December 12, 2006
Contact:
Emily Lenzner, NPR
 | 

SENS. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY)
AND SAXBY CHAMBLISS (R-GA)
JOIN NPR NEWS’ TALK OF THE NATION
TO DISCUSS FUTURE OF NATIONAL GUARD AND ARMY RESERVE

TODAY, DECEMBER 12

TRANSCRIPTS OF INTERVIEWS BELOW; AUDIO AVAILABLE AT WWW.NPR.ORG


Washington, DC; December 12, 2006 – Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) and Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), both members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, joined NPR News Talk of the Nation in live interviews today to discuss the future of the National Guard and the Army Reserve given their expanding roles in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In their interviews with NPR’s Robert Siegel, the Senators discussed the need for increased benefits for National Guard members and reservists, whether the size of the Army and Marine Corps should be increased, and whether the expanded role of the National Guard was planned or an accident resulting from the ongoing war in Iraq. When asked if a draft is part of the solution, Senator Clinton said, “No, it’s not.”

The interviews with Senator Clinton and Senator Chambliss aired this afternoon on NPR News Talk of the Nation as part of a special live two hour broadcast from Fort Dix, New Jersey, a major U.S. Army mobilization point for Army Reserve and National Guard troops. Transcripts of both interviews are below. Excerpts must be credited to NPR News Talk of the Nation. Streamed audio of each interview is available at www.NPR.org.

-NPR-

ROBERT SIEGEL: And joining us by phone right now is New York Senator Hillary Clinton, who is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Senator Clinton, thank you for joining us on this special program --

SENATOR HILLARY CLINTON: Thank you very much for doing this program.

MR. SIEGEL: -- from Fort Dix. We’re hearing a couple of things from people here in the Reserves and the Guard: a great pride in the service they perform, and also a desire from several people that benefits that they receive should be comparable to those of standing Army and people in the other services. If we’re relying so much on the Guard and the Reserves, why shouldn’t they achieve some parity in terms of benefits?

SEN. CLINTON: Well, actually, I believe they should, and I’ve been making that argument for the last several years. I joined up with my colleague on the Armed Services Committee, Senator Lindsey Graham from South Carolina, to expand access to health care for National Guard members and reservists because I was finding throughout New York that, as our young men and women in the Guard and Reserve were being called up for deployment, that they were not ready for deployment because of, you know, various healthcare issues. They did not have health insurance often at the jobs that they held in the civilian sector, and so they weren’t prepared when they got there, even though obviously once they were called up they would have health care, and similarly, their families were also not being provided with insurance.

So we worked on this for the past three years, and finally we have provided the opportunity for all deployable Guard members and reservists to buy into the active duty system called TriCare at a 28 percent cost share. So we’re making some progress on that. I mean, it’s not parity, but it’s progress.

MR. SIEGEL: Will the progress accelerate with the Democratic majority on the Hill, or is it simply too expensive for you to do in the immediate future?

SEN. CLINTON: Well, we’re going to have to take a hard look at it, Robert, because I’m sure that your previous guests, plus your callers, have made the point that Guard and Reserve service no longer means one weekend a month and then two weeks a year. Something over 380,000 Guard and Reserve members have been deployed since September 11th, and you know, they have performed magnificently. In fact, I’m going to put in a plug for my state of New York that the 42nd Infantry Division was the first division headquarters of a National Guard unit deployed since the Korean War. The entire division went to Iraq.

So this is no longer the so-called weekend warrior. We are very dependent upon the experience and the skills that our Guard and Reserve members bring into the active duty mission, and I think we’re going to have to, you know, reconsider how we treat the Guard and Reserve members.

MR. SIEGEL: Of course the other way to go is to reconsider the equation we’ve struck between standing forces and the Reserves and the Guard; that is, have we got this right? If we get involved in a war that runs for four, five years, can we rely this heavily on people who still are ostensibly maintaining careers and families back home?

SEN. CLINTON: I don’t think so. I have also joined with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to advocate for increasing the size of both the Army and the Marine Corps because we are really not only stretching our human resources very thin, we are not adequately prepared for the stress on families of an all-volunteer military.

