The military’s reserve components remain ready and capable despite budget cuts and their transition from a strategic to operational force, senior National Guard and Reserve officials told the Senate Appropriations Committee’s defense subcommittee here yesterday.
As the drawdown continues in Afghanistan, the Guard and Reserve will maintain deployment-ready units undeterred by force structure changes such as the Air National Guard’s end strength reduction by 5,100 billets and aircraft inventory reduction by 134 aircraft, Air Force Gen. Craig R. McKinley, National Guard Bureau chief, told the senators.
For example, McKinley said, the Air National Guard’s partnership with more than 60 foreign countries has strengthened the component’s military capacity and competence.
Air Force Lt. Gen. Harry M. Wyatt III, Air National Guard director, said 22 partner nations have provided 11,000 troops to Afghanistan, and 40 partner nations have provided more than 31,000 personnel in support of U.N. peacekeeping operations. Last year, Guard airmen filled about 54,000 requests for manpower, he added, noting that 91 percent of those requests were fulfilled with volunteers.
Wyatt said the Air National Guard’s budget request priorities were to align force size and composition to be flexible, agile and ready with a focus on new missions, such as the MC-12 intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft and remotely piloted aircraft. He added that other high priorities included maintaining a combat-ready force able to quickly surge and integrate seamlessly in joint operations while rearranging units impacted by the base closure and realignment process and recent programming changes.
Lt. Gen. William E. Ingram Jr., Army National Guard director, said the Army National Guard provides cost-effective solutions to meet budget requirements. For 12.3 percent of the Army's base budget, he said, the Army National Guard provides 39 percent of the Army's operating forces. In 2011, he told the panel, citizen-soldiers provided 900,000 duty days of support to communities across the nation.
“We are attracting skilled soldiers and future leaders,” he said. “With the nation at war as a backdrop, our year-to-date enlistment rate for [fiscal 2012] is in excess of 95 percent, but our retention rate exceeds 130 percent. So we are meeting our authorized end strength of 358,000.”
Vice Adm. Dirk J. Debbink, Navy Reserve chief, said reserve sailors provide full- and part-time operational capabilities and strategic depth for maritime missions, ensuring rapid global response to crisis situations while maintaining fiscal efficiency across the spectrum of operations.
“The Reserve C-40A Program is enabling our critical intratheater lift capability today to be more cost-effective and flexible, and thus more operationally relevant well into the future,” he said. “Our 2012 budget request will enable the Navy Reserve to continue supporting current operations while maximizing the strategic value of the Navy Reserve, a force valued for its readiness, innovation, agility and accessibility.”
Lt. Gen. Steven A. Hummer, commander of Marine Forces Reserve, said that as the active-component Marine Corps reshapes from 201,000 Marines to a force of about 182,100, the Marine Corps Reserve will leverage its diverse depth and range to mitigate risk and maximize opportunities.
“I am highly confident that the authorized Marine Corps [Reserve] end strength of 39,600 is appropriate for providing us with the personnel required to support the total force during active component build-down,” he said.
The Air Force Reserve, however, may face personnel challenges, with a projected reduction of 900 personnel that Lt. Gen. Charles E. Stenner Jr., Air Force Reserve chief, described as the “tip of the iceberg.”
“Our Reserve is losing trained personnel and taking on new missions,” he said. “The personnel losses are in specialties that are still essential to the total force and at the same time don't easily transfer to newly assigned mission areas.”
Stenner noted that an aircraft maintainer with 17 years of experience cannot become a cyber warrior with 17 years of experience overnight. “With that perspective, the Air Force is actually losing the capability of 5,000 to 6,000 experienced and trained personnel, and that loss could seriously affect the strategic reserve posture,” he told the senators.
Lt. Gen. Jack C. Stultz, Army Reserve chief, said the quality of his citizen-soldiers gives him confidence for the force’s future. He told the panel about Sgt. Daniel Burgess, who lost his leg and suffered severe wounds to the rest of his body from a roadside bomb explosion while attached to a Marine Corps unit in southern Afghanistan. Burgess insisted on remaining in the military and is rehabilitating at the Warrior Training Brigade at Fort Sam Houston, Texas.
“That epitomizes why we're here; we're here because of them,” Stultz said. “We've got to make sure we're doing everything within our power in an era where we are looking to save money and reduce debt, but we cannot afford to shortchange these great soldiers, because they are protecting our nation, and they're our first line of defense.”
McKinley told the senators the reserve components have evolved from being a strategic reserve to an operational force over the last decade of war, and that should be the way of the future.
“During a time of constrained budgets, we should continue to be used as an operational force to ensure the nation is getting the most defense capability at the lowest cost,” McKinley said, adding that more than 50 percent of Guardsmen have combat experience.
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