Leahy, Graham Unveil Next Steps For National Guard Empowerment Reforms

“This is the boldest, most far-reaching agenda for the Guard that I’ve ever seen in Congress.”

--Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C., Co-Chair, Senate National Guard Caucus, at a news conference Thursday with Co-Chair Senator Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.)

[Senate National Guard Co-Chairs Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) Thursday introduced their new National Guard Empowerment Act, which builds on earlier reforms proposed and enacted through the work of Leahy and the National Guard Caucus, to give the Guard and Reserve a seat at the Pentagon’s budget and policymaking tables and to update jurisdictional and operational lines of authority in Guard matters, recognizing that the Guard has evolved to become ‘a front-line, 21st Century force, trapped in a 20th Century Pentagon bureaucracy.’  The new Leahy-Graham Guard Empowerment bill will include making the Chief of the National Guard a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.] 

Senator Patrick Leahy

(D-Vt., Democratic Co-Chair, Senate National Guard Caucus)


News Conference On Introduction Of

The National Guard Empowerment Bill

Thursday, May 19, 2011


On this occasion of our first major legislative effort together on behalf of the Senate’s National Guard Caucus, it is a great pleasure to share the podium with the Guard Caucus’s new Republican co-chair, my friend and my partner in all things to do with the Guard and Reserve, Senator Lindsey Graham.   Senator Graham has always been a strong voice for the Guard and is a former Guardsman himself. 

With this seamless succession of leadership for the Guard Caucus, we are just as seamlessly continuing our ongoing efforts to strengthen and empower the Guard, by clearing away some of the bureaucratic cobwebs that have gathered over many decades.  These are organizational hindrances that have not been adjusted to match the new missions and crucial roles we have given to our National Guard, especially since 9/11.  Today’s National Guard is a superb 21st Century force that has been trapped in the bureaucracy and mindset of 20th Century Pentagon planning.

Ten years ago, the National Guard was very different than the Guard that protects and defends our country today.

A young private joining the Vermont Guard on September 10, 2001, was joining a force initially designed to participate in an all-out, no-holds-barred war with the Soviet Union, even though the Soviet Union had ceased to exist a decade before.

When that young private showed up for drill, he or she found facilities in disrepair, a Guard demoralized from inattention by Pentagon leaders, and equipment that seemed to predate the Cold War.  That Vermont private must have been disappointed, wondering, ‘What have I gotten myself into?’  Of course, that private’s life – and all of our lives – were about to change the following day.

9/11 woke us up to new realities.  Yes, we still faced threats from overseas, and like the rest of us, that Vermont private was ready to do her or his part.  But as this private got orders for an upcoming deployment, this Vermonter must have had a sinking feeling.  The unit’s vehicles were ancient.  Training was insufficient.  The private’s unit was understrength, missing half the troops it needed.  How could they possibly prepare and trust that they would be properly equipped for a real battlefield?

I wish that I could tell you that all the necessary measures have been taken by now to correct these problems before our National Guardsmen and women are deployed.  We’re still fixing those lingering problems.

And that’s what this bill is about.  Ever since 9/11, I worked with Senator Bond on a steady stream of reforms.  Now Lindsey and I are continuing that work.  Simply put, we want to make sure that every soldier and airman in the Guard has the training, equipment, and leadership he or she needs to accomplish the mission.

This bill builds on the Guard Empowerment reforms we already have accomplished.  Our bill would make the Chief of the National Guard Bureau a statutory member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a change we have needed for a decade to make sure Pentagon decision makers consider the unique nature of the Guard.

Lindsey and I always joke that we’ll chip in for a new chair in the Tank if that’s the hold up.  I have incredible respect for General Dempsey and General Schwartz, the Chiefs of Staff of the Army and Air Force, but they cannot represent the Army and Air Guard as directly or as sufficiently as can General McKinley, the Chief of the National Guard Bureau.  And at a time when we’re regularly disrupting the lives of the men and women in the Guard through deployment after deployment, we need to be sure they have a representative at the table when decisions are being made.  Adding a new three star Vice Chief will also be a great help.

The Guard Empowerment Bill also authorizes appropriations for Guard domestic operations.  It authorizes the State Partnership Program, which I have seen achieve such great success in Vermont.  The Vermont National Guard is partnered with Macedonia and Senegal.

The bill will also help our emergency response operations.  During Hurricane Katrina, we saw military forces so confused by state and federal distinctions.  This bill includes a section focused on a new unity of effort plan that the Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security have been working on, with the Council of Governors and others.

Senator Graham is superbly prepared and fully engaged in this Guard Empowerment agenda, and that is why I am so hopeful as we launch this effort together.

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