National Guard November 2012 : Page 32

G UARD R OOTS : A BRAMS D OCTRINE A Lesson Learned A pledge by the Army chief in the wake of the Vietnam War revealed much of the impetus behind the development of the Total Force By Ron Jensen N SEPTEMBER 1973, Gen. Creighton W. Abrams, the Army chief of staff, stood before a room full of chaplains in Kansas City, Mo., and made what at the time was a groundbreaking some people joined the Guard to avoid war. John Hobbs doesn’t hesitate when asked if he joined the Minnesota National Guard 43 years ago simply to sidestep the military draft and possible service in Vietnam. “Yes,” he says, “I did.” Hobbs had dropped a class at college in 1969, unknow-ingly putting him below the requirement to maintain the student deferment that was keeping the draft board at bay. Two weeks later, a hearing was held to discuss his draft status. Seven days after that, a draft notice arrived, but Hobbs already had enlisted for six years in the Air Guard. “I didn’t want to attend Mekong Delta Tech on a McNa-mara scholarship,” he says, referring to Robert McNamara, the defense secretary at the time. He wasn’t the only one. Guard units across the nation were swamped with people wanting to join, many for the same reason as Hobbs, 65, who lives in Tulare, Calif. “Everybody wanted a Guard slot,” he recalls. “They were really hard to come by.” He suspects a general related by marriage to his family pulled some strings at the urging of Hobbs’ father. Why did Johnson keep the Guard and Reserves on the sidelines? At the time, it was described as wartime strategy. In April 1966, The National Guardsman, as this maga-I pledge. “If the unfortunate circumstance should occur that, under some set of things, we would have to use the Army again,” he said, “then we will use the active, the National Guard and the Reserve together.” Abrams was articulating the lesson he learned from the war in Vietnam, when the U.S. military used only a small number of Guardsmen and Reservists. Rather than call reserve-component personnel for the fight, President Lyndon Johnson had filled the fighting forces through conscription, pulling workers from assem-bly lines, farmers from their fields and truck drivers from their rigs. Johnson consciously chose not to send the Guard and Reserve in large numbers, and Abrams believed that decision was disastrous. It also created perceptions of the Guard that lasted for years. It may seem unspeakably weird to Guardsmen who have eyeballed multiple times the desert of Iraq and the mountains of Afghanistan, but there was a time when 32 | Na tional Guard

