, the Guard will contribute more effectively to Army, joint force and local requirements.
Just as 20 years of operations in an irregular warfare environment necessitated transition of the Army National Guard (ARNG) from a strategic to an operational model, the global security environment requires integration of Guard forces to perform a broader spectrum of roles. Following the shift in DoD’s focus from counterinsurgency to large-scale combat operations, the services are looking to redefine the roles of their operating and generating forces, to include the reserve component.
Historically, the ARNG not only has provided operational forces against the current demand on the Army, but it also has contributed strategic depth and capacity to the joint force, generating credible deterrence against aggression from threats.
The 2022 National Defense Strategy identifies four national defense priorities: defend the homeland; deter strategic attacks against the U.S., allies and partners; deter aggression while being prepared to prevail in conflict; and build a resilient joint force and defense ecosystem. DoD will achieve these objectives through integrated deterrence, campaigning and building enduring advantages. These ways mark a pivotal change against violent extremist movements, which the 2008 National Defense Strategy identified as the “long war,” to focus on a whole-of-government approach to deterring revisionist powers.
This requires DoD to take a novel approach to employing the reserve component, balancing strategic and operational capabilities to maximize effects across the competition continuum at a sustainable operational tempo. As a fully integrated reserve, the ARNG will perform a broad spectrum of operational and strategic roles, synchronized with the Army as well as state and local agencies.
The ARNG represents a cost-effective option to build in-depth combat experience and force structure to support integrated deterrence. This depth, combined with the ability to rapidly mobilize and project forces around the globe, remains critical to deterring authoritarian powers challenging international order.
As part of the Army 2030 transformation, the ARNG is shifting its combat structure to align brigades within its eight infantry divisions while maintaining brigade combat teams’ ability to conduct independent, dispersed operations.
Ensuring that ARNG units are modernized in structure, equipment and training in stride with their active counterparts will result in a deep bench of combat-capable formations. Trained and ready combat support elements not only expand the Army’s capabilities toolkit but also allow the active Army to focus on high-readiness formations for contingency response.
Readiness and training will remain key to ensuring ARNG forces are ready when needed. Combat training center rotations remain the gold standard of training and evaluation for maneuver forces, effectively preparing units for combatant commanders’ requirements. The progression through home-station training, Exportable Combat Training Capabilities, combat training centers and warfighter exercises culminating in operational employment is essential for building cohesive units and strategic depth in readiness.
It is important to remember that the outcomes of readiness-building exercises are most effective when synchronized and balanced with operational assignments or theater-specific exercises. Soldiers and leaders should not view training as the ultimate objective but should leverage capstone exercises as a springboard for follow-on employment. Those units should anticipate an operational mission following their evaluation, whether assigned through the Global Force Management Allocation Plan or through another regionally aligned activity such as overseas deployments for training.
While training for the Army mission, it is essential that ARNG units remain engaged and relevant in their local communities. Demands from state and territory leaders are unlikely to decrease, but the reality of the recent operational tempo creates extensive strains on the organization. Key to success as a force provider for Army and state requirements will be leadership and staff who are informed, engaged and able to effectively deconflict missions for their units. Integrated deterrence is built on constructing breadth as well as depth to the force, and that often means distributing a nonfederal demand in such a way that mobilizing units can concentrate exclusively on federal readiness requirements.
Supporting Army Missions
Integrated campaigning requires the skillful combination of cooperation, competition below armed conflict and, when appropriate, armed conflict in conjunction with a whole-of-government integration. The ARNG supports campaigning by contributing forces to support Army requirements across the globe. These assigned missions range from familiar deployments like Kosovo Force in the Balkans, Operation Spartan Shield in the Middle East and Operation Noble Eagle at home, to a full range of key roles to assist combatant commanders in setting the theater.
As the national defense focus shifts to emphasize the competition continuum in the Indo-Pacific and Europe, units at all echelons should anticipate an increase in deployments to those regions. Effectively programming for ARNG capabilities helps those commanders increase capacity and credibility (deterrence) and build enduring relationships (assurance), while exercising the force projection enterprise—a key enduring advantage. Supplementing global force management rotations, combatant commands program for and coordinate overseas training deployments for ARNG units in their appropriate readiness year.
