Congress must seek to limit conversion of Guard technicians
© Getty Images

The ability to immediately engage a full-time force of Active Guard and Reserve soldiers and Title 32 dual-status military technicians is perhaps the most critical component in the National Guard’s ability to complete the missions it is given today. 

So any attempt to alter this force and its availability to an adjutant general is cause for concern. Current law requires 20 percent of that force to be converted from Title 32 status, working for the state in uniform and available for mobilization, to Title 5 status, making them federal civilian employees and no longer accessible to the adjutant general.

The fiscal 2018 National Defense Authorization Act now under consideration in Congress would amend that law. The House NDAA would allow 4.8 percent of the force to be switched. The Senate version puts the number at 12.6 percent.

This issue comes at a critical time for the Guard and for adjutants general.  

The operational tempo and the mission requirements for today’s Guard are significantly more challenging than they were prior to Sept. 11, 2001.  While deploying overseas was rare for Guard members 20 years ago, today’s Guardsmen likely will deploy overseas more than once in their careers. And they experience disaster and state-emergency response on a regular basis.  

Over the last 12 years, my state of Louisiana has seen its share of natural and manmade disasters. Hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit us in 2005, Gustav and Ike in 2008, Isaac in 2012, and Harvey and Nate just recently. In 2010, we responded to the Deep Water Horizon oil spill. We have had several major flooding events in the last 10 years, including record flooding throughout the state in 2016.

All of these events were quick reaction, “all hands on deck” missions. Our ability to quickly mobilize and immediately get Guardsmen into the impacted areas was critical.   

In the last 30 days, the Louisiana Guard has responded to Hurricane Harvey, provided assistance to hurricane-damaged Texas, sent troops to Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Maria, responded to Hurricane Nate, and deployed several of our units overseas in support of the global war on terrorism.

We were fortunate to have large numbers of full-time soldiers and airmen readily available. It troubles me to consider that a significant portion of my full-time force would not be available because they had become Title 5 civilian technicians.

I understand the arguments in favor of converting some Title 32 technicians to Title 5 status, but 20 percent, 15 percent or even 10 percent is too many. Our readiness is reduced by cutting the size of our reaction force. And that is asking for trouble. 

One of the critical keys to success for the Louisiana National Guard has been the utilization of Active Guard and Reserve and Title 32 technicians. These soldiers and airmen ensure unit readiness and the ability to respond as an operational reserve. They cultivate relationships within their communities and foster day-to-day unit continuity. During domestic operations, AGR troops and military technicians facilitate rapid response by ensuring Guardsmen and equipment are prepared.

My commanders and senior NCOs tell me that expedience is critical for emergency response. Without the appropriate amount of AGR personnel and Title 32 technicians, a response would be delayed. This is unacceptable, especially when lives are at stake. 

The AGR and Title 32 force is an important asset and makes a huge difference in response time. I am hopeful that our full-time force remains intact and that our National Guard is able to continue to rely on these difference makers in times of need.

The author has been Louisiana adjutant general for six years. He is also president of the Adjutants General Association of the United States.