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Minnesota National Guard
By Maj. Gen. Richard Nash: Proposed military cuts will affect Minnesota National Guard

Minnesota National Guard By Maj. Gen. Richard C Nash

Maj. Gen. Richard C Nash is the adjutant general of the Minnesota National Guard, and leads more than 13,000 citizen soldiers and airmen stationed in 63 locations throughout the state He serves on Gov Mark Dayton's cabinet


As President Obama highlighted in his State of the Union remarks, the war in Afghanistan will conclude at the end of this year and our nation's military presence in that country will either end or be reduced to a small contingent of training advisors

Historically, when a major armed conflict ends, the military is downsized and looks ahead at how to defend against future threats with a smaller, more agile force

How best to restructure the military is a topic of debate right now in the Pentagon and in Congress

This conversation is critical to the citizens of Minnesota -- let's make sure we get it right this time

After nearly 13 years of fighting side by side with the active-component military, the Minnesota National Guard is now and by all objective measures the best led, trained and equipped force we have ever had

When Gen Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, visited Minnesota in September 2012, he told an assembled group of citizen soldiers and airmen that "Minnesota has been in this fight from the start"

The chairman could not have been more accurate: since 9/11, Minnesota National Guardsmen have performed more than 26,000 deployments -- some numerous times -- on behalf of our nation and state to 33 different countries, including Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan

But with the ground war winding down in the Middle East, and a strategic shift toward the Pacific that may require resources best suited to Air Force and Naval solutions, the reality is that there will be less reliance on basing Army ground forces overseas

In this time of fiscal constraints, sequestration and reduced funding mandated by the Budget Control Act of 2011, a reasonable Upper Midwest taxpayer might think that the Army would want to invest in the most cost-effective resource it has in its arsenal: the National Guard

According to the Office of the Secretary of Defense Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation and recent Reserve Policy Board studies, a National Guard soldier is significantly more cost effective when compared with an active-duty soldier

When we are mobilized for federal duty, a National Guard soldier costs approximately the same as an active-duty soldier; however, when not deployed a guardsman costs the taxpayers one-third of what it costs to house, feed, train, equip and support an active-duty soldier

It does not make fiscal or business sense to cut your least expensive asset

The founding fathers specifically stated that armies should be raised in times of war and that militias -- today's National Guard -- should be available to serve as the guardians of liberty

Adequate funding enables the National Guard to be ready to respond at home or overseas In this time of fiscal austerity, keeping military budget cuts fair and equitable amongst the active Army, Guard and Reserve is not the point, or at least it should not be What matters is getting the most combat power that the nation can afford

I have learned that the opposition to this cost-effective solution envisioned by the framers of the Constitution is a general officer I greatly respect: Gen Ray Odierno, the chief of staff of the Army

My respect for Gen Odierno was formed while serving under him as a division commander in Iraq in 2009 and 2010, when 1,200 Minnesota National Guard citizen soldiers with the 34th Red Bull Infantry Division provided command and control to 16,000 US service members -- a total of six active Army brigades -- stationed in southern Iraq

In fact, I recently reviewed my 2010 performance evaluation -- the Army calls it an Officer Evaluation Report -- and Gen Odierno, as my senior rater, characterized my National Guard division's performance as being "able to lead, adapt and succeed in a dynamic and politically complex environment"

But in remarks on Jan 7 to the National Press Club in Washington, Gen Odierno enthusiastically diminished the Guard's contributions to our nation by professing the National Guard was not interchangeable with the active component, and advanced the laughable notion that most guardsmen "train 39 days a year"

On the contrary, the National Guard is ready, adaptable and trained to the same standard as the Army, making them interchangeable Gen Odierno saw this firsthand with the Red Bulls in Iraq, and Minnesotans should have strong opposition to the Army chief of staff's statements

Based on the success of the National Guard, many of our defense allies, including Great Britain, Germany, Australia -- and our state's designated military partner, Croatia -- are strengthening their forces for greater future utilization of their nation's reserve forces

They are doing this because the National Guard has demonstrated that our two distinct missions add tremendous value to the country

First, we are at the service of the combatant commanders worldwide who need soldiers or airmen to perform a specific mission when federally mobilized by the president Throughout the past 13 years there has never been a case where a National Guard unit or organization has failed to meet the call to arms, or failed to accomplish the assigned mission in combat

If the National Guard is not interchangeable with the active component, then why did the Minnesota National Guard's 1st Brigade Combat Team serve the longest mission of a military unit of any branch -- active, Guard or Reserve -- during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2005-2007?

Secondly, and unlike the Army, we provide an immediate force for the governor to call upon in times of state emergencies, which by law the active service is restricted from accomplishing

I will wager that the hundreds of stranded travelers during last Sunday's blizzard conditions and road closures were thankful that the Minnesota National Guard was there; as armories in Olivia and Albert Lea were open to provide warm shelter, lodging and food It is clear that the active Army was not an option for these winter travelers as the nearest federal military facility is hundreds of miles away

The active Army's staff of dozens of legislative liaisons stationed in the Pentagon advocate daily to reduce the size of the National Guard from the 9/11-level of 350,000 down to 315,000 In Minnesota, this cut could reduce our force to less than 10,000 Army National Guard soldiers and could possibly force the closure of armories in rural areas

The nation absolutely needs full-time Army troops for rapid response to future contingencies; however, for any sizable conflict, Guard troops can be ready in time In the meantime, while we are not at war, it is more cost effective to keep part-time Guard members on the payroll and utilize them as needed

Additionally, the Army wishes to strip the Guard of its aviation capability, requiring states like Minnesota to forfeit helicopters and aviation support soldiers that are so valuable in assisting during wild fires, medical emergencies, search, rescue and flood response

This is preposterous, and is reminiscent of the post-World War II days of service rivalries and a national defense strategy based on a reduced budget, rather than what is best for America

Our nation is not bound to repeat the errors of the past I advocate for an independent commission to study these important issues, instead of the current draconian chopping block being pursued by the Department of the Army

I challenge taxpayers to ask themselves: "If during the last 13 years of conflict we trusted the men and women in the Guard to protect us and to answer the call of our nation, why not continue to do so?"

We have a very short period of time to ensure that the future of our military makes our nation more secure Let's get it right

Posted: 01/31/2014 12:01:00 AM CST
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