March 5, 2007:
In over a decade of trying, the United States National Guard has still not
been able to fix the problems encountered when units are mobilized for overseas
duty. A recent Congressional study noted that National Guard units were
returning to the United States after overseas duty, and promptly became "not
ready" for combat. Same thing was reported in the 1990s, as National Guard
brigades returned and suddenly became "not ready for combat." Then, and now,
politicians and pundits will repeat the same clichés and bromides to explain
The reason for the current readiness problem is the
same as it was a decade ago. To get National Guard brigades ready for combat, a
third of their personnel, and over half their equipment had to be obtained from
units not being sent overseas. Why these shortages? National Guard units are there mainly to
provide the state governor with a force of emergency workers. If there's a
natural, or manmade, disaster, the governor "calls out the Guard," and that
tends to make things better. But these units do not have all the people or
equipment they need for combat. They don't need all that stuff to help out
during a local emergency.
Normally, Congress does not like to look too
closely at how the National Guard is run. That's because the National Guard
belongs to both the state government (most of the time) and the federal
government (when called on, usually for overseas service). Many National Guard officers are involved in
state politics, and members of Congress cannot afford to annoy these people.
The Department of Defense also tends to treat National Guard units as second
class citizens, giving priority to active duty units and their own reserve
units. The National Guard is tecnhically part of the reserve force, about half
of it actually. But the regular reserves are federal, not state, forces.
But for the last three years, most National Guard
units have gone to Iraq, and taken most of their gear with them. When the
troops come home, the weapons and equipment usually stays behind, either to be
used by the unit replacing them, or to replace stuff destroyed, or worn out,
during operations. While this makes sense from a logistical point-of-view, it
doesn't really work if the troops don't get replacement equipment after they
return home. Many units have not. Some have been disbanded as a result, but
most are told to wait, and make do with whatever bits and pieces they are able
to scrape together. While billions of dollars has been spent on replacing the
equipment, many units are still short.
The troops are not happy with all this, and are
ready to use some of their personal equipment (including their own cars and
trucks) to fill the gap if there is a natural disaster. But that sort of thing
will also be a publicity disaster for the U.S. Army, which has the ultimate
power over what kind of weapons and equipment National Guard units have.
Back in the 1990s, all this was blamed on president
Clinton, who was accused, by Republican politicians, of "destroying the army."
This time around, it is Democratic politicians going after a Republican
president. What politicians won't do is take responsibility for their failure
to deal with the state of the National Guard most of the time, when the
brigades are not mobilized and being sent overseas.