Army on National Guard cuts: We need a balanced force

Army leadership has a tough sell for lawmakers looking out for their state’s Army National Guard forces: Allow cuts to the National Guard to avoid further cuts from the active-duty side. 

“If I can’t touch the Guard, and make minimal changes, the only place I can go is to take out the readiness and more forces from the active,” Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. John Campbell told The Hill in an interview.  

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“The Army acknowledges that there will be reductions to the budget and cuts to the total force must be made responsibly," he said. "It’s about achieving the right balance, the right force mix for the Army in order to execute the nation's defense strategy," 

But state governors and some lawmakers have already been fighting back, raising concerns that cuts to the National Guard, which are states’ military reserve forces, would limit their ability to fight natural disasters at home and leave them less ready when called to fight wars.

Faced with budget cuts of $79 billion over the next five years, the Army is planning to shrink the active-duty force to 450,000 and the National Guard to 335,000 by 2017 — a reduction of 70,000 active-duty soldiers and 15,000 National Guardsmen. 

Army officials say 450,000 is the smallest acceptable force to implement the president's defense strategy at high risk, and below that, the Army would no longer be able to do so. 

Campbell said the active army will absorb a disproportionate percentage of cuts, but further reductions will require cuts in the National Guard and Reserve.

“We have to have the Guard, we have to have the Army Reserve, and we have to have the active. We need the total force — we just got to get the right balance,” Campbell said. 

In addition, the Army wants to transfer all of the National Guard’s Apache attack helicopters to the active side, and give them their utility Black Hawk helicopters instead. 

Army officials also point out that by 2015, the active-duty aviation brigades would be giving up 23 percent of their fleet, versus 8 percent of the National Guard’s fleet. 

“So they’ll gain capability for the states, even though they’ll take a reduction in total aircraft,” said Col. Frank Tate, the Army’s chief of aviation force development.  

So far, several of the 50 state governors and National Guard state commanders have protested the proposals, and Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) has introduced a bill that would create a commission to look at the cuts and prevent any before 2016.

Campbell said cuts to the active could hurt more than cuts to the National Guard. 

"Hypothetically speaking, if you're a governor out there thinking, 'Well I want to hold the Guard units in the state,' what I would say is, ‘If there is large Active Duty installation in the state, I need to consider that budget cuts may force the Army to deactivate another brigade from the state, that is 4,500 Soldiers,” Campbell said.

In addition, if there are no National Guard cuts, more active-duty soldiers from the “institutional Army” — such as trainers — will be cut, which will impact National Guardsmen anyway, Campbell said. 

“The Guard is dependent upon the training piece. Now the Guard is not going to get as many slots to school because the active Army provides that training,” he said.  

Campbell said a commission on the Army's force would just delay necessary adjustments, and would take the Army out of balance. 

Campbell said the proposed cuts were also based on studies that show even in the worst of disasters, the National Guard would have what it needed to respond for its state mission. And while there are some National Guard units that are cheaper than active duty forces, in many cases it costs more to train and deploy National Guardsmen when mobilized to active-duty, he added. 

Campbell said after the cuts, there would still be more full-time National Guardsmen than before 9/11. 

“Approximately 60,000 National Guardsmen are full-time anyway. We’re trying not to touch that,” he said. “It’s a lot more soldiers on full-time status than the Guard had pre-war.” 

The Army is recommending the force cuts and other changes in order to prioritize spending on cyber, ballistic missile defense and modernizing current and future weapons systems, and maintain a balance between readiness, endstrength and modernization, Campbell said. 

“In the end, we want to be more expeditionary. We ought to provide what the combatant commanders need,” Campbell said.