- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 6, 2007

The Iraq war will soon begin its fifth year, and a very nasty spring is expected in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, the Army National Guard and the Army Reserve, which have been indispensable for five and a half years in fighting the Bush administration’s global war on terror, are nearly broken.

While National Guard units fighting overseas are “magnificently equipped,” Lieutenant General H. Steven Blum recently told the Commission on the National Guard and Reserves (CNGR), “88 percent of the forces that are back here in the United States are very poorly equipped today in the Army National Guard.” Gen. Blum, who serves as chief of the National Guard Bureau, added that the Air National Guard, which operates airlift aircraft and tankers in support of active-duty forces in addition to its homeland-security and national-emergency duties, “never had a unit below C2 in equipment readiness” for three decades. Today the Air Guard “has 45 percent of its units less than C2. Think about that. That’s unheard of.”

Compared to the previous half century, the demands placed on the National Guard and Reserve have been unprecedented in recent years. During the four previous fiscal years, the use of Guard and Reserve personnel averaged 65 million duty days, more than five times the rate in 2001 and nearly 50 percent higher than their relatively brief use for the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

Since September 11, 370,000 Army National Guard soldiers and 60,000 Air National Guardsmen have been deployed. Often, in order to assemble a single deployable unit, the Army National Guard must combine personnel and equipment from several units. This practice, known as cross-leveling, seriously affects training and unit cohesion. In 2005, an average of 12 units were needed to donate equipment for one deployable unit. Last year, to build a deployable Army Guard unit, a third of the personnel and 60 percent of the equipment was cross-leveled, causing one frustrated battalion commander to testify before the CNGR that “cross-leveling is evil.” As the equipment hole has become deeper, a disturbing trend has developed: Most of the Guard’s procurement funds budgeted several years in advance are later diverted to other problems.

The increased demands placed on the Army National Guard and the Army Reserve have lowered the quality of personnel. The percentage of guardsmen who have had prior service enlistments plunged from more than 60 percent to less than 40 percent over the last 10 years. Recruiting and retention have encountered serious problems as well, even as enlistment and selective re-enlistment bonuses have soared.

No wonder a recent CNGR report to Congress concluded: “[T]he equipment readiness of the Army National Guard is unacceptable and has reduced the capability of the United States to respond to current and additional major contingencies, foreign and domestic.” Clearly, Congress must now take the lead in solving this problem.

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