Wednesday, April 18, 2007

 

Guard Equipment Shortfalls

The Chief of the National Guard Bureau (NGB), Lt. Gen. H Steven Blum, urges Congressional appropriators to increase Guard funding to close equipment shortfalls, as reported at Military.com.

While LGEN Blum acknowledges that Guard soldiers deployed overseas are “superbly equipped and superbly trained ... and we want for nothing,” Guard units confront serious equipment shortages back home. From Military.com:

"The National Guard today, I am sad to say, is not a fully ready force," the general said. "Unresourced shortfalls still exist that approach $40 billion to provide the equipment and the training that I personally feel your Army and Air National Guard are expected to have to be able to respond to the citizens of the United States."

Some war opponents and chronic adversaries of the Bush Administration will no doubt want to exploit LGEN Blum’s concerns. I have heard some glancing rhetoric of late, decrying the strain on Guard and Reserve Forces, conflated along with the usual criticisms of “lack of body armor,” “hillbilly armored vehicles,” and “backdoor drafts.”

I doubt any readers here will need any primer in the basis for these criticisms, but just in case. When we first invaded Iraq in 2003, there were certainly units (in isolated cases) that had to convoy into Iraq whose unit vehicles were inadequately armored. (In many more cases, unit commanders and motor maintenance performed aggressive vehicle retrofits to enhance their defensive capabilities against improvised explosive devices (IED). No doubt, many were unsuccessful or less conscientious, but that can be attributed to a lack of command attention and diligence in preparing for their mission.

I know, because our Motor Mechanics up-armored over twenty vehicles, which allowed our Battalion to execute a “Ground Assault Convoy” (GAC) the 600 odd miles from Kuwait to our base in Tikrit. Units prepare for their duty in Iraq in staging areas in Kuwait, and motor pool advisors and support units in Kuwait supplied units with specially designed kits to up-armor their vehicles. Hence the disparaging nickname, “hillbilly armor.”

I’m not going to argue – here – about the wisdom of ground-convoying a Military Intelligence (MI) unit into Tikrit. Admittedly, our up-armored HUMVEES were not as well-protected as the factory-armored HUMVEES we fell on (left behind by the 1st ID unit we replaced, who themselves inherited said vehicles from the 4th ID). But they were good enough, and would have significantly decreased casualties from an IED.

As far a body armor, we deployed to Kuwait and then Iraq in January 2005. By then, the Guard units deploying to Iraq were “plused up” as part of a formal pre-deployment process. We received the latest body armor, Kevlar helmets, and all manner of other uniform and equipment items as part of Rapid Fielding Initiatives (RFI). While true for some of the very first units into Iraq (and I believe possibly more so for Marines), the notion that Guard and Reserve soldiers or their families having to buy their own body armor is a canard.

As usual with such criticisms-of-the-day, the partisans who will latch on to this issue don’t care a whit about the Guard and Reserves, but rather, seek any advantage in their vendetta war against the President.

And the shortage of equipment in the Guard? That stems from a willful decision on the part of military planners, with what had to be the knowing consent of State Governors and State Guard officials. As each Guard unit prepared to redeploy from Iraq back to the States, deployment officials and the unit commanders involved would determine which equipment would remain in country for the replacing unit to fall in on, and which equipment could go home. Factory armored HUMVEES stayed, as did many kit up-armored trucks. Many more items, not wanted by gaining units, were redirected from staging areas in Kuwait as unit equipment awaited transport back to the US.

In our case, I think we got our non-up-armored vehicles back (those we only used for on-the-FOB transport) and maybe a couple of Duece-and-a-halfs.

As a Senior Enlisted soldier, not in Army Logistics, I am not privy to the agreements and understandings that are reached between Big Army and State Guard authorities when it comes to Logistics. But several (most) of our best mechanics worked in Central Issue Facility (CIF) or MATES (I forget the expansion) back home, and I’m quite certain the understanding was, we’d get all new equipment after we got home. That’s how all of us understood the why of giving up equipment we knew we’d need. We’d get all new, the latest and greatest. This seemed an improvement over what has historically been a chronic lag of modernization, between Active Duty and Guard unit equipment issue.

Well, time to pay the piper. You’d think that the costs of replenishing the Guard equipment for generously left behind in Iraq – and in some cases handed over to the Iraqis – would have been figured in to ongoing military appropriations for the already significant costs of our efforts in Iraq.

But I think that’s what LGEN Blum’s effort now is all about. How bad? Here’s more from LGEN Blum, as reported at Military.com:

Lt. Gen. Blum said the problem has reached epidemic levels, particularly in the Army. Most of the units in the Army and Air National Guard are underequipped for the jobs and the missions they have to perform with no notice here at home," he said. "Can we do the job? Yes, we can. But the lack of equipment makes it take longer to do that job, and lost time translates into lost lives, and those lost lives are American lives."

He urged Congress to address these shortfalls, noting the defense bargain the National Guard represents. The Army Guard makes up almost 40 percent of the Army's combat, combat support and combat service support structure, but costs just 11 percent of the Army's budget, he said. Similarly, the Air Guard provides more than one-third of the Air Force capability, at just 6 percent of the Air Force's budget.

"Plus, your Army and Air National Guard are the only Department of Defense forces that can be called upon by the governors with no notice to do what is necessary right here in the zip codes where your constituents reside," he said.

That’s the most important reason for honoring the Federal commitment to the Guard, at a time when the Guard has been called to make extraordinary sacrifice in the fight against terrorists [not to be called the Global War on Terror].

There’s a way you can help.

Military.com offers an easy-to-use Legislative Center, where you can send a letter to your Senators and Representatives.

It’s long past time we move to a more proactive than reactive stance in response to long-term (generational) national security challenges. Having a fully equipped (and modernized) Guard seems a prerequisite.

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