Funding rift pits active-duty military against Guard, Reserve

  • Article by: MARK BRUNSWICK , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 1, 2014 - 9:28 AM

Military’s postwar belt-tightening will be felt at the local level, National Guard warns.

National Guard armories could be shuttered and Minnesota towns hit by tornadoes or floods couldn’t count on a Guard soldier to stand watch. There may be fewer National Guard helicopters to help during forest fires.

A widening — and unusually polarized — rift over funding is pitting the country’s active-duty military against its Guard and Reserve comrades in arms.

After more than a decade of war in which the Guard and Reserves battled side by side with their active-duty colleagues, the fight over funding in a postwar environment is quickly getting ugly. It’s over who will take more of a hit from cuts in troop size and funding and who provides more bang for the buck.

It was made more intense recently when the Army’s top general appeared to dismiss the role of the country’s Guard units, saying that Guard soldiers “only train 39 days a year” and that they were not “interchangeable” with the active Army, which he said maintains a higher level of readiness.

The comments from Army Chief of Staff Ray Odierno drew the ire of Congress, including Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., a retired command sergeant major of the Minnesota Guard. Walz and Rep. Duncan Hunter, a former Marine who still serves in the Marine Reserve, called Odierno’s comments “irresponsible.”

At its heart, the argument is about who will emerge victorious in a peacetime world. The active-duty Army now has about 540,000 soldiers and is scheduled to reduce its ranks to 490,00 by 2017. At the national level, the Guard’s current troop levels of 350,000 could be reduced by sequestration and other cuts to 315,00 by 2017.

Minnesota could lose 1,000

In Minnesota, that could mean the loss of about 1,000 positions in the National Guard’s 13,000-member force. Leaders of the Minnesota National Guard warn that the consequences could hit some of the most visible aspects of the Guard’s domestic mission.

In addition, the active-duty Army has proposed assuming all tactical aviation functions, which translates to taking control of such things as the Apache attack helicopter, which is armed with machine guns and missiles.

The threats involve the National Guard’s Apache units in 10 states, where the Army has suggested a plan to move the Apaches, the world’s most advanced attack helicopters, and Lakota light-utility helicopters from the Guard to active-duty forces.

In Florida this week, Guard leaders also raised concerns about the loss of as many as 1,000 Guard members, 10 percent of its force.

The Minnesota Guard does not have attack helicopters. If Guard units from other states are forced to give up theirs, though, it’s likely the Minnesota Guard will be forced turn over some of its helicopters, like its Blackhawks, to compensate for the loss.

“You might not see as many helicopters available to fight fires or floods,” said Brigadier Gen. Neal Loidolt, commander of the Guard’s 34th Infantry Division. “You might not see as many soldiers available to provide security at tornadoes or walk the dikes of the Red River Valley. It could also mean that areas in towns in our state where you’ve been accustomed to seeing soldiers in units, you might not see soldiers in units in those places anymore.”

Each state, the three U.S. territories and the District of Columbia has an Army National Guard. The units are sovereign organizations responding to state leadership. But they can be called up, or “federalized,” to active duty during wartime.

In the past 10 years, they made up 28 percent of the 2.3 million service members who deployed to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Minnesota Guard’s 34th Infantry Division’s 1st Brigade was the longest-serving brigade combat team of any unit during the Iraq war, when it was activated for 22 months and spent a total of 16 months in Iraq.

“I suspect that would not have happened if it weren’t a comparable or more than comparable Army brigade combat team,” Loidolt said.

‘Big Army’ vs. locals

Odierno’s comments last month renewed a traditional schism between “Big Army” and the Guard and Reserve that many thought had disappeared.

  • related content

  • Fewer helicopters? Sgt. Sean Blum worked on a Blackhawk at Holman Field in St. Paul. If the active-duty Army takes over tactical aviation functions, there may be fewer helicopters at the ready to fight fires or floods, the commander of the Guard’s 34th Infantry said.

  • At the Army Aviation at Holman Field, the crew of Capt. Dave Wagner got ready to take out a Blackhawk helicopter for testing.

  • at a glance

    540,000 to 490,000

    Scheduled reduction in ranks of active-duty Army by 2017

    350,000 to 315,000

    Possible reduction in National Guard ranks

    2.3 million

    Service members deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan in last 10 years

    28 percent

    Percentage of those members from Army National Guard

    16 months

    Time Minnesota Guard’s 34th Infantry 1st Brigade spent in Iraq

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