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Army chief's comments 'disrespectful' of Guard, NGAUS president says

Jan. 13, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
A National Guard unit trains Dec. 28 in Kuwait. Proponents of the National Guard are hitting back against comments made Jan. 7 by Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno.
A National Guard unit trains Dec. 28 in Kuwait. Proponents of the National Guard are hitting back against comments made Jan. 7 by Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno. (Spc. Harley Jelis / Army)
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Proponents of the National Guard are hitting back against comments made Jan. 7 by the Army’s top officer.

“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,” retired Maj. Gen. Gus Hargett, president of the National Guard Association of the United States, said in a statement.

“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.”

During a wide-ranging news conference Jan. 7 at the National Press Club, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno discussed the ongoing drawdown of the active Army and the potential of even deeper cuts to the force.

Odierno said the Army “is structured to be complementary” and capabilities in its three components “are not interchangeable.”

The active Army is more expensive because it provides a higher level of readiness, and while Odierno commended the job done by the reserve components, Odierno pointed out that the National Guard “trains 39 days a year.”

Odierno also said the active Army can not replace the Guard, as each component has its role and mission.

Hargett, in his statement released Jan. 13, said Odierno’s comments were “disrespectful and simply not true.”

“Unfortunately ... 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,” Hargett said. “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. ... 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 statement from NGAUS fuels an ongoing debate, as budgets shrink and the Army transitions from more than 12 years of war, about how much each of the Army’s components should or can be cut.

The active Army is already cutting 80,000 soldiers from its ranks, with more cuts likely to follow as the impact of sequestration takes hold.

Proponents of the Guard have argued that part-time soldiers are more cost-effective than active-duty troops, while Army leaders have said a force that is too small can not properly defend the nation, USA Today reported.

Army spokesman George Wright said “the Army values the contributions of all three components and what the Total Army has accomplished over the past 13 years of conflict.”

“All three components are critical and complementary to each other,” Wright said. “However, we must adjust our force structure among all three components to balance end-strength, readiness and modernization to provide the best Army possible for our nation in the future both at home and abroad. Discussions on these important issues have and will continue to include senior officials from all three components.”

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