Wicker Fights Administration's Proposed Changes to National Guard

Guard Components Are Integral to Army’s Overall Strength and Capability

May 19, 2014

After more than a decade of combat, the National Guard is facing dramatic changes to its role as a ready reserve force of the Army. A number of changes follow misguided budget proposals by the Obama Administration to reduce Army personnel and reorganize its aviation program. I am working diligently with Mississippi’s congressional delegation to ensure our well-trained units and facilities are protected from indiscriminate harm.

Mississippi’s 155th

Of particular attention is the future of the Mississippi National Guard’s 155th Heavy Brigade Combat Team – one of 28 such teams across the country. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno has proposed to deactivate six of these units as part of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s plan to concentrate training and equipment on a smaller active-duty force.

This ill-advised approach unfairly places the burden of sequestration squarely on America’s National Guard components. As our state’s congressional delegation and National Guard leaders argue, the Obama Administration is wrong to ignore the important contributions that combat teams like the 155th offer the Army’s overall strength and capability. Not least is the critical support they have provided during the U.S. operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Reducing the Army’s ability to depend on cost-effective National Guard units would be a mistake that threatens to reverse years of experience, investment, and readiness. There is no substitute for well-trained citizen-soldiers in times of major crisis and prolonged conflict – not to mention in the aftermath of disaster. Just last month, we witnessed the importance of the 155th Heavy Brigade Combat Team in responding to the tornadoes that left a swath of destruction across Mississippi. Members of the 155th provided vital security and search-and-rescue help.

Maintaining the Guard’s Preparedness

Another proposal in the Army’s sweeping restructure is the removal of Apache attack helicopters from Mississippi’s National Guard units. In theory, the helicopters would be replaced with Blackhawks, but there is no assurance that Mississippi would be allocated these additional aircraft. The loss of the Apaches would preclude National Guard members from operating advanced war-fighting machinery. Simply put, it would fundamentally change the National Guard’s traditional combat role – adversely affecting the military’s capacity to interchange reserve and active-duty units. The Guard would no longer be combat-ready at a moment’s notice.

Army Plan Needs Independent Review

There is increasing scrutiny in Congress on the Army’s plans. Overwhelming bipartisan support exists for maintaining the National Guard’s current capabilities. Nearly every Senator, in fact, is a member of the National Guard Caucus.

Sen. Thad Cochran and I have also cosponsored Senate legislation to establish a National Commission on the Future of the Army, which would study the Administration’s proposed changes. Introduced by Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), the bill would set up a panel for independently assessing overall size and force mix. It is understandable that our military’s needs after Sept. 11, 2001, are likely to be different than its needs today, as our forces withdraw from two wars. But finding the right modifications is important to ensuring our national security interests are not compromised because of a premature deactivation.

Although budget constraints are difficult for all government departments, modernizing the Army should not jeopardize our country’s ability to respond to a crisis. As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, I am committed to finding a solution that keeps combat teams like Mississippi’s 155th ready to answer the nation’s call. This fight will begin in earnest with the upcoming Fiscal Year 2015 National Defense Authorization Act. I will work with my colleagues to ensure that America’s future preparedness is not forsaken by shortsighted decisions.