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Home : News
NEWS | Oct. 18, 2006

New defense laws show Guard the road ahead for 2007

By Maj. Les' Melnyk National Guard Bureau

WASHINGTON - While the passage of the 2007 Defense Appropriations Act was welcome news for the Guard, the significance of the 2007 National Defense Authorization Act may be more in what it doesn't do than in what it does do.

The fiscal year 2007 Defense Appropriations bill, signed into law by President Bush on Sept. 29, funds the entire U.S. military for the year beginning on Oct. 1 and ending Sept. 30, 2007.Its partner, the John Warner National Defense Authorization Act, was signed by the president on Oct. 17. That law and its explanatory report contain more than 1,400 pages of densely worded text.

Together, these two laws influence nearly everything that happens in the military - how many people are recruited, how much they are paid, what units will be organized, what weapon systems will be purchased, and what policies Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines will adhere to.

This year there were numerous proposals put before Congress that would have radically changed the National Guard.

The President's Budget, the baseline document presented to Congress last February, proposed cutting the end strength of the Army National Guard by 17,000 Soldiers.That cut reflected the number of Soldiers the Army Guard was short of full strength at the time the budget was drawn up.

In later testimony, Department of Defense officials told Congress that they would fund the Army Guard at whatever strength it could recruit to.

Strong congressional support for the Guard, backed by historically unprecedented recruiting and retention, lifted both the Army and Air Guard to nearly 100 percent strength in late September.Congress responded by funding the Army National Guard at its previous level of 350,000.

Congress also authorized an additional 200 Airmen for the Air National Guard, increasing its size to 107,000 during the coming fiscal year.

Funding for training and support, which the President's Budget had proposed reducing in proportion to the decrease in Army Guard personnel, was substantially restored by Congress in the final budget.

Congress also used the NDAA to question the findings in the 2005 Quadrennial Defense Review. A major study undertaken by the Department of Defense and released earlier this year, the QDR found that the Army should convert six National Guard brigade combat teams to support units.

Congress “strongly urged” the Army to re-examine Guard combat brigade requirements and actively include Guard officials in the deliberations, ensuring that the Guard's homeland defense and overseas warfighting force generation requirements are adequately accounted for before any combat brigades are converted.

Congress decided to study, rather than enact, provisions of the National Guard Empowerment Act that would have increased the influence of the National Guard within the Defense Department. The proposed law was sponsored by Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) and co-sponsored by many members of Congress.

The National Guard Empowerment Act would have elevated the chief of the National Guard Bureau to four-star rank, required that the deputy commander of U.S. Northern Command be a Guard officer, and ensured that Guard officials had specific lines of authority for budgeting and coordinating homeland defense and homeland security missions.

Rather than incorporating these changes into the NDAA, Congress referred the Guard Empowerment Act to the Commission on the National Guard and Reserves, which is required to study the proposed changes and report its findings by next March.

Congress likewise directed the Commission on the Guard and Reserves to study whether it was advisable to expand the authority of Guard officers to serve in “dual-hat” command positions. Dual-hat commands are ones where a single officer commands National Guard troops in Title 32 state status as well as active duty, Guard or Reserve troops that are serving in Title 10 federal status.

The commission was tasked to examine the processes that the Defense Department uses to determine Guard equipment and funding for both its homeland defense and its warfighting missions.The concern is that the existing process does not adequately consider the views of National Guard Bureau officials or the state adjutants general.

Congress considered, and rejected, a separate proposal to change reserve retirement benefits.The Senate had passed an amendment that would have decreased the age at which a Guard and Reserve member could receive retirement pay if the member had served significant amounts of his or her career on federal active duty.The amendment, however, did not make it into the final law.

There were, however, some significant changes for the Guard in the new defense legislation.

  • Pay for all members of the military will increase 2.2 percent in 2007.
  • The retirement age for reserve component general officers – to include adjutants general – increases by two years to 62, 64 or 66, depending on rank.
  • The law expands eligibility for healthcare under the TRICARE Standard program to all members of the Selected Reserves and their families when not on active duty.Participants choosing this coverage will be required to pay a premium.
  • The law increases the time that the president can involuntarily mobilize a Guard or Reserve member under a Presidential Reserve Call-Up from 270 days to 365 days. Current PRCs include the peacekeeping operations in Bosnia and Kosovo.The PRC differs from the Partial Mobilization authority being used for Operations Noble Eagle, Enduring Freedom, and Iraqi Freedom.Guard members called under a Partial Mobilization can serve for up to two years.

Probably the most controversial section of the new legislation expands the president's authority to mobilize the reserve components for domestic operations without the consent of the governor during a natural disaster, terrorist attack, epidemic or other public health emergency.

Congress enacted the changes despite the objections of every governor in the nation to this type of increase in presidential power.

The changes were enacted as modifications of the Insurrection Act, a law originally passed right after the outbreak of the Civil War. The Insurrection Act permits a president to use either the state militia or federal military forces to enforce the law when he determines that civil authorities are unable or unwilling to maintain law and order.

It is unlikely, however, that typical natural disasters – the hurricanes, floods, and forest fires that occur every year in the U.S. – will be met with wholesale federalizations of the National Guard. The amended law still requires the president to determine that a state is unable to maintain public order and that violence obstructs the execution of the laws of the United States before the Guard can be federalized under this law.

In 2005, more than 50,000 Guard members from every state and territory responded in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. These Soldiers and Airmen served under state command and control. Federal forces deployed to the Gulf Coast cooperated with state forces but operated under a different chain of command.

Congress focused on homeland security by appropriating money for weapons of mass destruction-civil support teams in Alaska, Florida and New York.The new law also expands the types of operations a CST can respond to. CSTs are now authorized to respond to natural or manmade disasters that could result in catastrophic loss of life or property.

As it does every year, the appropriations act devotes a great deal of attention to equipment.This year, it delivered mostly good news to the Guard.

Congress clearly heard the testimony of many Guard officials who candidly described the toll that the Global War on Terrorism had taken on equipment levels.The appropriations bill provides $75 million each to the Army and Air Guard to fund top priorities such as UH-60 helicopter upgrades and engine upgrades for F-16 fighters.

The Army Guard and Army Reserve will share $2.94 billion in reset funds that Congress set aside for them.Of that amount, $500 million is reserved specifically for filling the National Guard's “essential ten” equipment requirements for the war on terrorism.

The funds will be expended on radios, Humvees, trucks, global positioning systems, night vision devices and a host of other Guard equipment requirements for warfighting and homeland defense missions.

The Air Guard will receive more than $82 million to fund the purchase of Predator Unmanned Aerial Vehicles and $72 million for advanced radar sets for F-15C fighters.

The Army Guard will receive $72 million to begin purchasing the Future Cargo Aircraft, which will replace aging C-23s, C-26s and a portion of the C-12 fleet, as well as relieve excessive demands on the CH-47 helicopters. The Air Guard will receive $15 million to fund research and development of a similar Air Force program, the Light Cargo Aircraft.

Congress mandated the purchase of dozens of more items, and determined the funding of hundreds of programs, in the NDAA.