WASHINGTON, D.C. (March 21, 2016) -- The Army, Army National Guard and Army Reserve are working together well to assess recommendations from a national commission on the service's future and fully implement the Army's Total Force Policy.

That was one of the key points to emerge from a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense hearing here Thursday.

Senators also heard how the National Guard's mission triad -- fighting America's wars, securing the homeland and building partnerships -- combines to ensure a force that's always ready, always there. And they heard from Army Gen. Frank Grass, the chief of the National Guard Bureau, which programs are critical to the Guard's effectiveness during turbulent fiscal times marked by unprecedented security challenges at home and abroad.

Grass and other senior leaders also told senators that current force sizes are minimally sufficient to meet the nation's challenges, echoing other Department of Defense leaders in similar hearings earlier this year.

"Similar to the collaborative effort that followed the Air Force Commission report in 2014, we are working diligently as a otal Army to build the strongest ground force possible for the nation," Grass told senators. "I would like to offer my sincere appreciation to Acting Secretary (of the Army Patrick) Murphy, and to (Chief of Staff of the Army) General Mark Milley for their incredible leadership in this transformative process."

The Congressional mandated National Commission on the Future of the Army released recommendations on how the Army should best organize and employ the Total Force in a time of declining resources, Jan. 28, after a year of fact-finding and discussion. The Air Force followed a similar process in 2014.

"The Army National Guard's relationship with the Army is strong and enduring," Army Lt. Gen. Timothy Kadavy, the director of the Army Guard, told senators. "Soldiers from all three components are continuing to work side-by-side in exercises and operations around the globe."

As the primary combat reserve, the National Guard provides trained and ready forces to the Army and the Air Force -- and the Guard's combat mission informs their homeland and partnership missions, senators heard.

"The experience and capabilities gained from our federal mission, along with the equipment and leadership skills utilized overseas, yields a highly responsive National Guard here in the homeland, with roughly 4,000 Citizen-Soldiers and --Airmen on duty each day," Grass said.

The National Guard has mobilized about 780,000 Citizen-Soldiers and Airmen since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

"The success of our warfight and our homeland mission are directly linked to our incredible and enduring partnerships with international, federal, state and local partners," Grass said.

The National Guard State Partnership Program is one of those partnerships -- and one of five programs Grass called key to the Guard's continued success.

"Our successful State Partnership Program has established enduring partnerships with 76 partners/countries and continues to provide these forces in coalition operations worldwide and have improved their own interoperability with U.S. forces," he said.

Grass cited the full-time manning program that ensures force-wide readiness; the Counterdrug program that contributes to the whole-of-government effort to combat transnational organized crime; the growing cyber program that's tapping into Guard members' civilian-acquired skills to boost the Defense Department's ability to secure critical infrastructure and systems; and the National Guard Youth Challenge Program that's given about 140,000 at-risk youths a second chance as other key National Guard initiatives.

Echoing earlier testimony from Milley and other Defense Department senior leaders, Grass said force sizes are at the minimum needed to ensure the nation's security.

"The 980,000 number for the Army -- total active, Guard (and) Reserve -- is a minimally acceptable risk," he said.

The Army Guard director emphasized the chief's point. "I agree with General Milley that this places us at the edge of being able to meet the current strategy," Lt. Gen. Kadavy said.

And the chief of the National Guard Bureau sounded a warning: "If we return to sequestered levels of funding, the National Guard will be the smallest that it's been since the Korean War -- and at a time the population of the United States has doubled."

Sequestration is automatic spending cuts -- an austerity measure -- in specific categories, including defense, stemming from the Budget Control Act of 2011. Grass' warning echoes those of other members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other senior military and civilian leaders repeatedly made over the last five years.

The National Guard and Reserves, which evolved from a strategic reserve to an operational one after 9/11, provide about 38 percent of all uniformed personnel serving in the Armed Services. The National Guard contributes more than 453,000 Citizen-Soldiers and --Airmen -- 348,000 in the Army National Guard and 105,000 in the Air National Guard -- to the Total Force.

The Army Guard director called the readiness of that force his top concern.

"When it comes to the Army National Guard, readiness for combat also translates into readiness for missions at home," Kadavy said.

Air Force Maj. Gen. Brian Neal, acting director of the Air National Guard, told senators that readiness, support for Airmen and modernization and recapitalization are his top priorities.

"We must ensure the men and women of the Air National Guard have the support they need as they balance civilian careers, family responsibilities, domestic response needs and their growing responsibilities to national security," he said. "We must make sure our Guard Airmen and their families have access to spiritual, psychological and medical support they may need."

The hearing about the posture of The National Guard and Reserves was part of a series of annual updates to legislators typically given by all the services and combatant commanders in House and Senate hearings here each spring.