61 Senators Now Sponsor Bill to Further Empower the National Guard

Oct 04, 2011, 17:05 ET from National Guard Association of the U.S.

Legislation would add Guard officer to Joint Chiefs

WASHINGTON, Oct. 4, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Sixty-one senators now sponsor legislation that would give the National Guard an unfiltered voice at the Pentagon. 

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., introduced the National Guard Empowerment and State-National Defense Integration Act of 2011 (S. 1025) in late May. Fifty-nine senators have since signed on as co-sponsors.

Among the bill's provisions is language to give the Guard's senior officer, the chief of the National Guard Bureau, a seat on the Joint Chiefs of Staff. 

The House approved a similar proviso in May, meaning 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 Change: Barack Obama's Plan for America.

"The Guard has grown to become a frontline, 21st century force, but it is trapped in a 20th century Pentagon bureaucracy," Leahy said in statement yesterday. "We need to clear away those cobwebs and give the Guard a voice in the Pentagon that is commensurate to the scale of its missions here and overseas."

"We need to ensure the Guard and Reserves have a seat at the table when the important decisions affecting our national security are made," Graham said.

The president of the National Guard Association of the United States (NGAUS) thanked "Leahy, Graham and the literally hundreds of lawmakers and staffers for their efforts to provide the Guard with a voice at the Pentagon."

"But the real beneficiary here is the nation's defense and security," said retired Maj. Gen. Gus L. Hargett Jr., the former Tennessee adjutant general.

"The primary role for the Joint Chiefs is to advise the president, the secretary of defense and the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, " he said. "And without the Guard at the table, our nation's civilian leaders don't have unfiltered information on Guard capabilities and cost-effectiveness. Nor do they have direct access to the Guard's domestic-response expertise. Twenty years ago, this might not have been that important. Right now, it's critical."     

The NGB chief currently participates in some discussions with the Joint Chiefs. However, he is often excluded from meetings. Nor does he have the ability to nominate Guard officers for positions that require Senate confirmation.

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 provide the Guard, for the first time, permanent representation among the nation's senior military officers.  

Having reached the critical 60-vote threshold, Leahy and Graham, the co-chairs of the Senate National Guard Caucus, said yesterday that they expect the bill to receive consideration as an amendment to the Fiscal Year 2012 National Defense Authorization Act. 

At least two senators who are not S.1025 co-sponsors have publically indicated that they would co-sponsor a separate amendment to the 2012 NDAA to elevate the NGB chief to the Joint Chiefs. This raises to 63 the number of senators who formally support a Guard seat at the table.

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.

SOURCE National Guard Association of the U.S.