Commissioners: Enhance National Guard, Homeland Defense
Arnold L. Punaro, chairman of the Commission on the National Guard and Reserves, discusses the commission's interim report to the U.S. Congress at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., March 1 Under Congressional charter, the 13 commissioners are studying the National Defense Enhancement and National Guard Empowerment Act first introduced before Congress last year and reintroduced during the current session. The act could make sweeping changes in how the National Guard does business.

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, March 2, 2007) - Changes in legislation and policy for the National Guard are urgently needed so that America's homeland defenders can perform like a professional football team rather than like a neighborhood pickup team.

That was Chairman Arnold L. Punaro's message as the Commission on the National Guard and Reserves delivered its interim report to Congress Thursday.

Among numerous recommendations, commissioners called for enhancing the National Guard's homeland-security role, forming a Council of Governors, giving governors and National Guard officers command of federal forces during domestic emergencies and improving communication between federal agencies.

"You need everybody on the same team," said Punaro, a retired Marine Corps major general. "You need everybody working off the same playbook. You need the offense, you need the defense, you need the special teams.

"We don't have that now. We've got stovepipes. We've got the governors. We've got NORTHCOM (U.S. Northern Command). And they're not working together. With the threats we face, particularly here in the homeland, we cannot use this sandlot pickup team approach," he said.

Under Congressional charter, the 13 commissioners are studying the National Defense Enhancement and National Guard Empowerment Act first introduced before Congress last year and reintroduced during the current session. The act could make sweeping changes in how the National Guard does business.

"We're looking at the overall broad national security and trying to break down these institutional stovepipes and turf," Punaro said. "We need to ... promote integration, promote jointness and promote accountability."

The March 1 interim report makes 26 findings and 23 recommendations in six broad areas. Congress could act on all, some or none of the recommendations. A final report is due Jan. 31, 2008.

Only eight of the recommendations require Congressional legislation. "The rest ... could be implemented today by the Executive Branch," Punaro said. "People don't need to wait around ... they can move out smartly."

Most of the issues requiring legislative changes concern the National Guard Bureau Charter.
Change is urgent, Punaro said.

The National Guard and the Reserve have mobilized more than 550,000 troops since Sept. 11, he said. "They're performing exceedingly well against an array of missions - warfighting, peacekeeping, stability operations, civil support."

The National Guard is now an operational reserve - a predominantly part-time force used on a day-to-day basis, with an active-duty state of readiness. It is no longer a strategic reserve, he said.

"That's a huge paradigm shift," Punaro said. "And yet our commission has found that (the Defense Department) has not made any of the underlying changes in the laws, rules, regulations, policies, procedures, funding and equipment to make it truly a ready operational reserve. ... Resourcing has not yet paced with requirements. ...

"(The Defense Department) has declared that we have this operational reserve, but they haven't made the changes necessary to ensure that such an operational reserve is sustainable," Punaro said. "We have concluded that ... it is not sustainable.

"If major changes are not made, the Guard and Reserves' ... capability to carry out their missions will continue to deteriorate. It will go down, down, down. They will be less and less ready, and we will be taking more and more risk."

Punaro used equipment readiness as an example. "The equipment readiness of our Guard and Reserve today is totally unacceptable," he said.

Some 88 percent of Army National Guard and some 45 percent of Air National Guard units are not ready due to equipment deficiencies, he said. And some National Guard equipment left in Iraq and Afghanistan might not be replaced for four years.

"This is worse than the worst readiness days of the hollow force in the late '70s and the early '80s," Punaro said. "This is a terrible situation and needs to be corrected."

Worse, these deficiencies are only a measure of the National Guard's readiness for warfighting because no one has established standards for its readiness for homeland defense. "No one in the government has been willing to say we're the ones responsible for figuring out what are the requirements here," Punaro said, calling this discovery one of the commission's biggest surprises.

"Probably the fundamental recommendation is that we have to identify the critical requirements for homeland defense and homeland security," he said. "We can't know what our deficiencies are until we ... figure out what our requirements are."

This is a vital task, he said.

Asked if it would take a major crisis for the commission's recommendations to be acted on, he said, "I think that would be an indictable offense, if our government failed to act on these compelling problems. ... I personally believe - and this is certainly not a commission position, because we didn't talk about it - but if you look at the 15 (domestic emergency) planning scenarios that we have to deal with, some of them are so horrible to contemplate that if our government doesn't get its act together to put us in a better position to protect the lives and property of our citizens, but more importantly our way of life and the very structures and fabric of our nation, governments are going to fall."

The secretary of Homeland Security is supposed to identify civil support requirements and provide them to the Department of Defense, which declares them valid or invalid and pays for the valid ones, Punaro said. He said that is not happening and that the many agencies tasked with homeland security are not communicating with each other.

"(The Defense Department) has long taken the position if they're ready for the away game, if they can fight the big one overseas, then they're ready for the home game, and that all of the homeland requirements can be met as a subset of their warfighting capabilities," he said.

