Pentagon May Cut Budget Of National Guard, Reserves

The Pentagon is deciding what to cut from its budget. Defense officials want to push many of the planned cuts onto the National Guard and Reserves. This is already leading to a campaign by Guard-backers to keep their forces strong. But active-duty military say cuts in recent years have taken too much from them, so it's the Guard's turn.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

The Pentagon hopes to save about half a trillion dollars through budget cuts over the next decade. The military budget, released yesterday, plans to achieve some of those savings through downsizing, which means the Pentagon is going through a kind of corporate restructuring.

As NPR's Larry Abramson reports, those plans have sparked opposition from Congress and from communities who worry about losing jobs.

LARRY ABRAMSON, BYLINE: When the Pentagon says cut the budget, military towns around the country get nervous. Take Fort Wayne, Indiana. The Air Force plans to shrink the 122nd Fighter Wing, where Air National Guard pilots fly A-10 Warthogs.

Mike Landram, president of the Greater Fort Wayne Chamber of Commerce, says that base means a lot to the surrounding community.

MIKE LANDRAM: About $58 million of economic impact. And if you total up the reservists plus the civilian state-federal workforce there, you've got a combined total of about 1,200 folks.

ABRAMSON: Now, it's not certain just how big the cuts to this Air National Guard base will be, but overall, the Air Force plans to retire over 200 aircraft, including a lot of A-10's. And Air Force cuts in the coming years will fall disproportionately on Guard and Reserve troops.

Retired Air Force Lieutenant General Mike Dunn explains why.

LIEUTENANT GENERAL MIKE DUNN: The Guard and Reserve really have not been reduced much in the last decade, while the active forces have been.

ABRAMSON: In fact, back in 1990, the Guard and Reserve made up 25 percent of the Air Force. Now it's up to 35 percent. Air Force officials say it's simple math: The Guard and Reserves have to shrink more than active duty forces. But many members of Congress say if we're cutting the budget, grow the Guard. A part-time airman costs about a quarter as much as a full-timer.

Republican Lindsey Graham of South Carolina took to the floor of the Senate last week to recall the Guard's service in Iraq and Afghanistan.

SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM: When you go into the combat theater, you can't tell the difference between Guard, Reserve or active-duty member, which is a testament to all three.

ABRAMSON: And Democrat Patrick Leahy of Vermont said the Guard and Reserve represent the kind of military the country needs as the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq come to a close.

SENATOR PATRICK LEAHY: Turn to our historic roots as a militia nation. It means we should return to the constitutional construct for our military in the days when we maintained a smaller standing military.

ABRAMSON: Senators Graham and Leahy promise to fight these cuts. Concern about the unsung role of the National Guard led to the creation of a seat on the Joint Chiefs of Staff this year. That move came over the objections of the other branches.

General Craig McKinley took his post on the Joint Chiefs on January 1st, maybe too soon to assess whether he's having an impact.

Retired Major General Gus Hargett, head of the National Guard Association, says he thinks the Guard does need better PR. He realized this when he flew a mission a few years back to Uzbekistan.

MAJOR GENERAL GUS HARGETT: I was met on the ramp by an active Air Force wing commander. They had 16 C-130s sitting on the ramp. Every one of them belonged to the Air Guard. But there was nothing out there that ever said, OK, we deployed an Air Guard wing.

ABRAMSON: In the end, Guard supporters will also have to argue they fit into the Pentagon's new strategy for a smaller, more nimble force focused on the Pacific and the Middle East.

Retired Air Force Lieutenant General Mike Dunn says Guard and Reserve forces are not designed for every mission.

DUNN: Remember, these guys have civilian jobs, and while they're patriots, you know, they are militia. They are supposed to be a reserve, not a primary response force.

ABRAMSON: The Fort Wayne, Indiana Chamber of Commerce is mounting a letter-writing campaign to fight the cuts to the 122nd Fighter Wing. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and members of Congress should be getting plenty of messages as these cuts hit home.

Larry Abramson, NPR News.

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