U.S. National Guard and Reserves Face “Appalling” Shortfalls, Study Finds

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The war in Afghanistan was the subject of three independent reports, all released yesterday. Buried by the resulting coverage, a fourth report by the Commission on the National Guard and Reserves, also published Thursday, warns that our non-professional soldiers—the ones shouldering much of the burden in Iraq and Afghanistan—are stretched to the breaking point.

Until Iraq, the Guard and Reserves were long considered a “backup” force, a sort of safety valve that could be pulled in the event of an emergency. But the occupation of Iraq (not to mention the hot-cold Afghan conflict), have fundamentally challenged the nature of what is expected from America’s citizen soldiers. It’s no longer the one weekend a month sort of deal it used to be. Rather, Guard and Reserve units have quickly evolved into crucial operational components of how the U.S. military projects power around the world. Trouble is, investment of personnel and resources remains stuck in an earlier time, and it’s a disconnect that threatens the viability of the current U.S. force structure.

The commission, created by the 2005 Defense Authorization Act, has a congressional mandate “to conduct a comprehensive examination of how the Guard and Reserves are used in national defense, including homeland security, and to recommend needed changes in laws and policies.” To that end, yesterday’s 448-page report lists 163 findings and makes 95 recommendations—all generally boiling down to fundamental rethinking of where the Guard and Reserve units figure into the larger puzzle. According to the report:

The future of the all-volunteer force depends for its success on policymakers’ undertaking needed reforms to ensure that the reserve components are ready, capable, and available for both operational and strategic purposes… In reviewing the past several decades of intense use of the reserve components, most notably as an integral part of operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the homeland, the Commission has found indisputable and overwhelming evidence of the need for policymakers and the military to break with outdated policies and processes and implement fundamental, thorough reforms in these areas. The members of this Commission share this view unanimously. We note that these recommendations will require the nation to reorder the priorities of the Department of Defense, thereby necessitating a major restructuring of laws and the DOD’s budget.

Speaking yesterday at the National Press Club, Arnold Punaro, a former Marine general who led the commission’s work, said that Reserve forces currently lack an estimated $47.5 billion needed for equipment repair and maintenance, the result of heavy wear and tear caused by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The commission report also notes that the Army National Guard has only 61 percent of the equipment it needs to be operationally ready.

As Lt. Gen. Charles Rodriguez, commander of the Texas National Guard, told the Dallas Morning News, “The old model of the Guard as a strategic force was no longer sustainable. Something had to change. Creation of the Guard as a reserve force, trained and equipped to serve missions overseas and [at] home, is the new reality. But it comes at a price.”

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