Paramilitary: The Real National Guard Scandal


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 problem.

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.


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