A Lesson Learned

Ron Jensen

A pledge by the Army chief in the wake of the Vietnam War revealed much of the impetus behind the development of the Total Force<br /> <br /> IN SEPTEMBER 1973, Gen. Creighton W. Abrams, the Army chief of staff, stood before a room full of chaplains in Kansas City, Mo., and made what at the time was a groundbreaking pledge.<br /> <br /> “If the unfortunate circumstance should occur that, under some set of things, we would have to use the Army again,” he said, “then we will use the active, the National Guard and the Reserve together.”<br /> <br /> Abrams was articulating the lesson he learned from the war in Vietnam, when the U.S. military used only a small number of Guardsmen and Reservists.<br /> <br /> Rather than call reserve-component personnel for the fight, President Lyndon Johnson had filled the fighting forces through conscription, pulling workers from assembly lines, farmers from their fields and truck drivers from their rigs.<br /> <br /> Johnson consciously chose not to send the Guard and Reserve in large numbers, and Abrams believed that decision was disastrous. It also created perceptions of the Guard that lasted for years.<br /> <br /> It may seem unspeakably weird to Guardsmen who have eyeballed multiple times the desert of Iraq and the mountains of Afghanistan, but there was a time when some people joined the Guard to avoid war.<br /> <br /> John Hobbs doesn’t hesitate when asked if he joined the Minnesota National Guard 43 years ago simply to sidestep the military draft and possible service in Vietnam.<br /> <br /> “Yes,” he says, “I did.”<br /> <br /> Hobbs had dropped a class at college in 1969, unknowingly putting him below the requirement to maintain the student deferment that was keeping the draft board at bay.<br /> <br /> Two weeks later, a hearing was held to discuss his draft status. Seven days after that, a draft notice arrived, but Hobbs already had enlisted for six years in the Air Guard.<br /> <br /> “I didn’t want to attend Mekong Delta Tech on a McNamara scholarship,” he says, referring to Robert McNamara, the defense secretary at the time.<br /> <br /> He wasn’t the only one. Guard units across the nation were swamped with people wanting to join, many for the same reason as Hobbs, 65, who lives in Tulare, Calif.<br /> <br /> “Everybody wanted a Guard slot,” he recalls. “They were really hard to come by.” He suspects a general related by marriage to his family pulled some strings at the urging of Hobbs’ father.<br /> <br /> Why did Johnson keep the Guard and Reserves on the sidelines? At the time, it was described as wartime strategy.<br /> <br /> In April 1966, The National Guardsman, as this magaZine was called, addressed the issue.<br /> <br /> Maj. Gen. James F. Cantwell, the president of NGAUS, wrote that calling up the Guard would create “a shock wave.”<br /> <br /> “In the current atmosphere, mobilization would constitute a form of escalation in itself, psychological as well as physical,” he wrote.<br /> <br /> He added, “The draft of a few young men from each community has much less harmful impact than the removal of whole units.”<br /> <br /> The magazine, too, quoted McNamara, who said at a press conference, “I think it is quite apparent to all of you that the way to build up our strength to the maximum is to hold this reserve. The very name connotes that. Our reserve, if you will, is greater if we don’t call it up than if we do call it up.”<br /> <br /> But the consensus nowadays is that the decision to not use the Guard was linked less to the war effort than to the president’s plans on the home front.<br /> <br /> Bill Boehm, an historian with the National Guard Bureau, points out that President John Kennedy had taken a lot of heat from housewives in 1961 when he mobilized the Guard for the Berlin Crisis.<br /> <br /> “LBJ, being the political animal he was, was aware of this,” Boehm says.<br /> <br /> And the president had an ambitious domestic agenda to pass. His Great Society legislation that would create Medicare and Medicaid and include civil rights and anti-poverty efforts would need public support.<br /> <br /> Johnson feared that would be lost if the war reached into America’s communities where Guardsmen and Reservists lived, says Mark Clodfelter, a professor at the National Defense University in Washington, D.C.<br /> <br /> “His overarching goal was to ensure he passed his domestic policy,” says Clodfelter, an Air Force retiree.<br /> <br /> Plus, he says, the war was not meant to be fought with a large number of American troops. Only 75,000 were in Vietnam when 1965 arrived.<br /> <br /> “To call up the Guard was just a line President Johnson . . . Was unwilling to cross,” he says.<br /> <br /> But by 1968, the troop level was more than half a million and some Guard units ultimately went to Vietnam. About 7,000 citizen-soldiers served there. Air Guard units flew combat and transport missions.<br /> <br /> But, still, the Guard had become for some a “safe haven,” in the phrase of the time, for sons of privilege and others who wanted to avoid the war. A senator noted professional athletes were joining Guard units “which neither train nor guard.”<br /> <br /> Joe Hart, 61, of Littleton, Colo., joined an artillery unit in the Illinois National Guard to avoid the draft. Jon Kolb of the Pittsburgh Steelers was in Hart’s training company, along with a Miami Dolphin player.<br /> <br /> “[Drill sergeants] would demand Kolb do 20 pushups and he’d do them with one hand,” says Hart in an email response to questions.<br /> <br /> Basic training was integrated—Guardsmen and draftees, reserve component and active component. It made for interesting moments.<br /> <br /> Hart remembers a draftee named Holland who was “a jerk most of the time.” On the day the draftees got their deployment assignments, Hart saw Holland sitting on his bunk, sobbing. He was being sent to the war.<br /> <br /> “Suddenly, I felt sorry for him and I was feeling guilty that I was going home while he was heading off to Vietnam,” he says. “All the draftees in our training unit were deployed to Vietnam.”