Overextended National Guard Undergoing Sweeping Changes

Article excerpt

National Guard leaders are planning a fundamental restructuring that is aimed at making the force more versatile and relevant.

Planned changes include a slight reduction in the number of Army National Guard brigades, new roles for personnel, the formation of specialized units to meet specific threats and an attempt to close the gap between capabilities of Guard and active units.

These efforts come as the Guard faces dilemmas and stresses which experts say are the result of overuse as an operational force in deployments.

"There's a perception we won't walk away from our old structure," said Lt. Gen. H Steven Blum, chief of the National Guard, at a recent defense conference. "Wrong. I'll walk away from anything that doesn't make sense."

The redesigned Army National Guard will feature 34 brigades, according to officials at the National Guard Bureau. This number reflects 10 heavy brigades; 23 light brigades, including a scout group, and one Stryker brigade. That is a decrease from the current 36 brigades.

"Every division in the Army ... has over time become different. This concept brings them back to standard designs," said a National Guard Bureau official, who did not want to be identified. "For deployments, this simplifies planning and execution of operations."

Of the 36 existing brigades, only 15 currently are properly staffed and resourced, according to Army Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Schoomaker. The reformed force structure is meant to increase effectiveness, as well as efficiency. "Tailoring of forces is simplified when you know how units are designed, what they are capable of and how they need to be supported," the official said.

The presence of the Stryker brigade will provide the Army with a quicker maneuver capability, Guard officials said, even though it will pose a challenge in training leaders and soldiers rapidly.

"We haw always had an ability to employ light forces quickly," noted another Guard official. "However, they have limited lethality against armored and mechanized enemy formations. The Stryker brigade combat team is capable of being deployed anywhere in the world within 96 hours. Having one in the Army National Guard is the right thing to do."

Reorganization also includes forming specialized units with unique capabilities.

For example, the Guard is creating 10 enhanced response forces, consisting of a weapons of mass destruction civil support team, a revamped division medical company able to treat and decontaminate 150 patients per hour, a search-and-rescue-oriented engineer company, and a combat unit geared for law enforcement support. "Enhanced" units receive priority equipment and resources, and are expected to deploy overseas within 90 days.

Other specialized units are growing as the need for their skills increase. The Guard is establishing weapons of civil support teams that are trained to respond to terrorist strikes. Teams already exist in 34 states, and that number is expected to rise to 55 by the end of fiscal year 2005.

"The National Guard is given training and certification from the other branches, paid our of pocket, to handle nuclear, chemical, biological and radiological threats," Blum told conference attendees.

He also wants to expand the Guard's involvement with missile defense, cyber security, intelligence operations and space-related defense missions.

Blum's push comes on the heels of a wider reorganization. By late last year, the Guard formed joint forces headquarters in each state by directing state adjutants general to consolidate 162 state headquarters into 54. All Army and Air Guard activities are now coordinated from these headquarters. Senior officers have labeled it the largest Guard reorganization since World War II.

The Guard's effort to create joint forces headquarters may include permanently assigned military liaison officers from each service, according to testimony by Maj. …