National Guard to Undergo Reorganization

The Army announces plans to reorganize the National Guard. Army leaders tried to reassure Congress and state governors they have no plans to reduce the number of Guard troops. The reorganization is meant to enhance the Guard's capabilities to respond to emergencies at home and conflicts abroad.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block. Today the army announced plans to reorganize the National Guard. The White House is preparing a budget that will fund fewer National Guard soldiers in the coming year and army leaders are trying to reassure Congress and state governors that they have no plans to reduce the number of Guard troops overall. They say the reorganization will enhance the Guard's capabilities to respond to emergencies.

NPR's Vicky O'Hara reports.

VICKY O'HARA reporting:

The President's budget for 2007 proposes to fund a National Guard of some 333,000 soldiers, the Guard's current number, rather than the 350,000 authorized by Congress. Members of Congress and the State Adjutant's General, who are responsible for the readiness of Guard units, have been raising objections and meetings with Pentagon officials and in letters to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Army leaders clarified their plans at a Pentagon briefing this morning. General Peter Schoomaker is the Army Chief of Staff.

General PETER SCHOOMAKER (Chief of Staff, U.S. Army): To be clear, we have no intention of cutting the number of Guard or reserve brigades, reducing the number of Guard or reserve soldiers, or cutting the level of Guard or reserve funding.

O'HARA: The National Guard and reserve at times have accounted for almost half of the troops serving in Iraq. Military officials say the long deployments have hurt recruiting. But Schoomaker told Pentagon reporters that if more Guard troops become available, the army will find the money to pay for them.

General SCHOOMAKER: We will fund to what they can recruit. If they recruit to 350,000, the funding's there. Their authorization remains 350,000.

Unidentified Man: Do you believe you can get the 350,000?

O'HARA: Lieutenant General Clyde Vaughn, Director of the Army National Guard, jumped in to answer that question.

Lieutenant General CLYDE VAUGHN (Director, Army National Guard): I absolutely believe it and I will tell you that we set all-time records in December recruiting. We're getting ready to set an all-time January record.

O'HARA: The back-to-back wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have forced the military to repeatedly deploy the nation's citizen soldiers into combat. Traditionally, their main responsibility has been to respond to emergencies at home, such as wildfires and hurricanes. General Schoomaker says that has changed, and the Guard, he says, must change too.

General SCHOOMAKER: Today they are the nation's operational force and reserve. They must be ready on relatively short notice for wartime deployments or to react immediately to domestic situations.

O'HARA: Schoomaker says the army plans to train and equip 28 combat brigades to a level that would enable them to do that. Currently of the 34 Guard combat brigades, only 15 are kept fully equipped and trained. The chief of staff says that the Guard will also be rebalanced. The remaining six combat brigades, he said, will be used for support roles such as transportation and engineering. Major General Roger Lemke of Nebraska, head of the national association that represents state Guard officials, says the army originally planned to reduce the Guard's force structure and end-strength (sic), so he says he's satisfied with what he heard today.

Major General ROGER LEMKE (President, Adjutants General Association): What they talked about today commits to equipping and manning the 28 brigades plus six other full brigades, as well as keeping our end-strength to 350.

O'HARA: But Josh Holly, spokesman for the House Armed Services Committee, says members of Congress still have questions, starting with where will the army find the money if it finds additional Guard recruits?

Vicky O'Hara, NPR News, Washington.

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