Gen. Mark Welsh, the new Air Force chief of staff, wants the fight between the Air Force and the Air National Guard to end. (Army National Guard)
It is no secret in Washington, and perhaps in numerous communities around the U.S., that the Air Force and the Air National Guard have been locked in a vicious battle over missions and funding for the past year.
Gen. Mark Welsh, the new Air Force chief of staff, wants that fight to end — and to make sure it never happens again.
With just more than a month on the job as the top officer in the Air Force, Welsh traveled to Reno, Nev., last week to speak at a conference of the large National Guard Association of the U.S.
And the healing process has begun.
“We have to communicate better,” Welsh said, referring to the Guard during the Sept. 11 speech. “There has to be more transparency. We have to fight and argue and throw emotion on the table and debate the tough issues.”
The Air Force has proposed cutting 5,100 Guard, 900 Reserve and 3,900 active-duty personnel in 2013. It also proposed a shuffling of Guard aircraft and moving some into the active duty; some Guard units were left without missions.
Perhaps one of the most debated proposals was to retire the entire Alenia Aermacchi C-27J cargo plane fleet. The Guard is the only operator of the aircraft in the U.S.
That plan was met with resistance in Congress, as many lawmakers’ districts would be affected by the move. Governors also resisted, noting that they are in charge of National Guard forces when they are not mobilized.
Many governors argued that the shifting of aircraft would hurt their ability to respond to disasters.
Former Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz, who retired last month, was adamant that cuts to the Guard were necessary to meet mandated reductions in defense spending.
Much of the Air Force’s proposal has been rejected by Congress. Defense observers said the Air Force now needs to embrace the Guard and Reserve to regain political capital.
One of the Guard’s biggest arguments through the fight is that it was not on board with the active-duty proposals.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has tried to play mediator between the Air Force and governors. Since the Air Force budget proposals went to Congress in February, he sought a compromise between the governors and the Pentagon.
At a widely attended social event at the Nevada conference, Welsh spent much of the evening alongside Lt. Gen. Harry “Bud” Wyatt, the director of the Air National Guard, mingling with attendees, according to sources.
Welsh drew applause during his speech when he said state requirements need to be included “at the front end.”
“We have to understand that we are not going to agree on everything,” he said. “States won’t agree with each other on everything. But we’ve got to have the debate. We’ve got to understand that the only way — the only way — we can move forward successfully is together.”
Welsh’s speech at the Guard event was met with optimism from Guardsmen and defense observers. The general spent much of his time telling stories of the Guard’s involvement in current and past operations.
For example, he mentioned the rapid deployment of Guardsmen from Michigan and New York to help staff the air operations center that oversaw operations in Libya last year.