The United States Army is composed of three components: the Active Army, the Reserve Army and the Army National Guard. All have proved essential in supporting war efforts during the 1991 Gulf War, peacekeeping in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia and Kosovo, and most recently as part of the “Global War on Terrorism” in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Under the National Guard Act of 1933, Guard members are considered members of the Army at all times.
During the same period, Guard members have performed with distinction in their traditional roles of disaster relief and aiding efforts to control civil disturbances. Examples include responding to the 1992 Los Angeles riots; and to Hurricanes Katrina in 2005, Irene in 2011, and Sandy and Isaac in 2012.
Recent budget imperatives, including the Budget Control Act of 2011, several years of continuing resolutions and the ensuing sequester have taken a toll, reducing the strength of the total Army and forcing some difficult decisions.
The US secretary of defense has approved a plan to cut the Army’s size from 570,000 to 420,000 soldiers by fiscal 2019 and to reduce the Guard from 354,000 to 315,000. This is a painful reality, though necessary to deal with today’s fiscal constraints.
But the Aviation Restructure Plan, announced in January, has created deep fissures between the Active Army and the Guard, which might have been avoided through more careful planning. As a result, members of the Guard today question the Army’s appreciation of its historic roles and contributions. Staffers on Capitol Hill report the pushback has been fast and furious.
The restructuring includes the divestiture of the Army’s fleet of OH-58 Kiowa Warrior helicopters and the transfer to the Active Army of the Guard’s entire fleet of 192 AH-64 Apache attack choppers, upgraded to the latest E standard, to fulfill the Army’s scout reconnaissance mission. The Guard would receive 111 UH-60L Black Hawk utility helicopters in return, and the Army would divest its TH-67 trainer helicopters and replace them with more modern LUH-72s.
At first glance, this might appear to be a reasonable solution. After all, in the words of one Army spokesman, “State governors need Black Hawks [for disaster relief] far more than attack helicopters.”
There was a time, long before 1990, when this thinking permeated the military. The modern National Guard traces its origins to Dec. 13, 1636, when the Massachusetts Bay Colony perceived the need to defend itself against American Indians. Early militias distinguished themselves during the French and Indian War and the American Revolution. Later the Guard performed honorably during World War I, World War II at Omaha Beach, and the Korean War.
During the Vietnam War, however, the administration of President Lyndon B. Johnson decided upon a draft to augment the Army’s active-duty strength rather than calling on the National Guard and reserve. As a result, membership in the Guard became a way to avoid service in an unpopular war.
That was true in my hometown, Augusta, Ga., and many other communities. My generation remembers all too well the Ohio National Guard’s use of lethal force during the May 1970 protests at Kent State University, a stain that has taken years to remove.
The Army’s experience in Vietnam led to the creation of the 1973 Total Force Policy, a major change promoted by then-Army Chief of Staff Gen. Creighton Abrams. Under the policy, the National Guard was transformed from a strategic reserve into an operational force.
As a result, today’s Guard units are interchangeable with those of the Army. National Guard pilots, many of whom have served multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, are among the most capable and experienced in any service branch.
So the announcement of the Army Aviation Restructuring Plan, and the Army’s apparent willingness to dismiss the Guard component as something akin to a local militia, as opposed to an equal partner, represents a major step back for a community that has suffered casualties, losses and privations no different than Big Army. In so doing, the Army has inflicted on its Guard members a psychic pain that may take generations to heal.
By M.E. Rhett Flater, a former executive director of AHS International (1991 to 2011), a professional technical society for vertical flight. He advises government and industry on aerospace and defense industrial base issues.■
M.E. Rhett Flater is a former executive director of AHS International (1991 to 2011), a professional technical society for vertical flight. He advises government and industry on aerospace and defense industrial base issues.