Army and National Guard debate capabilities

The head of the National Guard Bureau and the top soldier in the Army shared different views on the capabilities of the National Guard during remarks to reporters last week in Washington, D.C.
Gen. Frank J. Grass, the Chief of the National Guard Bureau, and Gen. Ray T. Odierno, the Army Chief of Staff, spoke two days apart during luncheons at the National Press Club. The set-up highlighted their contrasting views on the Guard’s role as defense officials move to restructure forces after a decade of war and with tight budget constraints.

Serving as a backdrop to their comments, the Army wants to cut the Army Guard to 315,000 soldiers, while also removing all combat helicopters and other aircraft from its arsenal. The Guard wants to maintain an end-strength of 345,000 and has pushed back against the aviation plan.

National Guard supporters argue that the Guard can provide combat troops at a fraction of the cost of the active-component Army. Gen. Odierno has stated that the active component has a higher state of readiness because of a greater amount of training. “They’re trained and ready to do things at a higher level because they spend every day focused on that,” he said. “Our National Guard, who’s done an incredible job in the last 10 years, trains 39 days a year.” That difference is why, he said, the two components aren’t interchangeable. He argued that their capabilities should be seen as complementary.

Speaking two days later at the same podium, Gen. Grass said he’s hard-pressed to find a member of the Guard who trains only 39 days a year. He emphasized that diligence in training is essential to success, particularly with reliance on rapidly changing technology. “And between drills, preparing for drills, professional development, course work, and more, National Guard members are putting in the necessary time needed to maintain their capabilities. The concept of the Guard and Reserve training just 39 days a year”, he said, “doesn’t exist anymore”