DEFENDING AMERICA
David H. Hackworth
26 March 1996

THE US ARMY NATIONAL GUARD IS AN EXPENSIVE HAS-BEEN

Because today's military operations are come as you are, the U.S. Army is facing a dilemma. Its combat units must be able to launch instantly to hotspots not unlike a Navy carrier's fighter aircraft.

But -- hobbled by WWII thinking and pork -- the active Army can't do the job as well as it should.

For example, too many resources are spent on National Guard combat brigades at the expense of regular army units. When three Guard brigades were called up for the Gulf War even after extensive training, all three couldn't hack it and had to be replaced by regular units.

I'd rather have one regular combat brigade ready to slug it out now than a dozen out-of-shape Guard brigades that might be able to fight somewhere down the track. In combat - in a bar or a battlefield -- the guy that generally wins is the one who gets there first and delivers the hardest punch.

During the 1992 election, candidate Clinton hopped in bed with the self-serving National Guard Association's position of maintaining 42 Guard combat brigades even though the Pentagon brass insisted they only needed 15.

Once in the White House Clinton ordered that the pork-driven extra 27 brigades be maintained. The Guard generals ended up with their toys and boys and Bill got their votes. This deal costs the taxpayer a cool $3 billion a year for 27 Guard brigades that could be whipped by any one of the TK (ask army PAO how many active duty combat maneuver brigades -- tank or Inf. -- they have) active army combat brigades.

While the active army has downsized by almost 300,000 soldiers, the Guard hasn't been proportionally cut. Why? Twisted politicians that protect their political turf and no one at the top with the guts to sound off about such pork barreling.

Way back in 1991, Secretary of the Army Michael Stone griped to me about not having enough defense dollars to keep the active Army in fighting trim.

"Why don't you get rid of the Guard?" I asked.

I'd served in a Guard unit in combat and peacetime and knew from this experience that no outfit with such shaky political leadership could make it in the kind of fights I'd just eye-balled during Desert Storm.

Stone replied, "Hack, it would be easier to get rid of God."

Most lawmakers refuse to look at how the Guard is dragging the active Army down. For them the Guard is vintage pork, and pork and pork alone is still what counts.

Sure, there are lot of damn good dedicated soldiers in the Guard, but there are also too many incompetents who wear stars and a lot of stripes along with a lot of fat. Many of these old timers sit around their weekend warrior "training sessions" drawing their fat checks and spinning tales about how the Guard saved the nation at Shilio (sp) or Normandy.

And they might be right, but that was yesteryear. Today, war-fighting is like modern surgery: highly technical and terribly complex. Would you let a doc carve on your kid that operated only 38 days a year and the rest of the time cut down trees with a chainsaw?

A sweeping overhaul is necessary to bring the Guard up to 21st Century speed. A few ideas:

Merge the Army National Guard and the Army Reserve. This will cut scores of Guard generals, bureaucracy and blubber and at last streamline an outmoded outfit. Units would be forced to maintain high federal Army standards rather than the state model, which is slack because too many State Adjutant Generals are political animals rather than savvy war-fighters.

Limit the role of the new Reserve Force to tasks that they can perform. During Desert Storm Army reservists did solid work training soldiers, flying choppers, driving trucks, firing cannons, repairing roads and broken bodies. These single function skills require less training than complex maneuver warfare that employs tank and infantry brigades.

Place maximum regular Army officers and NCOs with the reserve. The Marine Corps has done this for decades and their reserve outfits have proven to be squared away from the trenches of Korea to the killing fields of Kuwait.

Another Desert Storm may be out there blowing in the wind, and next time an airhead like Saddam Hussein may not be counting the cadence.