OPINION: National Guard, active units are interchangeable
By Maj. Gen. Gus L. Hargett Jr.
The Army chief of staff disparaged the Army National Guard last week by telling reporters in Washington, D.C., that, essentially, the Army National Guard just isn’t good enough to be relied upon more in the future.
The precise term used was the Army National Guard’s “capabilities are not interchangeable” with the active-component Army, but his message was loud and clear to 350,000 members of the force nationwide. I know because I have heard from more than a few. And many asked me to respond.
Beyond being disrespectful and simply not true, the comment runs counter to the public statements of countless active commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last 12 years who have lauded the contributions of the Army National Guard. Many have said they can’t tell the difference between active and Guard soldiers.
Unfortunately, however, brothers in arms on the battlefield sometimes become rivals for resources when budgets become tight. And the Army chief’s words are part of a discernible pattern over the last several months as he struggles to justify keeping Army personnel strength at above pre-9/11 levels.
To be sure, there are differences between the Army National Guard and the active-component Army. The Army National Guard is primarily a part-time, pay-as-it-is-used force, which makes it significantly cheaper to maintain. Army National Guard soldiers tend to be a little older and a little more experienced. They also have a unique domestic mission.
But Army National Guard and active-component Army units are, by design, interchangeable. They have the same number of troops and the same equipment. They train to the same standard. They fight under the same doctrine. Congress and the Pentagon have invested billions of dollars in Army National Guard units to make them interchangeable and their performance over the last decade has proven that to be a wise use of taxpayer dollars.
The Army chief also, again, minimized the amount of the time Army National Guard soldiers spend training. I come in contact with thousands of Army National Guard officers and NCOs annually. The next one I meet who spends just 39 days in uniform as the Army chief alleges will be the first one I have ever met.
The nation deserves a vigorous debate on the best way ahead for our Army — active, Guard and Reserve. Everything should be on the table, all the options, all the costs, all the analysis. The Guard community welcomes such a discussion.
-Retired Maj. Gen. Gus L. Hargett Jr. is president of the National Guard Association of the United States, based in Washington, D.C.