WASHINGTON – Gov. Mark Dayton told military officers here Thursday that planned cuts to the Minnesota National Guard would gut a force strategically built to help with everything from avian flu response to Red River Valley flooding to missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Speaking with Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad near the Pentagon, Dayton beseeched the National Commission on the Future of the Army to maintain Guard levels nationally, calling the 11,000 men and women in Minnesota essential to the state's safety and security.
Dayton said he was "very uncomfortable" with the forced military budget cuts called sequestration.
"I hope you step outside that boundary. We are going to deceive ourselves as a country," he told the panel of generals. "The trouble with sequestration is that it puts our budget process on automatic pilot. It's very dysfunctional. I respectfully request you look beyond that."
Guardsmen and women answer to the governor and can be deployed to help in natural disasters or law enforcement or they can be asked to help overseas.
At issue is the president's proposed budget for next year. It would impose across-the-board cuts to both the traditional Army and the National Guard, which has a presence in all 50 states, U.S. territories and the District of Columbia.
The budget reflects two realities in the modern world: a nation that is no longer actively at war and a Congress that is obligated to cut military spending because of a 2012 law forcing budget slashing in both defense and nondefense spending.
State could lose 2,000
In Minnesota, that could mean cutting the Guard by 2,000 members, to a force of 9,000, and shuttering armories in some rural areas, said Col. Kevin Olson of the Minnesota National Guard.
He points out that the Minnesota Guard had a $392 million impact on the state's economy last year.
The National Commission on the Future of the Army, made up mostly of retired military leaders, is tasked with trying to strike the proper balance between active duty and reserve forces. The commission must present findings by February 2016 to President Obama.
There is some tension between the Army and the Guard in these slimmer budget years. The Army's top general last year said that the Guard soldiers "only train 39 days a year" that they were not equivalent with active-duty Army troops.
On Thursday, military brass seemed to indicate to Dayton and Branstad that they should brace for some inevitable cuts.
"It is the law of the land, and we're going to have to look at some trade-offs," said Robert Hale, a former comptroller at the Department of Defense and a member of the commission. "We'll be looking at some balancing."
Added retired Army Gen. Carter Ham, who leads the commission: "In the category of 'there is no free lunch,' convey to your congressional delegation the shortsightedness of this budget dilemma," Ham told the governors. "You'll be more influential than we will."
U.S. Rep. Tim Walz,, D-Minn., co-chairman of the National Guard caucus and a retired Guardsman, pushed as many Guard priorities as he could in the latest spending bill.
Walz is a member of the House Armed Services Committee, which crafts the military's budget.
He called the Guard a "highly trained, battle-tested and a cost-effective asset that should continue to have the resources and equipment they need to protect our nation and serve our communities."