By Capt. Kyle Key
National Guard Bureau
NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (2/5/13) – Since being sworn in as the 27th chief of the National Guard Bureau, Gen. Frank J. Grass addressed the nation’s senior Guard leaders for the first time, calling on them to prepare for the worst.
Grass was among more than 100 generals and senior enlisted leaders who attended the 2013 Army National Guard Senior Leaders Conference at the National Guard Professional Education Center, Jan. 24 through Jan. 26 in North Little Rock. Grass told them the greatest threat facing the Guard now is the fiscal situation and uncertainty over the budget and the risk of even greater cuts, if sequestration is triggered.
According to Grass, National Guard Bureau Vice Chief Air Force Lt. Gen. Joseph Lengyel will lead an intensive effort to develop a plan that reflects the possibility that we may have to operate under a year-long continuing resolution. Regardless of the actions of Congress, his primary concern is to ensure that the Army and Air Guard are prepared to accomplish core missions in the event of a full sequestration. “We still have an obligation to fulfill our state and federal missions.”
In December, President Barack Obama signed the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act into law. Among other provisions, it authorized downsizing Air National Guard equipment and personnel.
“I think that what we just went through with the Air Guard was probably a bump in the road compared to what we could see coming at us if full sequestration hits and we continue on a continuing resolution,” Grass said.
Grass confirmed that contracted services to the Department of Defense (DoD) and funding for temporary active duty personnel would likely be the first casualties. “If the [Active Duty for Operational Support soldiers] and contractors go away, what’s not going to get done?” asked Grass. “You have just got to think about that. I would challenge each of you to do the same in your states, and in your organizations.”
Last year, Obama notified Congress of his intent to exempt military personnel from sequestration, leaving basic military pay, subsistence allowance and basic allowance for housing untouched.
“Our primary mission,” Grass said, “is to make sure somehow that we continue to support wounded warrior programs and family support groups. In some areas we may have to combine some programs for the future but I think it’s a priority we (have) got to keep on our books.”
Grass announced at the Senior Leaders Conference that he is working with the Council of Governors and just signed an agreement that will allow him to represent them inside of the DoD’s discussions on budgets, resourcing and cuts. Grass says as the Council of Governors representative, he will meet quarterly with the governors, the council, and most likely Department of Defense Deputy Secretary Ashton B. Carter. “The Council of Governors is extremely strong supporters of every Air and Army Guardsman out there. And they have got the attention of very senior levels within the [DoD].”
“My goal is to put NGB at the strategic level where we’re engaging with the Secretary of Defense’s staff and we’re engaging with the Joint Staff every day where we need to for resources, structure, priorities that you may have, supporting the governors, supporting the [adjutants general].”
Just past his first 100 days in office, Grass is aggressively taking the message to the Pentagon that the Guard is the best buy for our nation’s defense and domestic response needs.
One point he has made is the Guard’s bang for the buck and need to be kept ready for mobilization at all times. He explained, “So if you’re going to balance the budget and I can buy one active duty unit for a price and I can buy three Guard units for a price why don’t we take that into the risk calculus? We’ve got to have a very strong active force that can get on a plane right now and go. But look at what we’ve done with our Guard. Look at how powerful. So why would we give that up at a time the nation has so many places around the world that we could be called to support or go into a fight?”
While readiness remains the top issue in the services, the National Guard is still in discussions about units and force structure. Grass said it’s really about “the active and the reserve component mix the nation wants for the future.”
Grass fears that once deployments drop off, Guard members may lose their edge if they’re not preparing for deployment and mobilizing scenarios. He said the Guard will continue to mobilize anywhere from 5,000 to 10,000 Air and Army Guard members each year. According to Grass, returning back to the days of conducting Central America type missions would be beneficial for logistics training of deploying to a remote site, self sustainment and building goodwill with host nations through infrastructure projects and medical missions. “I think that gives our traditional Guardsmen opportunities to continue to keep their edge,” he said.
“We’ve got to get our personnel readiness up and you’re making some great progress there,” said Grass. “We’ve got to continue taking care of people and making sure that our personnel readiness climbs to a state well above anyone else.”
Grass also is planning for additional rotations in combat training centers, i.e. National Training Center and Joint Readiness Training Center and funding for the Key Personnel Upgrade Program (KPUP) to prepare NCOs and officers to execute their wartime mission by placing them into active component positions.
“Whatever the threat, the Guard is very well postured for threats of the future. We have the strongest Guard today than we’ve ever had and we’ve got to sustain it, we’ve got to keep it and that’s what I owe you.”