Effort to bring Army, National Guard closer may result in redesign of both
An effort to mend fences between the Army and the National Guard could lead to a radical redesign of both, a retired general heading a congressionally appointed panel on the future of the service said.
Retired Gen. Carter Ham brought members of the National Commission of the Future of the Army to Colorado Springs on a fact-finding tour last week as part of the group's charter to recommend ways to restructure the Army, Army Reserve and Army Guard. The commission was formed after a protracted battle over resources between the Guard and the Army became a public fight before House and Senate committees earlier this year.
Ham's job: Make the Army's three components work better together.
"Fractures between the three components of the Army are unhealthy," Ham said. "It is the total force of the Army that has to work in concert."
The commission won't issue a report until February, but early indications point to a bigger role for part-time troops as the Army cuts its active-duty force to 450,000 soldiers.
Ham, for instance, envisioned "reserve component units able to respond more quickly than our current models."
The combat role of part-time troops has been in flux since the Army called up guard and reserve soldiers in large numbers to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan more than a decade ago. What prompted the commission was congressional belt-tightening under sequestration that threatens to carve $50 billion per year from Pentagon spending.
To deal with the cuts, the Army under then-chief Gen. Ray Odierno sought economies in the National Guard. Plans included taking away the guard's AH-64 attack helicopters to replace an outmoded fleet of Army scout helicopters and cutting 8,000 Guardsmen from the ranks. Odierno retired last month.
Those proposals got a swift reaction from guard leaders, including Colorado National Guard boss Maj. Gen. H. Michael Edwards, who six months ago said the two sides weren't even on speaking terms.
"It has gotten very difficult for either one to talk to each other," Edwards said.
Congress resorted to a technique that was used to bring peace between the part-time and full-time components of the Air Force after a similar budget fight.
The National Commission on the Structure of the Air Force released a report this year that called for increased reliance on part-time airmen. The Air Force's full-time leaders praised the result — they disagreed with one of that commission's 42 recommendations.
Opinions of Ham's commission and its ability to heal the Army rift are mixed among Colorado Springs military experts.
Retired Army Lt. Gen. Ed Anderson said the Army could discount the commission's work as Congress meddling in Pentagon business.
"I'm always reluctant to have Congress telling the Army what to do," Anderson said.
Retired Army Lt. Gen. Ed Soriano, though, says the Army needs outsiders to assess the force.
"This is the perfect time for it," Soriano said.
Restructuring the full-time and part-time Army is nothing new. In the wake of the Vietnam War, the Army decided to fill out its combat divisions with "round-out" brigades from the National Guard. In the 1991 Persian Gulf War, though, critics said the guard brigades took too long to prepare for war.
Experiments continued, though, including at Fort Carson where the post's 7th Infantry Division served as an active-duty headquarters above three part-time combat brigades. That structure was changed again as part-time troops played a bigger role in the Middle East.
That combat record, Anderson said, gives the guard an argument that it should keep its troops and helicopters.
"They think they can do more than the Army gives them credit for," Anderson said.
Figuring out how to best use the guard and reserve has kept Ham and other commission members on the road for months.
In Colorado Springs, they met with key National Guard leaders and toured the 100th Missile Defense Brigade, a National Guard unit that has interceptors in Alaska and California to destroy incoming nuclear warheads.
"One of the challenges is what is the right size of the Army, Army Reserve and National Guard," he said.
Ham said while the commission will look at duties of the Army's components and their size, they're also looking at laws enacted to govern the National Guard, which falls under state governors in peacetime and the federal force.
The tangle of laws can leave leaders confused, he said.
"It's overly complex," he said.
Ham says no matter what solution his commission recommends, though, tighter budgets will take their toll.
"You can't do more with less," he said. "You can do less with less."
Contact Tom Roeder: 636-0240
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