We have now been engaged in a very long and bloody conflict with an all-volunteer force, and I’m a strong supporter of our volunteer military. It has proven itself to be extraordinarily prepared, ready, dedicated, but when you keep deploying people over and over again – and I have, you know, encountered a number of people who are on their third or even fourth deployment with very little time for, you know, resting and resetting equipment and, you know, being able to just take a deep breath and get a little bit of time with your family. That is not a condition that we should sustain.

MR. SIEGEL: No. But if one part of the solution is actually to increase the size of the Army and Marine Corps, how can we do that given the difficulties of just increasing benefits for people in the Guard and Reserves? Is this something that has to wait for the end of the Iraq War some years down the road before you can increase the size of the forces?

SEN. CLINTON: Well, I think we need the conversation to start now. It may well be – to go back to your original point – that we change the mix somewhat. We have a very specific set of tasks that we expect the Guard and Reserve to be able to perform, but we, you know, perhaps look to increase the size of the active duty force.

Now all of that has to be open for discussion. We have a challenge in recruiting and retaining, although I must say that certainly it’s been quite admirable and very surprising to some to see how well our recruitment and retention numbers have held up. But I think that we’re going to have to ask ourselves how do we afford the military we need; what are our strategic challenges around the world.

MR. SIEGEL: The short-answer question, before I let you go, is a draft part of the answer for you, or not.

SEN. CLINTON: No, it’s not. You know, if you talk to people in the military who are in today, who were in during Vietnam, even some folks who can, you know, remember further back than that, there is no doubt that the officer corps in the military is very impressed by our all-volunteer force. And we have to do more to make sure that we can recruit and retain the – you know, the very best young people that are willing to serve their country in this way.

MR. SIEGEL: Well, Senator Clinton, thank you very much for talking with us.

SEN. CLINTON: Thank you for doing this.

MR. SIEGEL: You bet.

SEN. CLINTON: Hillary Clinton, the Democratic senator from New York state, and a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. You are listening to “Talk of the Nation,” from NPR News.

(END)

ROBERT SIEGEL: Joining us now, another member of the Senate Armed Services Committee from the Republican side, Senator Saxby Chamblis of Georgia. And I would like to ask you, Senator Chambliss, do you join Senator Clinton, she said Senator Lindsay Graham as well, in seeking greater parity for reservists and guardsmen in terms of benefits for all that they do?

SENATOR SAXBY CHAMBLISS (R-GA): Well, without question, Robert, you know, we have transformed our Guard and Reserve from a strategic reserve that was focused on emergency needs over the early part of the 20th century into an operational reserve, which we are using to augment the active-duty forces, and we’re simply going to continue to call on these great folks more and more often to serve in that capacity. So I think it’s critically important that we also look at the benefits. And Senator Clinton, Senator Graham, and myself have worked very hard to try to not equalize the benefits between the active duty and the Guard and Reserve, but certainly to increase the benefits so that we can continue to attract the very best of our military personnel into the Guard and Reserve, as well as to retain them once we get them there.

MR. SIEGEL: How do you answer this question about our present reliance on the Guard? It’s easier to make it work, this balance between standing armed forces and Reserves and Guard in a summer when there isn’t a terrible hurricane along the Gulf coast, when the city hasn’t flooded. It works in that case, but when we have a domestic disaster, when we count on the National Guard to help us there, we are doubly strapped.

SEN. CHAMBLISS: I think we saw that exact situation obviously with Katrina, where we had National Guardsmen from the state of Louisiana who were deployed to Iraq, and we had to in fact call those folks back home, and that should not happen. We have got to do a better job of making plans, contingency plans for those folks, and what we did back then –

MR. SIEGEL: We can’t plan on no gulf-coast units during hurricane season. I mean, you couldn’t run the reserves that way, could you?

