Remarks Of Senator Leahy On The National Guard Empowerment Provisions Included In The National Defense Authorization Act

Mr. President, I rise this morning to call the attention of my colleagues to several provisions of the defense authorization bill that we will consider for final passage today.  These provisions will have a major impact on our defense structure and performance in the years to come.  These reforms were previously included in a bill I introduced with Senator Lindsey Graham in May, S. 1025, which Senator Graham and I nicknamed “Guard Empowerment II.”  As co-chair with Senator Graham of the Senate National Guard Caucus I am pleased to report that the most important of these Guard Empowerment reforms are included in the final version of this year’s defense authorization bill.  These include a provision that will make the Chief of the National Guard Bureau a statutory member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  The Joint Chiefs -- our highest military policy council -- has not added a member since 1978, when the Commandant of the Marine Corps was finally added as a full participant.

This truly is a significant and historic day for the Guard and for all the Guard does for our Nation.

Many people have asked why this change is so important to make, and why now.  Our Guard has been bravely serving in near-constant rotation with active duty forces overseas for the last decade.  At the same time, Guard troops have been the military first responders here at home.  Yet the Pentagon has not fully caught up with the institutional changes that must accompany those operational changes.  In fact, after all that the National Guard has done over the past ten years, we are hearing rumors that the Air Force has already planned serious cuts to its Guard and Reserve components.  General Schwartz, the Air Force Chief of Staff, announced in a defense publication this week that “we’re going to get smaller.  Active duty, Guard, and Reserve – we’re going to get smaller together.”  Unquote.  But I question the logic of across-the-board cuts, and I would hope that most of us would.  Why does it make sense to cut the Guard when it can provide more force structure and capabilities for less money that is also more experienced and better maintained than any other component of the Air Force?  This is why the Guard Chief must be on the Joint Chiefs of Staff—to provide that vital dissenting view at a time when we need it most.

Looking at the Vermont Guard demonstrates why the kind of cuts General Schwartz has in mind just do not make sense.  The Vermont Guard deployed nearly 1,500 troops to Afghanistan last year.  Before that, the Vermont Guard deployed to Iraq during one of its most violent periods and made unspeakable sacrifices for this country.  Our Vermont Air Guard flew more than one hundred consecutive days of air missions over New York City and Washington after the attacks of September 11.  If we properly man, train, and equip our State Guards, our military leaders will find them the peer of any active duty unit.  In fact, the Vermont Air Guard is one of the first three units to be considered to receive the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.  And not only will the Service Chiefs find their reserve components ready to serve when called, they will find them less expensive over the life cycle of the unit and more experienced to boot.

The defense bill also includes several other provisions of our Guard empowerment bill.  It reinstates the three-star Vice Chief of the Guard Bureau, it institutes the recommendations on federal-state military integration offered by the Council of Governors, it includes a limited authorization of the State Partnership Program, it mandates the consideration of Guard generals for certain vacant positions at U.S. Northern Command, and it requires the Department to produce a costing report that will compare the life-cycle costs of units of the active component with similar units of the Guard and Reserves.  I believe that report, in particular, will lay the groundwork for further collaboration between the Armed Services Committee, the Appropriations Committee, and the Senate National Guard Caucus.  I look forward to many more bipartisan efforts on behalf of our national security and our Guard in the future.

Our National Guard is a superb 21st Century military organization that has been trapped in a 20th Century Pentagon bureaucracy.  These reforms will help clear away those cobwebs. 

Mr. President, Senator Graham and I introduced a bill in May that has more than 70 cosponsors today.  We have accomplished much for our Guard in this bill, but our work is far from finished.  I look forward to even more bipartisan consensus on this issue in the future.

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Congress Sends To President's Desk

Reforms By Leahy And Graham

That Will Elevate National Guard To Joint Chiefs Of Staff; Other Leahy-Graham Guard Empowerment Reforms Are Also Headed To Enactment

WASHINGTON (THURSDAY,  Dec. 15) – In a far-reaching and historic advance for the National Guard’s role in the nation’s defense and security structure, the U.S. Senate late Thursday passed and sent to the President's desk a final defense authorization bill that includes provisions authored by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) that will give the National Guard its first seat on the nation’s highest military council, the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The final version of the defense bill also includes other major provisions of The National Guard Empowerment and State-National Defense Integration Act (S.1025) authored by Leahy and Graham.  Their bill, with 71 Senate cosponsors, was added to the Senate’s version of the defense bill.  Counterpart provisions had also been included in the House’s version of the bill.

