11.28.11

Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy On Guard Empowerment Amendment

Mr. President, I rise to discuss the Leahy-Graham National Guard Empowerment Amendment, Senate amendment number 1072.

Over the past decade, the National Guard has undergone a profound and historic change.  Once a hollow force considered only a “strategic reserve” for nightmare contingencies, the National Guard has become an “operational reserve” that deploys in regular rotation with the active duty force.  As a matter of policy and reality, Army and Air National Guard troops from states around the country shoulder their load overseas and carry a disproportionate share of the domestic response and disaster relief mission at home, including response to terrorist events.  Yet institutional support for the National Guard still lags behind its operational role. 

Today’s National Guard is a superb 21st Century force trapped inside the 20th Century Pentagon bureaucracy.  Without raising the profile of the Chief of the National Guard Bureau in the supreme military advisory body of the Department of Defense—the Joint Chiefs of Staff—the United States will miss an opportunity to capitalize on positive changes begun in response to the post-9/11 operations tempo.  This amendment makes that change as well as several others to enhance the Guard’s effectiveness.

Particularly in this period of flat-lining or even declining Pentagon budgets, DoD will need to increase the role of the National Guard as an element of the overall force mix.  Without the Chief of the National Guard Bureau on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, among the other changes made by this amendment, the unique experience of nearly half a million members of the National Guard will continue to be largely unknown, and their voices, interests, and concerns will go mostly unheard.  This change is not only necessary, it is a decade overdue.

This amendment has 70 co-sponsors.  More than two thirds of the United States Senate support it.  This overwhelming bipartisan majority of senators demonstrates that the provisions contained in this amendment, all of which empower the National Guard, should be included in this year’s National Defense Authorization Act.

I have been overseas and have watched our troops operate.  You cannot tell which troops are in the Guard and which are active duty.  They stand and work side by side, and we must reflect that reality inside the Pentagon as well as outside of it on the battlefield.  I urge all of my colleagues, co-sponsors and non-cosponsors alike, to join me in making sure the Guard finally has a voice commensurate with its operational role. 

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