Friday, January 20, 2006

Governors aim to prevent cuts in National Guard

Yahoo! News
Governors aim to prevent cuts in National Guard
By Will Dunham

U.S. state governors called on the Pentagon on Thursday not to make cuts in the National Guard, calling such a move "inconceivable" considering the role played by Guard troops in Iraq, disaster relief and homeland defense.

"We need more Guard troops at this time, not less," the National Governors Association wrote to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in a letter signed by Govs. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, Janet Napolitano of Arizona, Dirk Kempthorne of Idaho and Michael Easley of North Carolina.

The National Guard's part-time troops come under the command of state governors for use in natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina and other domestic emergencies, and also can be mobilized by the Pentagon for overseas duty. The Pentagon has relied heavily on Guard soldiers for combat duty in Iraq.

Army Secretary Francis Harvey said on Wednesday the Army had decided to fund the Army National Guard at its current level of 333,000 soldiers rather than the congressionally authorized level of 350,000. But Harvey argued that "there's no cut in force structure of the Guard at all."

Governors also have been concerned by the closure of Air National Guard bases and potential cuts in National Guard aircraft.

Huckabee, chairman of the association, and Kempthorne are Republicans. Napolitano and Easley are Democrats.

The four governors told Rumsfeld that "we hope that the reports about force reductions in the Guard are not true."

"Our National Guardsmen and women have provided nearly 50 percent of the combat forces in Iraq, and the bulk of the U.S. personnel in the Balkans and Sinai Peninsula (peacekeeping missions)," the governors said. "In addition, they comprised about 90 percent of the troops on the ground in Louisiana and Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina.

"Given their performance, at this time in our history, it is inconceivable that anyone would seriously consider a reduction in the National Guard force structure."

The Pentagon fiscal 2007 budget and a separate broad assessment of military needs are due to be unveiled next month.

Harvey also said the Army National Guard was being reorganized to have 28 combat brigades, down from a planned 34, while the number of combat support brigades such as military police, civil affairs and engineer brigades would increase, leaving the total number of brigades unchanged at 106.