The 15 scenarios of potential domestic emergencies include earthquakes, hurricanes and terrorist attacks. "An M1A1 Abrams tank and a Bradley Fighting Vehicle is not going to help you in those types of situations," Punaro said, calling the Defense policy "a fatally flawed assumption. ... We are not ready, we are not prepared. ...

"There needs to be a massive exchange of personnel and coordination (between agencies that play a homeland defense role.) Prior planning, prior coordination, prior training agreements is the key to success."

Federal and state governments and agencies must pull together with the National Guard to address America's homeland security needs, the commission said.

"Our recommendations look at ... pulling together the whole national security team ... which is more than just the National Guard," Punaro said. "It's the whole Department of Defense. It's the Department of Homeland Security. It's the National Guard as an integral and extremely important part of that team. It's the U.S. Northern Command. It's the states and their governors. Without the governors, none of this will work."

Among the commission's 23 recommendations:

A bipartisan Council of Governors should advise the secretary of Defense, secretary of Homeland Security and White House Homeland Security Council about National Guard and civil support issues.

"The governors are on the front lines," Punaro said. Homeland emergencies "are best handled at the lowest level possible."

Governors should be allowed to lead federal troops in domestic emergencies.

"Governors should be able to command all forces, all resources in their state, not just their Guard," Punaro said. "They should be able to command the Marine Reserve, the Army Reserve ... the 82nd Airborne, the 1st Marine Division.

"This may be a big gulp for some people, but ... we allow the U.S. military to come under the command of foreign commanders when we're fighting overseas, and we can trust our governors as much as we trust a foreign commander. ...

"Our taxpayers ... don't care who it is. ... They expect that their property, their lives, the economy, the quality and the way of life is going to be protected, and the federal government ought to look at it through that lens. ... We have put our citizens at greater risk due to the Washington bureaucracy."

National Guard officers called to federal duty should be able to retain their state commissions, continue to command National Guard troops as well as federal troops - a practice called dual-hatting - and be exempt from the Posse Comitatus Act. The act limits federal power to use troops for law enforcement.

A majority of U.S. Northern Command positions should be filled by people with reserve component qualifications. The commander or deputy should always be a Guardm ember or Reservist.

The Department of Defense should provide joint education and assignments for reserve component officers.

The National Guard Bureau should be a joint activity of the Department of Defense.

An amended NGB Charter should make the chief of the National Guard Bureau a senior advisor to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the secretary of Defense and an advisor to the combatant commands and Homeland Security department.

The chief of the restructured National Guard Bureau should be a four-star general.

Among the commission's 26 findings:

Aca,!Ac The Department of Defense is not adequately equipping the National Guard for domestic missions. Viewing civil support missions as a derivative of wartime missions is a flawed assumption.

Aca,!Ac Governors lack a formal mechanism to consult with the Department of Defense about their National Guard.

Aca,!Ac National Guard Bureau responsibilities for homeland missions will continue to increase.
Punaro said the legislation "originated ... because of legitimate concerns about the way we were organizing and resourcing the National Guard to do the many missions it's required to do both overseas and here at home.

"There are no easy answers here. There's no magic pixie dust that you can sprinkle and all these problems go away. These are issues that have been long-standing, of long duration - tensions between the state and the federal government through many administrations."

The interim report is the commission's second. The first - outlining the commission's scope and procedures - was released June 1, 2006, 90 days after the commission was formed in March. A third and final report is scheduled for release in January 2008.

"That will be looking at a much more comprehensive set of issues," Punaro said. "Mobilization, pay categories, benefits, employer support, family support."

Those were the issues the commission was originally charged with studying, before the Congress in October 2006 instructed commissioners to set that aside and study the legislative proposals.

Asked whether anything would come of the commission's recommendations, Punaro said no one wanted to join the commission "if all we were going to do was send a bunch of reports to the dustbin of history."

The commission has consulted closely with all of the stakeholders in order to increase the likelihood that action will result from its recommendations. "I find much more of a consensus and a willingness to tackle (the issues) and get some solutions than I would have thought possible," Punaro said. "I'm particularly encouraged by the reaction of the leadership of the Department of Defense."

Punaro said Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates changed one key policy just 20 days after he was sworn in. "The military had been beating their heads on the Pentagon bureaucracy for two years to get this ... changed," he said.

The National Guard is the world's 11th largest army and its 5th largest air force. Providing 38 percent of the total U.S. military force structure, the National Guard includes more than 458,000 personnel serving in 3,600 communities nationwide.

The National Guard has provided America's homeland defense for more than 370 years, has been a part of every war the nation has fought and is at the forefront during domestic emergencies and disasters.

(Sgt. Jim GreenhillAca,!A..writes for the National Guard Bureau.)

Page last updated Thu May 3rd, 2012 at 12:58