Leahy and Graham are the co-chairs of the Senate’s 84-member National Guard Caucus.  Their bill, S.1025, also known as “Guard Empowerment II,” is the latest in a series of successful efforts led by the Guard Caucus over the last six years to give the Guard a more meaningful voice in Pentagon circles where key policy and budget decisions are made that affect the Guard.

In addition to adding the Chief of the National Guard Bureau to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the final defense bill also includes other key provisions from the Leahy-Graham bill, including:

•           reestablishing the position of the Vice Chief of the Guard Bureau at the three-star level;

•           increasing the number of Guard general officers considered for senior positions at U.S. Northern Command;

•           helping to clarify the disaster response command relationship among the Guard and the U.S. military commands;

•           authorizing the National Guard State Partnership Program;

•           and requiring reports by the Department of Defense and the Government Accountability Office on the cost of National Guard and Reserve units compared to similar active component units. 

The Leahy-Graham Guard empowerment legislation has been endorsed by the American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the National Governors Association, the National Guard Association of the United States, the Adjutants General Association of the United States, and the Enlisted Association of the National Guard of the United States. 

Leahy said, “The Guard now will have a voice and a policy role suited to the vital role the Guard has assumed in our security structure.  The Guard has grown to become a front-line, 21st Century force, but it has been trapped in a 20th Century Pentagon bureaucracy.  These reforms go a long way toward fixing that problem.  I am pleased that we have come so far in recent years, but much more remains to be done.  I thank my partner and my friend Lindsey Graham for all of his hard work on this effort, and we appreciate the many senators on both sides of the aisle who have helped make these advances possible.”

Graham said, “We stand on the verge of historic change as the National Guard takes its rightful place as a full, permanent member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  Since 9/11, the Guard and Reserve have been indispensable to fighting the War on Terror and protecting the homeland.  They have been called up to duty, taken away from their work and families, and sent to far-away lands for long tours to protect our nation.  Their voices need to be heard and they have earned a seat at the table where our most important military decisions are made.  This long-overdue change in policy is a fitting tribute to our citizen-soldiers and the sacrifices they have made on our nation’s behalf.”

Maj. Gen. Michael D. Dubie, president of the Adjutants General Association of the United States said, "The fiscal 2012 defense authorization conference report that came out of committee marks a significant step forward for the men and women of the National Guard.  Several specific issues were advanced that are good for the National Guard and good for America."

General Craig McKinley, USAF, chief of the National Guard Bureau, said, “If passed, the 2012 Defense Authorization Bill would have a significant impact on the National Guard and our Nation as a whole. It will ensure our civilian leaders have the best possible insight regarding the National Guard's homeland defense and civil support missions.  It's also important to acknowledge members of Congress, and particularly Senators Patrick Leahy and Lindsey Graham of the National Guard Caucus, for their outstanding leadership and support on behalf of the more than 460,000 Soldiers and Airmen of the National Guard.”

Major General Gus L. Hargett Jr. (ret.), president of the National Guard Association of the United States, said, “National Guardsmen everywhere owe so much to Senator Leahy and Senator Graham for their efforts to give us a voice at the Pentagon.  Their support, their leadership and their determination have the Guard on the cusp of its biggest legislative victory Guard since the Militia Act of 1903 created the modern, dual-mission National Guard.”

Chief Master Sergeant Roger Hagan (ret.), president of the Enlisted Association of the National Guard of the United States, said, “The Enlisted Association of the National Guard of the United States is once again indebted to Senator Patrick Leahy and Senator Lindsey Graham for their victory in successfully attaching language to the Fiscal Year 2012 National Defense Authorization Act conference report that will FINALLY make the Chief of the National Guard Bureau a full-fledged member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  The over 412,000 enlisted personnel in the National Guard will directly benefit by having their voice heard loud and clear as the Chief of the NGB will soon be empowered to speak for them as part of the JCS.”

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