<br /> <br /> Hobbs says he and other Guardsmen were called “fangs” by the activecomponent airmen at basic training, an acronym standing for “f***ing Air National Guard.”<br /> <br /> “The irony of it is, of course, it was a big misstep [for Johnson],” says Boehm.<br /> <br /> In trying not to lose the grassroots support for the war by calling out the Guard, Johnson hadn’t courted that support either. So, as the war dragged on and casualties accumulated, support for the war waned, even in the communities that would have backed their Guard units.<br /> <br /> Johnson may not have lost his support for the war as quickly had he turned to the Guard early and often. Boehm points out that the Cold War was a time of intense patriotism and a worry about the encroachment of communism. Also, Vietnam was fought largely before the excesses of the Watergate scandal caused Americans to more quickly question their government’s motives.<br /> <br /> “I think you’re going to have a greater grassroots supPort [by mobilizing the Guard],” says Boehm. “He just didn’t have it. That was a tactical mistake on Johnson’s part.”<br /> <br /> It was that mistake that Abrams sought to correct and the point of his quote above. Never again, he said, would the country go to war without the Guard and Reserve.<br /> <br /> His words also articulated a major objective of the then Total Force Concept, which Defense Secretary Melvin Laird had announced in 1970 as a way to maintain military strength while reducing reliance on active forces.<br /> <br /> Abrams’ strong support of the fledgling policy also helped ground it to the lessons of Vietnam, where he commanded U.S. operations from 1968 to 1972. And it’s why his words, the essence of which are known as the Abrams Doctrine, are closely tied to Total Force Policy.<br /> <br /> The National Guard Educational Foundation is adding a version of his quote to its Vietnam exhibit in the National Guard Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. His words will drape across a doorway leading into the 9/11 Era Gallery that opens this month.<br /> <br /> Anne Armstrong, the deputy director of NGEF, says the quote offers “a perfect segue from the lessons of Vietnam to the challenges the nation faces in the war on terrorism.”<br /> <br /> She says, “By being printed on the wall over the door leading into the 9/11 Era Gallery, it not only draws the visitor through the changing attitudes toward the National Guard, but takes them on a history lesson from the 20th century and into the 21st.”<br /> <br /> But Clodfelter says Abrams may not be happy with the way it has turned out. His idea was to reside in the Guard and Reserve large portions of critical capabilities in order to prevent the employment of the Army without the involvement of the reserve components.<br /> <br /> And because Guard and Reserve units are embedded in the populace, Abrams believed this would force the president to win the very thing he lacked in Vietnam—public support—before mobilizing large numbers of citizensoldiers.<br /> <br /> But, Clodfelter points out, the current war in Afghanistan, along with the recently concluded one in Iraq, reveals some holes in Abrams’ plan. Both were both fought by 1 percent of the population with 99 percent nearly untouched and, eventually, largely uninterested.<br /> <br /> “That’s exactly the situation [Abrams] was trying to avoid,” he says. “He thought that would preclude any kind of long-term conflict or massive buildup.”<br /> <br /> Looking back now, Hart sees his Guard service mainly as a big hassle. Pay was $60 a month with no benefits other than avoiding Vietnam.<br /> <br /> Hobbs actually wanted to join the military as an officer through ROTC, but a heart murmur prevented that. But, he says, anyone who could “see lightning and hear Thunder” was qualified for service as a grunt, which likely meant Vietnam duty.<br /> <br /> But he was against the war and took the route many others took. He trained as an air traffic controller for the Minnesota Guard and in air intelligence operations when he moved to California.<br /> <br /> He spent his three years in the California Guard pulling KP, however.<br /> <br /> “I like to cook. The guys missed me when I left,” he says.<br /> <br /> He describes his Guard service—the monthly weekends and the annual training obligations—as “drudgery.”<br /> <br /> “I couldn’t be proud of my military service. It wasn’t distinguished,” he says. “I put in my time and they called it good.<br /> <br /> “I see kids coming back from Afghanistan and Iraq, see the sacrifices they made, and I look back with some regret that I can’t say the same.”<br /> <br /> Ron Jensen can be contacted at 202-408-5885 or ron.jensen@ gmail.com.<br /> <br /> More From Abrams<br /> <br /> Gen. Creighton W. Abrams’s quote will be added this month to the Vietnam exhibit at the National Guard Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.<br /> <br /> Below is a fuller rendering of his 1973 remarks.<br /> <br /> “The active forces are really pretty expensive, so we will have the one Army, which will be the Guard, the Reserve and the active. You will have certain kinds of things in the active. The rest of kinds of things that are needed will be in the Reserve and the National Guard. If the unfortunate circumstance should occur that, under some set of things, we would have to use the Army again, then we will use the active, the National Guard and the Reserve together. That is the only way we will do it.”<br /> <br /> Museum visitors will see the quote just before entering the 9/11 Era Gallery, which showcases service that is a product of Abrams’ pledge.<br /> <br /> “If the unfortunate circumstance should occur that, under some set of things, we would have to use the Army again, then we will use the active, the National Guard and the Reserve together.” —Gen. Creighton W. Abrams

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