WASHINGTON, Aug. 23, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Nearly 470,000 National Guardsmen today saluted their state commanders in chief for adding their voices to a growing chorus endorsing legislation that would give the Guard a voice in final resource decisions at the Pentagon.
Guardsmen are acknowledging an Aug. 22 letter from the National Governors Association to Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., which called the bill "an important step forward...in ensuring that the Guard is properly represented within the Department of Defense. We look forward to working with you to further these efforts."
The letter was signed by Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat, and Wyoming Gov. Matthew H. Mead, a Republican, the co-chairs of NGA's special committee on homeland security and public safety.
Leahy and Graham are authors of the National Guard Empowerment and State-National Defense Integration Act of 2011 (S. 1025), which would elevate the Guard's senior officer to the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
A total of forty-six senators had agreed to sponsor the legislation when Congress recessed Aug. 2. Three more have already said they would add their names when they return next month.
Other senators, such as Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, have indicated they support the bill, but may not co-sponsor it.
The House has already approved language to add the chief of the National Guard Bureau to the Joint Chiefs. This means it now only needs Senate approval to be sent to the president, who committed to a Guard "seat at the table" in his 2008 campaign booklet, The Blueprint for America: Barack Obama's Plan for America.
The Veterans of Foreign Wars, one of the nation's largest veterans' groups, also recently endorsed the bill.
"The House, half the Senate and counting, the VFW, and now the nation's governors," said retired Maj. Gen. Gus L. Hargett Jr., the president of the National Guard Association of the United States (NGAUS). "This bill has real momentum because so many people realize that it's not just that the Guard needs a seat at the table, America needs the Guard at the table."
S. 1025 would enable the NGB chief to sit with the heads of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines - none of whom have ever served in the Guard - and give the Guard, for the first time, representation in final deliberations on resources for manpower, training and equipment.
NGAUS and many others believe the measure benefits more than just nearly 470,000 citizen-soldiers and airmen.
"We call this Guard Empowerment, but it's really so much more than just about giving the Guard a seat at the table," said Maj. Gen. Frank Vavala, the NGAUS chairman of the board. "It's about giving homeland security and the Guard's domestic-response mission a seat at the table."
He explained that while the Joint Chiefs advise the nation's civilian leadership on homeland security, its members are all products of military organizations that focus on overseas combat. They have limited experience to offer on homeland security or disaster response.
"As a member of the Joint Chiefs, the NGB chief would fill this void," Vavala said. "He would bring expertise on the employment of the Guard for a thousand-and-one domestic purposes and the importance of comprehensive interagency collaboration."
A seat at the table would also enable the nation to better leverage the cost-efficiencies the Guard offers, the NGAUS chairman said.
"We simply will not have the dollars to spend on defense that we've had in the recent past," Vavala added. "Relying more on the Guard will allow us to retain our defense capability at a lower cost. We've proven over the last 10 years that we can do it. But this will only happen if Guard capabilities have a voice in the final analysis. This legislation makes that happen."
Hargett said some Pentagon officials are chilly to the notion of adding another seat to the Joint Chiefs, but they need not be.
"This legislation doesn't add a second general to oversee the Army or the Air Force," he said. "This is simply about ensuring the Guard has one voice and one vote in final decisions, and ensuring the nation's civilian leaders have easy access to the Guard's homeland security expertise during a domestic crisis."
About NGAUS: The association includes nearly 45,000 current or former Guard officers. It was created in 1878 to provide unified National Guard representation in Washington. In their first productive meeting after Reconstruction, militia officers from the North and South formed the association with the goal of obtaining better equipment and training by petitioning Congress for more resources. Today, 133 years later, NGAUS has the same mission.
Internet Availability: This document and other Guard and NGAUS news and information are available at www.ngaus.org.
SOURCE National Guard Association of the U.S.