By Blake Neff - 04/08/14 03:29 PM EDT
The National Guard's leader dialed back his opposition Tuesday to an Army plan that would shift resources and cut total Guard personnel by 19,000 soldiers.
Gen. Frank Grass, chief of the National Guard Bureau, had expressed opposition in recent months to the Army’s plan in the 2015 budget to transfer all of the National Guard’s AH-64 Apache attack helicopters to the active Army while replacing them with 111 UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters.
“The decision’s been made. I provided my best military advice, and I provided options. But now that the decision’s been made, I have to plan for the future,” Grass said.
According to Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno, who also testified at the hearing, these and other adjustments to the air assets of the National Guard would save $12 billion in the next several years.
Grass did show some disagreements with Odierno, though. When asked by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) whether he would support the creation of an independent commission to evaluate the aircraft adjustments and other changes to the Guard’s makeup, Grass expressed openness to the idea.
“My personal opinion is that it never hurts to have another look,” he said.
Odierno was hostile to the proposal, saying congressional delays would cost the Army up to $1 billion per year and force it to deactivate as many as 20,000 additional active Army troops.
Several senators expressed concern, however, that the planned changes to air assets would hurt morale and fundamentally change the Guard’s mission.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) was sharply critical, saying after the hearing that taking away its Apaches would “transform how the Guard works” by depriving them of direct combat utility.
“Taking the Apaches away from the Army National Guard is a huge change. …The Guard has been a combat arms reserve force, and by taking the attack helicopters out of the card, they have no more combat mission in aviation,” Graham said. “It’s not the number of aircraft, [the problem is] losing the mission.”
Graham said he is planning to propose an independent Senate commission, similar to one already proposed by Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) in the House, to evaluate the force structure changes.
Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) asked Grass whether depriving the Guard of attack aircraft would relegate it to a support role rather than a full combat arm.
“I’ve received letters from governors…and there’s a concern. They want to stay as a combat reserve of the Army and the Air Force, so it is a concern for us.” Grass said. It was another difference of opinion with Odierno, who argued that the cuts would actually improve the Guard’s combat abilities by allowing more money to be spent on other aspects of combat readiness.
Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), meanwhile, expressed concern for the morale of the Guard if Apache pilots and other personnel who had served for years were told they “aren’t needed anymore.”
Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.), on the other hand, said the generals had made a strong case for the proposed changes, and praised Grass for endorsing them.
“Gen. Grass…was very responsible in his comments this morning...[in] avoiding any kind of appearance that could look or be divisive.” Levin said,
Levin added that Grass may have been consoled by the fact that despite losing its Apaches under the current proposal, the Guard was still set to decrease less than either the active Army or the Army Reserve.