By Roxana Tiron - 05/18/06 12:00 AM EDT
The Pentagon’s top two leaders yesterday publicly rejected a bipartisan congressional proposal that would elevate the head of the National Guard as a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the rank of a four-star general.
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine Corps Gen. Peter Pace, said in his first comments on the proposal that such a move would be “disruptive” and “not helpful.”
Sens. Kit Bond (R-Mo.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), co-chairmen of the National Guard Caucus and members of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, earlier this year introduced the National Defense Enhancement and National Guard Empowerment Act. The bill would not only promote the National Guard chief to a full general and seat him at the table with the chiefs of all the military services but would also have the deputy commander of the Northern Command be a member of the Guard, to better represent the interests of the Guard and the states. By being elevated, the Guard would also have a say in what kind of equipment it would get to buy for its members.
The Bond-Leahy legislation has been paralleled in the House by Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), chairman of the Government Reform Committee. The House-passed 2007 defense authorization bill includes a provision directing the Commission on the National Guard and Reserve to study the feasibility of the measure.
Pace argued that the Pentagon already has put significant effort into having all the services working jointly. “We have one Army, one Air Force, one Marine Corps, one Navy,” Pace said. “To divide our Air Force, to divide our Army by having an additional member of the joint chiefs who represents a segment of both of those services would do a disservice.”
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld argued that the Army and the Air Force are “total” forces that already include the members of the National Guard and Reserve. Segmenting them would not be a good idea, he said.
On a plane ride a few weeks ago, Leahy presented the idea to empower the Guard to Rumsfeld. Leahy said there “was turbulence inside the plane.”
Asked whether he reconsidered the idea, Rumsfeld replied: “I have reflected on your recommendation in that regard and I talked to Pete Pace and other members of the chiefs, and I guess the short answer is no.”
Rumsfeld acknowledged that the Guard needs to be well-represented by the Joint Chiefs.
“We have to make sure that we have those linkages that work and are effective,” he added.
“I am not looking at the table for four stars, I am looking for expertise,” Pace said.
The Pentagon’s reluctance to accept the idea of an elevated Guard is not sitting well with the states’ adjutants general who argue that the National Guard is taxed with missions from the global war on terrorism, homeland security and disaster relief but for years has been slighted on resources and equipment.
One such example is the controversy over the Pentagon’s 2005 round of base closures and realignments, in which Guard leaders were not consulted on major decisions. More recently, as the Army was putting together its budget request, it decided to cut the Guard considerably.
Lt. Gen. H Steven Blum, the chief of the National Guard Bureau, admitted he was not part of the first two meetings but was clued in later and kept abreast of the decisions. The decision to make the cuts to the Guard was reverted.
Blum, however, did not make a visible attempt to push the elevation idea during the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee hearing. He did say that he is committed to ensuring that the National Guard does not repeat “its long and sordid past” with the other services.
Adding fuel to the fire is President’s Bush’s decision to deploy 6,000 members of the National Guard to the southwest border to support the Border Patrol with illegal-immigration control. The Guard would have a support role in engineering, construction and logistics and would not engage in law enforcement.
The Office of Management and Budget is working with the Department of Homeland Security to figure out the resources necessary to deploy the Guard to the border and whether the money would be part of another supplemental request.
Apart from supporting the president’s plan on deploying the Guard and assuring Congress that the mission would not detract from the troops’ ability to perform other missions at home and abroad, Rumsfeld pressed lawmakers to pass the almost $68 billion war supplemental by the end of May.
Any delay in passing the supplemental is putting the military’s operations and maintenance accounts at risk, he said.
“The Army and Marine Corps are already forced to delay contract obligations,” he said.