WASHINGTON, July 19, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Frustrated by continued Pentagon opposition to a National Guard seat on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Guard officers have taken their case up the chain of command to someone more supportive of the idea ― the commander in chief.
In a July 1 letter to the White House, retired Maj. Gen. Gus L. Hargett Jr., the president of the National Guard Association of the United States, reminded President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden of their 2008 campaign pledge to give the Guard a seat at the table.
The president committed to putting the chief of the National Guard Bureau on the Joint Chiefs of Staff in his campaign booklet, The Blueprint for America: Barack Obama's Plan for America.
He reiterated that pledge on his transition team's website before taking office in 2009. A Guard seat, according to change.gov, would "ensure concerns of our citizen soldiers reach the level they mandate."
Hargett asked the president to honor these commitments made to the nation and the nearly 470,000 members of the Army and Air National Guard.
"You had the foresight to recognize that the Guard Empowerment advances of 2008 did not go far enough to serve the type of Guard the nation needs in the 21st century," Hargett wrote. "We know change often takes time, and we have waited patiently for Congress to develop and to send you the legislation required to make into reality our shared objective for the Guard."
Such legislation is now working its way through Congress. The House has already passed an amendment to its fiscal 2012 defense authorization that would give the Guard a seat at the table and a Senate bill introduced in May would do the same.
Written by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., the National Guard Empowerment and State-National Defense Integration Act of 2011, S. 1025, already has 36 co-sponsors.
Nevertheless, this momentum is jeopardized by some in the Pentagon and a few congressional fellows from the active component military, who, Hargett said, "distort the intent and impact of the legislation in order to maintain the old paradigm in defense planning."
S. 1025 would enable the NGB chief at the Pentagon 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 and a vote in final deliberations on staffing and resources.
The Guard Bureau chief is now invited to participate in some discussions with the Joint Chiefs. However, he does not have a vote in final decisions. Nor does he have the ability to nominate Guard officers for positions that require Senate confirmation.
All of the living former NGB chiefs ― none of whom were allowed to support a Guard seat at the table while they served ― have endorsed the legislation.
But NGAUS believes the measure benefits more than just the National Guard.
"We call this Guard Empowerment, but it's really so much more than just about giving the Guard a seat at the table," Maj. Gen. Frank Vavala, the NGAUS chairman of the board, said today. "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.
"Homeland security and domestic response simply are not core competencies of the active-component military," the NGAUS chairman said. "Privately, Army and Air senior leaders will admit it. They have little experience in dealing with local officials and first responders.
"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.
"Without the Guard at the table, homeland security is not 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.
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.