- - Friday, February 28, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Over the past decade, the United States has leaned upon our military at a level rarely seen in our nation’s history. Years-long deployments, long-term family separations, related health issues and the frustrations of dealing with an outmatched Veterans Affairs system have been their rewards for their service.

Granted, our military men and women understand the sacrifices required of them, and their continued service speaks volumes about their patriotism and character.

However, now President Obama wants to add another stress to their lives: fear of a pink slip.

As I have said for years, government desperately needs to cut spending. During this president’s tenure, though, we have spent billions on a nationalized health care system that isn’t working, and billions more in bailouts so the Federal Reserve could buy “troubled assets” from banks. The president seems addicted to spending your money.

Yet in the midst of all that waste, when he does decide to make cuts, he wants to start with the Army and National Guard.

This is not Mr. Obama’s first attempt at gutting the Guard, which is under the command of the nation’s governors in each of our respective states. In 2012, the Air Force attempted to cut the Air National Guard disproportionately to their active duty counterparts. Governors spoke up and congressional leaders rejected Mr. Obama’s plan, instead calling for a commission to study the structure of the Air Force. That commission recently released its findings, affirming that the Air Guard can provide the necessary capacity and capability at a lower cost.

It was apparently not a lesson that was learned.

Like the last attempt, this new plan makes no sense, and the president’s tone during a recent meeting with governors of both parties made it clear he doesn’t care about our input on this latest misguided decision. His words left governors from both parties worried about what effects a slashing of the National Guard will have on our states, and on the brave men and women who have shed their blood and sacrificed years of their lives in service to this country.

As commanders in chief of our respective National Guards, it’s our responsibility to keep our citizens safe and secure, and the president needs to hear our input.

Mr. Obama must understand the key role they play in domestic emergency response. In Texas, for example, our National Guardsmen have responded to at least 23 hurricanes across the Gulf Coast over the past decade, including Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana. They’ve helped Texans through 36 floods, 23 winter storms and 64 wildfires, including some of the worst in recent memory.

Further, the proposed budgetary moves would thoroughly gut a branch of service that has served as one of the most effective organizations in our ongoing war on terror. In our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, our Guardsmen have fought side-by-side with active-duty personnel, and played key roles in ensuring the safety and effectiveness of our troops on the ground.

Our troops deserve better than being used as political pawns for a president who wants to show governors who’s in charge.

Even as a cost-saving measure, this move is penny-wise and pound-foolish.

The National Guard has proved over and over again that it is the most cost-efficient way to maintain a force of experienced, capable fighting men and women. The Guard can be maintained at one-third the cost of active-duty personnel, and — again — serves as a vital component of emergency response in states across the country, saving lives and mitigating the costs of disasters.

Cutting the National Guard also means letting go thousands of our most capable warriors, which would reduce our ability to respond to a national crisis or major terrorist attack.

On a personal level, however, it’s difficult to imagine how any military man must feel after serving his country for years, even decades, only to find himself placed on the chopping block like this. This is especially true for those who may only be a few years away from retirement, and now all of that has been placed at risk, needlessly.

Our military has always had to be flexible enough to reorganize and retool to meet the challenges of the day. I know that if cooler heads prevail, we can agree on a solution in which the National Guard remains manned, trained and equipped to be that operational force that is an integral part of our national security strategy. Losing untold numbers of National Guardsmen to the ax of an ill-conceived and hastily executed decision like this would drain the United States of ready military talent, intelligence and institutional knowledge at a time when we need those qualities the most.

I understand the economic difficulties Washington’s out-of-control spending has caused, but our men and women in uniform deserve better. I encourage President Obama to get spending under control, but start by cutting the wasteful programs in areas that do not directly and negatively affect our domestic and national security.

Rick Perry, a Republican, is the governor of Texas.

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