National Guard March 2012 : Page 24
A Head Scratcher By Ron Jensen Guard leaders and many on the Hill are puzzled by an Air Force proposal they believe defies logic in an era of lingering threats and limited dollars hen the IndIana air national Guard’s 122nd Fighter Wing was told in 2009 that it would trade its F-16 Fighting Falcons for a-10 thunderbolt IIs, Maj. Gen. R. Martin Umbarger, the Indiana adjutant gen-eral, saluted smartly and accepted the new mission. told a few weeks ago that the a-10 fighters would go away and be replaced by MC-12 reconnaissance aircraft, Umbarger, ever the patriot, once again saluted. W 24 | Na tional Guard
A Head Scratcher
Guard leaders and many on the Hill are puzzled by an Air Force proposal they believe defies logic in an era of lingering threats and limited dollars<br /> <br /> Hen the IndIana air national Guard’s 122nd Fighter Wing was told in 2009 that it would trade its F-16 Fighting Falcons for a-10 thunderbolt Iis, Maj. Gen. R. Martin Umbarger, the Indiana adjutant general, saluted smartly and accepted the new mission.<br /> <br /> Told a few weeks ago that the a-10 fighters would go away and be replaced by MC-12 reconnaissance aircraft, Umbarger, ever the patriot, once again saluted.<br /> <br /> But with his other hand, he scratched his head.<br /> <br /> “From the taxpayer standpoint,” he says, “it does not make sense at all.” The Air Force is eliminating five A-10 squadrons as part of the proposed defense budget, grounding about 104 A-10 Thunderbolts in all.<br /> <br /> Umbarger and others question why most of that iron—about 60 percent—is coming from three Guard squadrons. Why, they wonder, would you reduce the size of the most costeffective piece of the force?<br /> <br /> “I’ve got to question the benefit,” Umbarger says.<br /> <br /> There is a lot of head scratching going on around the Guard in the wake of last month’s release of the Pentagon’s fiscal 2013 budget proposal. The base budget is $525 billion for fiscal 2013 with plans to cut future defense spending 8.5 percent over the coming decade.<br /> <br /> The purpose, of course, is for the nation to try to gain control of its exploding debt. To that end, the defense budget is not immune from reductions.<br /> <br /> Along with calls for health care fee hikes for retirees and base closure commissions, the most compelling piece is the cuts proposed (box, page 26) for the Air Guard.<br /> <br /> The service will retire, transfer or not acquire 180 Air Guard current or planned aircraft, while adding 65 to the fleet. This will impact 27 states and territories.<br /> <br /> Also, the force is to lose 5,100 airmen in fiscal 2013.<br /> <br /> But what piqued so many was that Air Force leaders said for months that the cuts would be “balanced,” or proportional, across the active component, Guard and Reserve.<br /> <br /> Instead, the Guard is absorbing the bulk of both the personnel (5,100 out of 9,900) and aircraft reductions (180 out of 286), many of which are Scheduled to occur next year.<br /> <br /> Maj. Gen. Deborah Ashenhurst, the Ohio adjutant general, says “devastating” cuts are planned for the Ohio Air Guard, the nation’s second largest Air Guard.<br /> <br /> The 179th Airlift Wing in Mansfield, Ohio, will lose the C-27J Spartan cargo aircraft, which the Air Force is eliminating completely. The 121st Air Refueling Wing in Columbus, Ohio, will lose six of its 18 KC-135 Stratotankers.<br /> <br /> And it is not just hardware Ohio will lose.<br /> <br /> “I can surmise some great personnel losses,” Ashenhurst says.<br /> <br /> The response to the defense cuts was not unexpected.<br /> <br /> “They’re going to cut that and leave the most expensive part out there,” says Maj. Gen. William Wofford, the Arkansas adjutant general, who will lose 20 A-10s in the 188th Fighter Wing.<br /> <br /> Brig. Gen. William Burks, the Nevada adjutant general and the NGAUS vice chairman (Air), says, “The real question should be, does it make sense to draw down part-time people to save full-time jobs.” <br /> <br /> In a statement, Maj. Gen Gregory Vadnais, the Michigan adjutant general, where 21 A-10s are being taken from the 127th Wing, said, “I will not rest until Washington understands the reality of what is being proposed.” <br /> <br /> Not every state came out a loser. Montana, for example, will not get the C-27Js it had expected, but the 120th Fighter Wing will receive eight C-130s in fiscal 2014. Meanwhile, the F-15s it now owns will be transferred to a base in California.<br /> <br /> “I’m extremely pleased that we are going to retain a flying mission for Montana,” said Brig. Gen. John E.Walsh, the Montana adjutant general.<br /> <br /> But moving aircraft from one state to another, providing appropriate infrastructure and training pilots and maintainers is not cheap, he points out. When the F-15s were transferred from Missouri to Montana in 2009, it cost about $40 million.<br /> <br /> “The one concern I have with all the movement of all this aircraft is the cost,” he says.<br /> <br /> Well, he does have one other concern.<br /> <br /> “Until we actually see the [promised] aircraft on the tarmac,” he says, “I’m not going to be satisfied.” <br /> <br /> Throughout the Guard, the mystery is why the Air Force is not exploiting the efficiency of the Guard by retaining capability for a lesser cost.<br /> <br /> This is not an argument the Guard pulled out of a hat. It has been verified in recent years by several sources, including the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the Defense Secretary’s comptroller, the RAND Corporation and the Commission on the National Guard and Reserves.<br /> <br /> All of them agreed the cost of a Guardsman is roughly one quarter of that of an active-component service member. Or less.<br /> <br /> Ashenhurst rushed to Washington, D. C., when she learned of Ohio’s cuts and came away convinced the issue will have traction with Congress.