SEN. CHAMBLISS: No, I don’t think we can do that, but we can do a better job of managing the personnel. It may still be that we would have some deployed during the time of a natural disaster that we would have to call back, but it ought not to be on as grand a scale as what we saw in 2005. And the way we can do that is simply through not sending whole brigades of folks over, or maybe less than the number, but simply do just a better job of managing the numbers.

MR. SIEGEL: I would like to know, do you regard the current balance between the standing Army and the Reserves and the Guard as something that we have – that this is how we planned it; this is what we meant would happen, or is it an accident that has occurred in a prolonged war in Iraq, that people are doing so many tours from the Guard.

SEN. CHAMBLISS: You know, that is a very, very interesting question, and one that all of us who are on the Armed Services Committee have thought through as we have been through this conflict. But even going back to Bosnia and Kosovo we were thinking about this because when I came along out of school, back in the ’60s, you saw folks going into the Guard and Reserve, and you didn’t think about the fact that by joining the Guard and Reserve that, hey, I may be activated; I may be shipped out here soon. But now –

MR. SIEGEL: Yeah, now it is different.

SEN. CHAMBLISS: It’s just a fact.

MR. SIEGEL: We are going to continue with this. I want to ask you just to conclude that answer in a moment, but first I’m Robert Seigel live at Fort Dix, New Jersey, and this is “Talk of the Nation,” from NPR News.

(Break.)

MR. SIEGEL: This is “Talk of the Nation.” I’m Robert Siegel broadcasting live from Fort Dix, New Jersey. Tomorrow on “Talk of the Nation,” writers have struggled with it for centuries. We will talk about plagiarism. What is simply homage and what is outright theft? That is tomorrow on “Talk of the Nation” from NPR News.

…back to our conversation about the expanding role of the National Guard and the Reserves. Our guests are Brigadier General Stewart Rodeheaver, the deputy commanding general of the First Army at Fort Gillem in Georgia. And also with us, Retired Major General Michael Davidson, former assistant to the chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for National Guard matters. And we left off with Senator Saxby Chambliss, the Republican from Georgia, who is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committees.

And Senator Chambliss, I just wanted to conclude with what you were saying a moment ago about people now understand that being the Guard, even since Bosnia and Kosovo could mean a prolonged deployment overseas. Is the way the system is working right now the way our government planned for it to work, or is this somewhat of an accident that has been occasioned by an unpredictably long war in Iraq?

SEN. CHAMBLISS: No, I don’t think it’s an accident; I think it’s something that the Guard and Reserve has been planning for a number of years. We have certainly – we have changed the relationship between the Guard and the Reserve and the active duty over a period of time. It hasn’t happened overnight. But what in fact has happened is that the Guard, instead of just spending two weeks in the summer, and a weekend a month, going through the motions, those men and women are now being trained exactly like the active duty force because we know that it’s very likely they are going to be called on. So our Guardsmen and our Reservists are now seamlessly taken in to the active-duty force any time we need to call on them, and they know that when they sign up, as well as when they go through the training. That is something that the Guard and Reserve has been preparing for, and the active duty has been preparing for that over a number of years.

MR. SIEGEL: And you feel they know there could be three or four deployments overseas over the course of five or six years.

SEN. CHAMBLISS: Well, I think if the situation persists, the situation we have now persists, certainly that could be the case. And we’re going to have to continue to call on them because the size of the active-duty force is not what we need to maintain the situation in Iraq. But obviously that could change over the next year, two years, or whatever. We would rather not, but the fact is that when they sign up now, they know that is likely to happen. They are ready for it, and as my good friend Stewart Rodeheaver will tell you, these men and women expect it, and they are very proud of the work that they do when they are called to active duty, and as I have seen, on the ground in Iraq.

MR. SIEGEL: Well, Senator Chambliss, thank you very much for talking with us.

SEN. CHAMBLISS: Always good to be with you.

MR. SIEGEL: Senator Saxby Chambliss, Republican of Georgia, and a member of the Senate Arms Services Committee. We are talking about the Guard and the Reserves at Fort Dix, and we have a question from a member of our audience. Here, go ahead.

(END)