The world’s only superpower, a nation capable of launching the fearsome might of its military literally anywhere on the globe within days, may be ill-prepared to defend itself within its own borders, according to a study by the Commission on the National Guard and Reserves delivered to the United States Congress last Thursday.
The war against terrorism appears to have left Americans nearly naked at home, with 39% of the Select Reserves troops on active duty, and the largest overseas deployment of Reserve and National Guard forces in fifty years. The National Guard units from many states have seen as much as 50% of their readiness capability shipped to Iraq and Afghanistan since 2003 – and 39% left there. In Illinois, the Commission’s report says the state’s National Guard has only had 35% of its equipment returned from overseas, leaving the state woefully unprepared to deal with a local disaster.
The National Guard was originally established as the first-responder militias of each state, and fell under greater federal control during the Korean War in 1952. Today, the Department of Defense has come to rely on the National Guard for large formation battle forces abroad, and, according to the Commission, has nearly ignored the National Guard’s domestic mission.
The Commission was formed by Congress in 2005 as part of the Ronald W. Reagan National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2005, and in 2006 was charged with making specific recommendations for any needed changes in law and policy to ensure that the National Guard and Reserves are organized, trained, equipped, compensated, and supported to best meet the national security requirements of the United States.
In March 2007, the Chairman of the Commission, Arnold L. Punaro, addressed the House Armed Services Committee with the preliminary findings, saying “If not corrected with significant changes to law and policy, the reserve component’s ability to serve our nation will diminish. This lack of sustainability and increasing deterioration in capability is a cause of great concern to the Commission, as I know it is to you.” Punaro is a retired Marine Corps major general who served as Commanding General of the 4th Marine Division (1997-2000) and Director of Reserve Affairs at Headquarters Marine Corps during the post-9/11 peak reserve mobilization periods.
The executive summary concludes “DHS [Department of Homeland Security] still does not contain a resident National Guard presence sufficient to promote necessary levels of coordination among these two vital elements of our national response tool kit. DHS and DOD need to act and act quickly to ensure that DOD is ready to respond, particularly to catastrophic events, in the homeland.”
The Commission also told Congress “Because the nation has not adequately resourced its forces designated for response to weapons of mass destruction, it does not have sufficient trained, ready forces available. This is an appalling gap that places the nation and its citizens at greater risk.”
One of the more controversial recommendations from the Commission is creating a chain of command which includes the state governors for the National Guard. This recommendation, originally made in March 2007, was firmly rejected by the Department of Defense.
“This decision by the Department to reject the Commission’s recommendation, while offering no viable substitute, places the nation at risk of a disjointed federal and state military response to a catastrophe,” and goes on to say “Congress should mandate that the National Guard and Reserves have the lead role in and form the backbone of DOD operations in the homeland.”