‘This is an unprecedented recruiting machine’: Blum

Ever-increasing demands on the National Guard overseas and at home have propelled the chief of the National Guard Bureau into a perpetual fight to ensure that his traditionally under-funded and under-equipped force gets the money and attention it deserves. Following recent recruiting successes, Lt. Gen. H Steven Blum now finds himself advocating for a more substantial boost in overall Guard numbers in the coming years.

Q: What would a troop reduction or withdrawal from Iraq mean to the Guard?
A:  It could mean our numbers go down, it could mean our numbers remain the same or it really could mean that — even though the troop numbers come down — it could mean that the Guard numbers could actually go up. It depends on what kind of units were required and retained in theater. Logic would make you think that it would drive our numbers down, but it is not necessarily the case.

Q: If Congress says you have a year to withdraw, what kind of adjustments do you need to make for the troops coming home and for the overall structure of the Guard and the equipment?
A:  If we took a proportionate reduction in what we’re required to send overseas, that would certainly lessen the stress on the force. Unless the units that are needed to remain in theater are those units that are largely found in the Guard and the Reserve, which could be [the case]. We could be found in a position where the Guard actually may be shouldering a higher percentage of the forces that are deployed than they currently are.

Q:  Has anything changed in the training strategy to make up for equipment shortages at home?
A: Yes. When the secretary of defense signed his letter in January changing the mobilization policy for the Reserve component, this will act as a forcing function to hasten properly equipping the Guard so that what you have just described does not exist. Does it exist today? Yes. It is steadily improving, but not near fast enough for my liking. I would like to see it even quicker.

Q:  The 1-in-5 model (one year deployed, five years at home) has not kicked in yet?
A: We are somewhere between one year and three and a half to one year in four.

Q: How are you going to maintain that 1-in-5?
A:  One-in-five will be easy to maintain. The problem is we are not there yet. We are not even close. One-in-five right now is still a goal. It is a supply-and-demand issue. The demand for forces overseas, if that is as it is now or higher — we will not probably get to 1-in-5 unless we increase the supply of National Guardsmen, which means we will have to grow the force. If the National Guard were allowed to grow larger with more units, then obviously we could rotate them with a longer dwell time in between deployments. But [if] we are going to remain exactly the same size as we are now without any significant growth … then the only way you would get to the goal is to reduce demand for the units, which means send less people overseas than we are currently required to send. I think it is logical to seriously consider growing the Guard and the Reserves larger than they are today since we are going to have an increased reliance on them in the future.

Q: How are you working with Secretary Gates and the Army to implement the 1-in-5 model? Are you suggesting growing the force as well?
A: We have some modest growth programs. We are supposed to grow by about 8,000 over the next four to five years. I think that’s too conservative, frankly. If it were up to me, I would recommend that we would grow larger.

Q: If you want to grow the force by more than 8,000, do you foresee being successful in recruiting more than that?
A: Could I grow more than 8,000? I am very confident we can grow larger than 8,000 people if we were allowed to and resourced to. ... We had a net growth of 14,000 last year, and that was in the face of predictions from all of the conventional wisdom that the National Guard was in a tailspin and unable to maintain their end-strength or declining and heading from 350,000 to 324,000, and I assured everyone that the National Guard could and would make its end-strength. When the success of the National Guard is word-of-mouth recruiting, satisfied members are re-enlisting at unprecedented historic rates in the face of frequent deployments and more frequent interruptions to their family and civilian life than ever in modern history. As long as the resources are in place ... I think that this is an unprecedented recruiting machine that will feed on itself.

I think it is not unreasonable to see a National Guard grow four to five times that 8,000 if it were unleashed and properly resourced. If you are able to grow the forces only in the active component — if you are able to do that — it would be a very expensive, in my judgment, way to defend this nation.

Q: I understand there is a $2 billion shortfall in the recruitment and training accounts that could threaten the re-enlistment bonuses.
A: That is in fact true, and we will work with the Army to either reprogram money from either the Army or [Department of Defense] or … that program will be at risk. And in fact, if that program is at risk, then our future success in recruiting and retention will be at risk, and I do not think that is a risk we can accept in today’s environment.