Senate National Guard Caucus Co-Chair Patrick Leahy: ‘When it comes to the National Guard, the budget previewed on Monday appears to be headed in the wrong direction’ –

[Following are the opening remarks of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the co-chair of the Senate National Guard Caucus, at Wednesday’s annual Guard Caucus Breakfast, on Capitol Hill.  More than 20 senators attended, making it one of the best-attended annual breakfasts in memory.  Leahy this week has been highly critical of budget proposals for the National Guard that were previewed Monday by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.  Leahy’s concerns were echoed and underscored by speakers throughout this morning’s event, and today’s meeting is part of what will be a continuing Guard Caucus effort that Leahy and fellow co-chair Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) will be leading to shape the upcoming budget debate.]

 Opening Message Of Senate National Guard Caucus Co-Chair Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.)
The Annual Senate National Guard Caucus Breakfast
Capitol Hill
February 26, 2014

Thank you, General Grass, it is good to have you here this morning.  I look forward to hosting this breakfast every year, with my Caucus co-chair, Senator Graham.  This year I want to welcome Senator Walsh, the newest member of the Caucus, whose years as an Adjutant General will help him become an important contributor to our Caucus.

The National Guard’s enduring importance to this country is clear.  We have asked for more from this generation of men and women in the Guard than we have ever asked before, and they have responded.  Today we must evaluate whether a fully ready and capable Guard is enough.

We are again entering into a great debate about the nature of America’s self-defense.  I believe the budget previewed on Monday is one that appears to be headed in the wrong direction.  Addressing the nation’s deficit requires us all to face funding cuts.  But what we must carefully consider is what we will be left with once those cuts are implemented.

Let me tell you now:  The American people want an Army that is familiar, flexible, experienced, and affordable.  That force is the National Guard.

It is familiar because the National Guard is made up of friends and neighbors, family members and employees, teachers and public servants.  They create a connection to America’s military that does not exist otherwise in an era where less than one percent serve.

The National Guard is flexible at its very core, with a dual mission to serve the nation abroad and at home.  There is only one force in the United States that can fight adversaries overseas, help out a natural disaster, and patrol our streets during civil strife.

Guardsmen are experienced.  Many bring the experience of the Active Army or the Active Air Force, with the reward for their time in active service of being able to settle down in a community of their choosing.  As our presence in Afghanistan winds down, we are going to see an increase in recruitment of these high caliber soldiers and airmen in the National Guard.  But Guardsmen also bring the experience of their civilian lives to the fight.

Finally, the National Guard is cost effective.  When I first emphasized the cost effectiveness of the National Guard, a lot of people tried to argue it was not really so cheap. In the last couple years after intense scrutiny the goal posts have moved — now it is clear that the National Guard is more affordable, but people want to argue it is also less capable.

Well that is not true.  The National Guard has done everything that was asked of it in Iraq and Afghanistan, all the while continuing its mission here at home.  In fact, the Air Force Commission wrote something that I have long found to be true — the National Guard is eager to do even more than is asked of it now.

Two years ago it seemed that the Active Air Force and the Air National Guard would never get along again, but we see them working together more closely now than almost at any time I can remember, thanks to General Welsh’s leadership and the sterling work of the Commission established by Congress to provide recommendations.  I think it provides a good example for us to look to while attempting to work through this latest debate.

Thank you all for being here this morning.  Advocating for such dedicated men and women as those in our National Guard is a priority of mine.  I have often said, and it bears repeating: The Guard doesn’t let America down.  We can’t afford to let our Guard down.

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PHOTO:  http://www.leahy.senate.gov/imo/media/image/DSC_1392.JPG

-From left to right: The Adjutant General for the State of Vermont, Major General Steven A. Cray; Senator Patrick J. Leahy; Chief of the National Guard Bureau and Member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Frank J. Grass.

PHOTO: http://www.leahy.senate.gov/imo/media/image/DSC_1423.JPG

-Senator Patrick Leahy address the Annual Senate National Guard Caucus Breakfast.

Photo Credit: The Office of Senator Patrick Leahy

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