US Army soldiers conduct training. Leaders of the Army National Guard and Reserve claim their troops are capable of adequately filling in for the active force. (US Army)
WASHINGTON — In a sharply worded statement released Jan. 13, the president of the National Guard Association called remarks by US Army chief Gen. Ray Odierno “disrespectful and simply not true” while complaining that “the Army chief of staff disparaged the Army National Guard last week by telling reporters in Washington, D.C., that, essentially, the Army National Guard just isn’t good enough to be relied upon more in the future.”
Retired Maj. Gen. Gus Hargett’s statement came in response to Odierno’s Jan. 5 remarks at the National Press Club in Washington, where he said the National Guard would not be capable of taking on more of the active-duty force’s responsibilities if the active force structure falls much below the 490,000 floor that the chief set for 2015.
“The capabilities are not interchangeable,” Odierno said, “there’s a reason why the active component is more expensive. It brings you a higher level of readiness, because they’re full time.
“They are trained and ready to do things at a higher level because they spend every day focused on that,” Odierno said. “Our National Guard, [which has] done an incredible job in the last 10 years, trains 39 days a year.”
The chief’s comments also didn’t go over well with National Guard Bureau chief Gen. Frank Grass, who retorted two days later during his own Jan. 7 National Press Club speech that “the idea of doing 39 days a year, to me, doesn’t exist any more.”
While Grass — who oversees the Army and Air National Guard and sits with Odierno on the Joint Chiefs of Staff — might have pulled his punches in his response, the National Guard Association of the United States president felt no such obligation.
Hargett also claimed that Odierno’s remarks run “counter to the public statements of countless active commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last 12 years, who have lauded the contributions of the Army National Guard. Many have said they can’t tell the difference between active and Guard soldiers.”
Commanders in both theaters of war have repeatedly commended the actions of Guard units since they began conducting large-scale deployments more than a decade ago. But Guard units, while experiencing plenty of combat, have often been used for different missions than active duty units. They have been assigned to logistics and security roles, protecting convoys, large bases and training local forces, while active-duty units were involved in the fighting outside the wire.
Hargett argues in his statement that Odierno’s “words are part of a discernible pattern over the last several months as he struggles to justify keeping Army personnel strength at above pre-9/11 levels.”
The Army will fall from its wartime high of 570,000 soldiers to 490,000 by the end of fiscal 2015, service officials have announced, and a Jan. 10 report from Inside Defense stated that the service has agreed to reduce its end strength to 420,000 by 2019, making the force the smallest it’s been since before World War II.
Under this plan, the National Guard would also fall from 354,000 to 315,000 soldiers, while the Army Reserve would fall to 185,000 from the current 205,000 troops.
Odierno hinted at as much in his comments last week, telling the audience that if the Army has to go below the 490,000 threshold, it will have to reduce the troops in the Guard and Reserve as well.
Keeping the right percentage between the active and the Guard and Reserve units will be critical, he added, and his staff thinks the right mix is about 54 percent in the reserves and about 46 percent in the active ranks.
“Based on the analysis we’ve done, which is quite substantial, that gets us about the right level of active readiness,” Odierno said. “It also gives us the ability for the National Guard to respond over longer periods of time. And it also allows the National Guard to continue to be responsive within their own states. And we think that’s about the right balance.” ■