With the end of the global war on terrorism, the ARNG will have the time and capacity to invest in State Partnership Program relationships. Leveraging state partnerships builds experience within all 54 states, territories and the District of Columbia, and adds to partner interoperability. The National Guard continues to add state partnerships in key regions, most recently through the addition of an alignment between Cyprus with the New Jersey National Guard, and Oman with the Arizona National Guard.
Future opportunities for alignment with other Arctic nations will further increase U.S. influence in this pivotal region. In an age of expanding Chinese global influence, these relationships and their impacts within steady-state campaigning will be key to bolstering America’s influence globally, supporting the democratic values at the heart of the American way of life.
Campaigning is not unique to foreign theaters. The ARNG’s role in the homeland is pivotal to protect the security of the American people and build national resilience. Although unit training and force design must prioritize the federal mission, states and territories should integrate across interagency partners to ensure responsiveness at time of need.
Whether the demand comes in response to natural disasters, lead federal agency requests approved by the secretary of defense or homeland defense activities, relationships and processes will form the bedrock of operations in all areas of the nation.
Furthermore, the ARNG’s broad dispersion of capabilities and presence across the homeland ensures a level of command, control, communications, computers, cyber, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance that compounds national resilience in line with the 2020 Federal Mission Resilience Strategy, which accelerates efforts by the federal government to become more resilient against threats and conditions.
To help build enduring advantages, the ARNG will take a balanced approach, helping the Total Army integrate ARNG capabilities, capacity and institutional experience all the way down to the community level. Integration with local, state and federal agencies will be essential to mitigate consequences in the homeland and project forces abroad. Deconflicting demands during times of crisis will be essential for coordinated response and a more sustainable operational and personnel tempo. Modernization and interoperability are crucial to ensure that the ARNG remains integrated with the joint force.
The Army 2030 concept places emphasis on critical systems that enable the Army to converge effects across the joint force. Domain convergence will require significant changes to unit structure, equipment and training, and the Army will prioritize modernization of select ARNG units in line with their active Army counterparts.
If the ARNG fails to remain integrated with the active Army, it introduces risk to readiness for warfighting requirements. Both active and reserve component units that fall lower on the Army’s modernization prioritization list must actively explore and exercise the interoperability of existing systems. Guaranteeing that all units remain interoperable with DoD and interagency partners will posture the force to meet unanticipated needs.
By creating a wide network of trained and ready forces, the ARNG contributes to a resilient defense ecosystem that facilitates force projection while being available for consequence management.
The fully integrated role of the ARNG will require effective coordination not only externally but also internally, between soldiers and leaders. The operating concept adopted to meet the demands of a post-9/11 world has shifted, and it is essential to ensure that leaders and soldiers understand the role they now play, or risk not developing them to meet rigorous future demands. This concept is called “generational readiness,” or the ongoing investments in training, skills, experiences and utilization necessary to develop the ARNG leaders of tomorrow.
The success of Army 2030 hinges on leveraging the Guard, with every unit and soldier playing a relevant and essential role. The focus of training and readiness must adapt accordingly.
If the ARNG fails to communicate its role as an integrated reserve, it risks an opportunity to advocate for the joint force of tomorrow and a chance to instill a revitalized sense of purpose in its own soldiers. By remaining integrated with the Army of 2030, the ARNG postures itself to add a full spectrum of ready capacity and capabilities to the joint force through this decade and beyond.
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Lt. Gen. Jon Jensen is director of the Army National Guard, Arlington, Virginia. Previously, he served as the 31st adjutant general of Minnesota and earlier, as commanding general of the Minnesota National Guard’s 34th Infantry Division. He also was dual-hatted as deputy commander and Army Reserve component integration adviser, U.S. Army Africa and Southern European Task Force, U.S. Africa Command. He has commanded at the company, battalion, brigade and division levels. His operational assignments include operations Desert Spring, Joint Forge and Iraqi Freedom.