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‘Indispensable’ Guard Tackles Deployments, Disasters

Units from Guam to the Virgin Islands face challenges posed by operational tempos — both the nation’s and nature’s.

The U.S. Army National Guard is revamping its organization, training and deployment strategy to better cope with operational tempos abroad and recurring demand for disaster-relief operations and other homeland security missions.

The U.S. militia is implementing Army National Guard 4.0, which the director of the Army National Guard, Lt. Gen. Timothy J. Kadavy, said is aimed at creating a sustainable higher level of readiness to enable the Guard to deploy with significantly less post-mobilization training. It calls for providing enhanced capabilities more quickly to the Army and envisions certain units demonstrating “an especially high level of readiness, all designed to reduce post mobilization training requirements.”

The first phase is to focus on building that enhanced capability in selected units, including the Guard’s attack reconnaissance battalions. Phase two would focus on building readiness and modernizing the remaining Guard. (The label 4.0 refers to the Guard’s evolution from its post-Vietnam War-era role as an emergency reserve [1.0] to its growing participation in overseas operations through 2001 [2.0] and its continuous mobilization since September 11, 2001’s terrorist attacks [3.0].)

The effort was a key topic of discussion when the National Guard Association of the United States met in Louisville, Kentucky early September for its annual convention. This year’s theme was “America’s National Guard: The Indispensable Force.” As event convened, more than 25,500 Guard members were assisting in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey (which struck south Texas and Louisiana) and helping with evacuations and preparations ahead of Hurricane Irma’s strike on Florida. (On any given day, leaders said the Guard has about 18,000 soldiers and airmen mobilized to support of combatant command missions overseas and more than 4,000 conducting operations at home.)

In addition to their disaster-recovery responsibilities and duties within their respective states and territories, Guard units join border-security and other homeland protection missions and are expected to be prepared to respond to such threats at home, such as chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear and cyber attacks.

S.C. Guard soldiers deployed to Harvey and to Afghanistan in August. Photo courtesy of the South Carolina National Guard

The Guard also is the Army and the Air Force’s primary combat reserve. Of the many regular examples of that, consider the South Carolina National Guard.

In late August, the state ordered two Guard Sikorsky UH-60 teams west to support Harvey rescue and recovery efforts. The Black Hawks and crews are part of the S.C. Helicopter Aquatic Rescue Teams, which include rescue swimmers from the State Fires Emergency Task Force.

At the same time, South Carolina was deploying about 190 Guard soldiers from the 1st Attack Reconnaissance Battalion, 151st Aviation Regiment, to Afghanistan as part of the Army’s 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade for nearly a year. (That battalion is one of four Boeing AH-64 Apache battalions that will be incorporated in the Guard, a change from a recent proposal to move all Guard’s Apaches to the regular Army. Retaining the Apaches “reinforces our primacy as the combat reserve of the Army to have that capability,” Kadavy said.)

At the Sept. 7 to 10 convention, top U.S. leaders praised Guard troops’ work abroad and at home, while bemoaning the inability of Congress to enact stable funding for military services.

With threats abroad and natural disasters at home, the U.S. faces “huge, huge challenges, and you’re right in the middle of helping us,” Sen. Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and majority leader of the U.S. Senate, told more than 2,000 Guard officers from the U.S.’ 50 states, territories and possessions. “I don’t know where we’d be without all of you.”

McConnell offered some apology, telling the convention, “We have not been adequately funding the military.”

As the Senate leader was headed to Louisville, 12 defense-related trade associations urged Republican and Democrat congressional leaders to complete fiscal year 2018 authorization and appropriations measures and avert a government shutdown. “We hope you and your colleagues will act swiftly to avoid any threat of government shutdown, a default, or other unnecessary delays that disrupt industry markets and the proper functioning of the federal government.”

That plea followed comments by the Pentagon’s comptroller and CFO, David Norquist, who criticized continuing resolutions used repeatedly by Congress to patch over its inability to pass regular federal funding. He said such steps have “administrative costs that are wasteful and readiness and operational costs that are unrecoverable.” RWI