As the Army National Guard prepares to reduce its force by 8,200 soldiers this year, the component is seeking new ways to grow its leaders while ensuring its formations receive the right training and resources for its missions at home and overseas.
More than 9,000 Army Guard soldiers are deployed or preparing to deploy overseas, with soldiers supporting operations in Iraq, Kuwait, Afghanistan, the Balkans, the Sinai, Djibouti, Honduras and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Also engaged are more than 4,500 soldiers supporting missions at home, from fighting wildfires to search-and-rescue missions to counter-drug operations.
"Without a doubt, we are the best manned, best equipped and best trained that we have ever been, and the most experienced, I think, across the entire Army National Guard that we have been," said Lt. Gen. Timothy Kadavy, who has been the director of the Army National Guard for the last six months.
But the component — like the rest of the Army — faces pending personnel and budget cuts that in the coming months could impact all 54 states and territories.
The Army Guard currently has about 350,000 soldiers, but the president’s budget request would take the component down to 342,000 by the end of fiscal year 2016.
The adjutants general across the board have told Guard leaders "350,000 is the right number for their Title 32 [state] mission set," Kadavy said.
This means Guard leaders must look to all 54 states and territories when deciding where to make the right cuts, Kadavy said.
"We will ensure that not any one state is hit too hard because … we have to ensure each state has the capacity to respond to whatever level of emergency that they may have," Kadavy said.
Also pending in the coming months is the outcome of the Army's controversial Aviation Restructuring Initiative. The sweeping five-year plan, which includes divesting the OH-58 Kiowa Warrior and cutting three active-duty combat aviation brigades, is already underway as the Army streamlines its aviation force in the face of deep budget cuts. But advocates of the Guard fiercely oppose the part of the plan that transfers the Guard's AH-64 Apache helicopters into the active component to fill the scout reconnaissance role typically filled by the Kiowa.
When asked about the Aviation Restructuring Initiative, Kadavy deferred to the commission, which is due to submit its report in February.
"The Budget Control Act is forcing the Army to make some decisions and take some actions that I do not think that anybody wanted to take. I believe this was one of them," Kadavy said. "Right now, I think we will just all wait and see what the commission comes out with, and then we will see how Congress views the recommendations and what actions they may or may not take."
In the meantime, the Guard continues to train and deploy soldiers around the world and home.
Guard units are integrated into every rotation at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California, and the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, Louisiana. This past fiscal year, two rotations were led by Guard brigade combat teams.
This summer, several engineer units took turns deploying to Europe to support construction projects there. Four Guard soldiers from Texas deployed to the Sinai were wounded when their vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb. In Kosovo, the Guard continues its peacekeeping mission.
There remain "great opportunities" in the future for soldiers who want to stay engaged, Kadavy said.
One key example is the Guard's State Partnership Program, which is more than 20 years old. Through the program, a state's National Guard is partnered with the armed forces or equivalent force of a partner country in order to conduct military-to-military engagements. The program has partnerships with 76 countries around the world.
However, the success of the State Partnership Program and other initiatives — including the engineer project in Europe this summer — is contingent on having the proper funding and ability to send Guard soldiers on short-term missions overseas.
What is "critical," Kadavy said, is money under Title 10 U.S. Code 12304b, which allows the military to call reserve-component troops to active duty reserve component troops for preplanned missions in support of combatant commands around the world.
"We have got the units and capabilities, but a lot of that is very much limited by the fiscal constraints that we have today," Kadavy said.
Another challenge for the Guard is finding the right amount of money to send soldiers to school, Kadavy said.
"We need to make sure we have the adequate school dollars each year so that we can get soldiers off to noncommissioned officer education, officer education, warrant officer education without impacting unit training," he said. "We have assumed some risks there over the last couple of years by not having the whole unit at collective-level training because we had to use those dollars to send them off to the required schools, so that is a bit of a friction point."
Getting soldiers to school not only helps them advance in their careers, but it builds "quality leaders, leaders of character," Kadavy said. "We need the right soldier at the right time in the right position, and that requires them to be trained and experienced."
In addition to the Army's professional military education, the Guard also is looking at "some old programs we used to have," such as the Key Personnel Upgrade Program, also known as KPUP, Kadavy said.
"That was a very big program for us in the '80s and the '90s, and many of our senior leaders today gained their first set of experience in working with the active component through this key program," Kadavy said.
KPUP would give Guard soldiers the chance to complete short-term assignments in the active Army as a way to broaden their experience. Kadavy himself was a three-time participant in KPUP. As a young officer, Kadavy was sent to work in Germany with 7th Corps for 90 days.
"We do not have any corps in the Army National Guard, so it was a unique experience for me working in the war operations office of the G3 for 7th Corps," he said.
"My state thought it was worthwhile for me to go do those types of things for short periods of time to gain that greater enterprise look at how the U.S. Army operates … so I am not learning them for the first time when I become a senior leader," Kadavy said.
Broadening experiences for Guard leaders is critical in today's world, Kadavy said.
"This is a complex world right now, moving at a velocity of instability that I have not seen for some years," he said. "We have to make sure that we continue to grow leaders that understand that complexity and are adaptable and flexible enough."
As it works through the budget challenges in the coming months, Kadavy said it is critical for the Guard to remain "operationally involved."
"Even as we have drawn out of Iraq and [gone] to lower numbers in Afghanistan, it is still important that [the soldiers] understand that we are still part of an operational Army, and the way we're designed, the Guard and Army Reserve will need to continue to be involved in the operations of the Army," he said.
The Guard will "still have the same mission we have always had" both at home and overseas, Kadavy said.
"There is always some anxiety as it is related to the turbulence from force structure changes, end-strength reductions and the other things that go along with that," he said. "Those are very personal, and I get it, and we are going to do everything we can to be fair to each and every one of our soldiers. There are some challenges today, most of them are due to budget constraints, but we are going to get through them."