Thursday, February 02, 2006

Senators oppose National Guard reductions

Senators oppose National Guard reductions

By Vicki Allen

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - More than 70 senators have signed a letter to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld blasting the Pentagon's plan to cut National Guard troop levels, Senate aides said on Wednesday.

In the House of Representatives, a leading Democrat also said the plan would be rejected.

"What they're doing is trying to fit into a budget a plan knowing full well the Congress is not going to accept it," said Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania, top Democrat on the House Appropriations defense subcommittee.

The Pentagon has proposed reducing the Army National Guard's total troop level authorized by Congress from 350,000 to 333,000 as part of a broader Army restructuring effort.

The Air National Guard also would be reduced by an unspecified level as part of the Pentagon's fiscal 2007 proposed budget Congress is scheduled to get next week.

Senate aides said the letter had 72 signatures as of Wednesday, and may get more before it goes to Rumsfeld by the end of the week. The Senate has 100 members.

Lawmakers said they were stunned at the plan that came as Army and National Guard forces have been strained by prolonged deployments in Iraq and after Hurricane Katrina highlighted the need for a force to deal with domestic disasters.

But Rumsfeld said he expected lawmakers eventually would go along.

"When they see what the facts are, they'll see it's perfectly rational and that the Guard's going to be funded and the Guard's going to be manned," Rumsfeld told Reuters on Tuesday after he spoke to a closed meeting of conservative House Republicans.


The National Guard is made up of part-time soldiers under command of state governors to respond to natural disasters and other crises, but also can be mobilized for overseas duty by the Pentagon.

The senators' letter said the "proposed cuts would undermine the Guard's ability to fulfill its diverse missions, shrinking the pool of available personnel."

It also said the cuts would not be cost-effective because "a properly trained, equipped, and supported National Guard provides an unrivaled level of capability when compared to the cost of maintaining a similarly equipped active duty force."

The Army National Guard now has about 333,000 troops, short of the 350,000 authorized by Congress. The Army National Guard, the active Army and Army Reserve all missed their recruiting goals last year.

Critics said reducing the authorized troop total could put the National Guard in a downward spiral for recruiting and funding for equipment.

But Rumsfeld said there "shouldn't be any concern about the National Guard because they're going to be funded and they're going to be equipped, and they're going to be equipped in ways that are advantageous to the governors of the states."