Army secretary nominee concerned about ‘unreasonable or unhelpful demands’ on National Guard

Christine Wormuth testifies at a House Armed Services Full Committee hearing in 2015
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President Biden’s nominee for Army secretary expressed concern Thursday about whether National Guard and reserve forces are being overused.

“I am of course concerned about the possibility that there are unreasonable or unhelpful demands on the National Guard, as well as the reserves,” Christine Wormuth told the Senate Armed Services Committee during her confirmation hearing to become the Army’s top civilian official.

“So if I were confirmed I would want to look closely at — with Gen. [Daniel] Hokanson, chief of the National Guard Bureau — to look at exactly how that strain is manifesting and whether his assessment is that there is undue stress on the force,” she added.

Wormuth was responding to a question from Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) about the National Guard’s “virtually nonstop” deployments over the last year.

The National Guard has been relied upon during the coronavirus pandemic to help administer tests and vaccines, as well as distribute food and personal protective equipment and provide other support to local communities.

Guardsmen were also deployed around the country to help local law enforcement respond to civil unrest, to assist after hurricanes, wildfires and other natural disasters, and to bolster cyber defenses and local poll workers during last year’s elections. 

And thousands of Guardsmen from around the country remain in Washington, D.C., after being deployed in the wake of the Jan. 6 Capitol attack.

At her confirmation hearing, Wormuth said overworking the Guard or the reserves could damage recruiting and retention.

“With our citizen soldiers, we have to be mindful of the fact that they are balancing their service in our military with their civilian careers and their responsibilities with their families,” she said. “And frankly, from a recruiting and retention standpoint, if we are overly taxing the Guard or the reserves, that can be damaging.”

Shaheen also pressed Wormuth on confusion Guardsmen face with retirement, health care and education benefits depending on whether they are deployed under state or federal orders and whether the system should be reexamined, to which Wormuth replied she would be “happy to look into the status of the benefits.”

Wormuth, who worked in the Pentagon during the Obama administration and most recently has served as the director of the International Security and Defense Policy Center at the RAND Corp., would be the first woman to serve as Army secretary if she’s confirmed.

At her hearing, she also expressed concern about whether the Army’s combat fitness test is affecting the retention of women.

“I also have concerns obviously about the implications of the test for our ability to continue to retain women, which we obviously want to do,” Wormuth said in a response to a question from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.).

Earlier this week, reported that about 44 percent of women have failed the Army combat fitness test from Oct. 1 to April, compared to about 7 percent of men. The test is still in development, and it would replace the Army physical fitness test that service leaders are hoping will better replicate tasks needed for combat while reducing the risk of injuries.

Recently announced plans for the new test to score men and women separately have elicited controversy. Other recent changes as the Army retools the new test include allowing soldiers to do a plank instead of a leg tuck to test core strength, which has improved women’s scores.

“I do think it’s important for the Army to have a physical fitness test that tests the kinds of combat skills soldiers will need to have, to have a test that prevents injuries, which I think the new test is designed to do much better than the old one,” Wormuth said.

“But we want to make sure that we are not indirectly penalizing anyone. And I think that the Army’s decision to, for example, allow women to do a plank rather than the leg tuck is a good example of adapting in a way that I think is as helpful,” she said.

Tags Jeanne Shaheen Joe Biden Kirsten Gillibrand

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