<br /> <br /> Some lawmakers spoke out immediately after the cuts became public. <br /> <br /> When Rep. Leonard Boswell, Diowa, learned that the 132nd Fighter Wing in his district would lose its F-16s, he released a statement saying, “I’m going to fight this tooth and nail.<br /> <br /> … When compared to the standing Air Force, the Air Guard provides some of the most cost-effective protection for our country.”<br /> <br /> Plus, the co-chairmen of the Senate National Guard Caucus, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., have proposed holding o on the cuts to the Guard until ongoing studies by the Pentagon and the GAO regarding the cost e effectiveness of the reserve component are complete.<br /> <br /> On the Senate fl oor last month, Leahy called the Air Force plan “ill-advised and premature at the very least.” <br /> <br /> One member of the House Armed Services Committee has pledged to make a case for common sense. Rep. Mike Co man, R-Colo., thinks now is the time to grow the Guard and Reserve and shrink the more costly active component.<br /> <br /> “It’s something I’m going to push hard,” he says in an interview.<br /> <br /> He also favors combining the Guard and Reserve under one headquarters.<br /> <br /> “These are reforms that I would be advocating whether we had fiscal challenges or not,” he says.<br /> <br /> He says the current budget proposal compromises capability. He thinks it is time to scrutinize the active component to determine what can be shifted from it into the more efficient reserve component.<br /> <br /> A former member of the Army, the Army Reserve, the Marines and the Marine Reserve, Co man says there’s no doubt about the financial savings that could be made.<br /> <br /> “We’ve quantified it,” he says.<br /> <br /> Asked if he thought his colleagues in Congress understand the fiscal logic of his ideas, he says, “Unfortunately, not at this time.”<br /> <br /> Co man also knows where to place the blame for a budget that fails to consider the Guard’s efficiencies.<br /> <br /> “I think the problem is at the Pentagon. There is a sort of institutional competition,” he says.<br /> <br /> The tendency is to maintain the status quo, he says. Decisions are made by active-component members.<br /> <br /> “They’re protecting their turf rather than looking out for what’s best for the country,” he says.<br /> <br /> Adjutants general couldn’t agree more. Several interviewed for this story say the process is the problem Although Guard leadership Is involved, it is outnumbered and neutered in its ability to make public arguments favoring the Guard because of signed nondisclosure statements.<br /> <br /> Ashenhurst says she has “full confidence” that Lt. Gen. Harry M. Wyatt III, the Air Guard director, had a proposal that would have met the budget requirements without carving so much from the Guard. But, she says, the Air Force had a plan in mind “before they put pen to paper.” <br /> <br /> “We’ve got to be considered a co-equal in this process.” says Maj. Gen. James Hoyer, the West Virginia adjutant general.<br /> <br /> He says the Pentagon often complains about the Guard’s influence with Congress. If the Guard had a real voice in service budget processes, “we wouldn’t have to go to Congress.” <br /> <br /> The adjutants general do not want to be seen as parochial. Their job may be to look out for their states’ soldiers and airmen, but they insist the nation’s well-being is atop their concerns.<br /> <br /> “Our debate is what’s best for the nation,” says Umbarger. “It’s not just the right thing for one congressional district. It’s not just the right thing For Indiana. It’s the right thing for the nation.” <br /> <br /> Adds Woord, “The drastic cuts facing the National Guard across the nation should be the concern of our nation.” <br /> <br /> Also, they remain optimistic. Mainly that’s because they believe they have a good argument to make about efficient capability and because Congress is the final arbiter, not Pentagon honchos.<br /> <br /> “I think there’s great cause for optimism,” says Ashenhurst, who believes the C-27J issue has not been settled.<br /> <br /> Burks says, “Nothing in the Pentagon is ever cast in stone. Everything is up for negotiation. This is no exception.” <br /> <br /> Umbarger is asked if he supports the idea of Graham and Leahy to put o the cuts until the studies regarding reserve component costs are complete.<br /> <br /> “We’ve had so many studies,” he says. “I don’t think it takes a rocket scientist to see how cost-effective we are.”<br /> <br /> Ron Jensen can be contacted at (202) 408-5885 or at email@example.com.<br /> <br /> Army Budget Gets a Warmer Reception<br /> <br /> While the potential loss of hardware and people in the Air National Guard has been the most talked-about issue regarding the Pentagon’s budget plan for scal 2013, the Army National Guard was included in the proposal.<br /> <br /> And it has little to complain about.<br /> <br /> “All in all, the Army National Guard came out looking pretty good,” says Brig. Gen. John E. Walsh, the Montana adjutant general and the NGAUS vice chairman (Army).<br /> <br /> The Army plans to reduce the size of the active component from 547,000 to 490,000 soldiers. That should be good for the Army Guard, Walsh says.<br /> <br /> “I think what that is going to do is increase reliance on the Army Guard,” he says.<br /> <br /> Still, the Army Guard will face cuts. The request trims the force by 5,000 soldiers over the next five years, from 358,200 to 353,200. And while overall Army equipment procurement is up for scal 2013, the Guard percentage of the total is down.<br /> <br /> Maj. Gen. Deborah Ashenhurst, the Ohio adjutant general, says returning to the pre-9/11 endstrength “sounds reasonable.” The lack of any further cuts, she says, says something about the Army not yet understood in the Air Force.<br /> <br /> “They get the concept of a militia nation,” she says.<br /> <br /> —By Ron Jensen
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