WASHINGTON (Jan. 28, 2008) - The National Guard's domestic responsibilities must not suffer because of operational missions, Defense Secretary Robert Gates told the Senate Armed Services Committee Tuesday.

"The demand for Guard support of civil authorities here at home remains high," Gates said in a statement to the committee. "For example, the 'man-days' that Guardsmen have spent fighting fires, performing rescue and recovery, and other duties increased by almost 60 percent in 2008 as compared to 2007."

To compensate, the DoD has "substantially increased" support for the Guard and Reserve, which for decades had been considered a low priority for equipment, training and readiness.

"Today, the standard is that the Guard and Reserves receive the same equipment as the active force," Gates said. "For FY 2009, the base budget request included $6.9 billion to continue to replace and repair the National Guard's equipment."

Gates said the Commission on the National Guard and Reserve, a panel created by Congress four years ago, has also helped to ensure that both reserve components are better trained, manned, and equipped for this new era.

"We have taken, or are taking, action on more than 80 percent of the commission's recommendations," Gates said.

For example, the panel suggested a combined pay and personnel system to fix problems that arise when Guard and Reserve members shift from the reserve pay system to the active-duty system. Gates said DoD is now launching that integrated system.

Shortly after he became the secretary of defense, Gates implemented mobilization policies that are more predictable and conducive to unit cohesion.

"I have tried to ease, to the extent possible, the stress on our reserve components," he said. "We have provided greater predictability as to when a Guardmember will be deployed by establishing a minimum standard of 90 days advance notice prior to mobilization. In practice, on average, the notification time is about 270 days.

"There is no longer a 24-month lifetime limit on deployment, but each mobilization of National Guard and Reserve troops is now capped at 12 months."

The goal is five years of dwell time for one year deployed. "We have made progress toward this goal but are not there yet," Gates said.

He added that the ratio of dwell time to mobilization for the Army National Guard this fiscal year is just over 3-to-1.

Finally, Gates said the percentage of Soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan who are Guard or Army Reserve is currently about half what it was during the summer of 2005.

"Reliance upon the reserve component for overseas deployment has declined over time," he said.

(Air Force Lt. Col. Ellen Krenke serves with the National Guard Bureau.)