National Guard January 2011 : Page 30
A conversation with Sen. Lindsey Graham ‘The Guard has changed forever’ hen Sen. Christopher “Kit” Bond, R.-Mo., announced he would not seek re-election in 2010, the National Guard community faced a difficult task: replac-ing the only Republican co-chairman the Senate Guard Caucus had ever known. The problem wasn’t ﬁlling the position; it was ﬁnding an experienced senator who could bring the former Mis-souri governor’s passion for the force. But Guard leaders are more than satisﬁed with the man who emerged from the pool of interested candidates. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R.-S.C., may have the perfect credentials to build on Bond’s 21 years of work. He is a former Guard officer (1989-95) who still has great affinity for the organization. He also shares Bond’s ability to reach across the aisle and get things done. W And he is a member of three Sen-ate committees that are important to Guardsmen: Armed Services, Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, and Veterans’ Affairs. In addition, he continues to serve in the military as an Air Force Reservist. Graham sat down with N ATIONAL G UARD last month to talk about defense issues, his legislative priorities and the way ahead for the caucus. How much was your Guard ser-vice a factor in your desire to be the next caucus co-chairman? It was a big factor. I served in the South Carolina Air National Guard after I got off active duty and I was struck by the professionalism of the Air Guard and the Guard in general. The citizen-soldier is the closest thing to a draftee we have in the sense that the infrastructure around active-duty soldiers and airmen doesn’t exist with the Guard. A lot of times, units from small communities are called on to serve. A unit will be deployed from a small town in South Carolina and that family support network that you have on a base doesn’t exist. So I re-ally want to stay involved with Guard issues because it’s a unique part of our military. It’s the part-time soldier that has unique needs. When an active-duty soldier is called to deploy, there is a commis-sary on base, there’s a chaplain on base, there’s a beneﬁts person that can help you. A lot of times when a National Guard member is called to active duty, a spouse is left behind 30 | Na tional Guard
The Guard has changed forever'
A conversation with Sen. Lindsey Graham
When Sen. Christopher "Kit" Bond, R.-Mo., announced he would not seek re-election in 2010, the National Guard community faced a difficult task: replacing the only Republican co-chairman the Senate Guard Caucus had ever known.
The problem wasn't filling the position; it was finding an experienced senator who could bring the former Missouri governor's passion for the force. But Guard leaders are more than satisfied with the man who emerged from the pool of interested candidates.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R.-S.C., may have the perfect credentials to build on Bond's 21 years of work. He is a former Guard officer (1989-95) who still has great affinity for the organization. He also shares Bond's ability to reach across the aisle and get things done.
And he is a member of three Senate committees that are important to Guardsmen: Armed Services, Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, and Veterans' Affairs.
In addition, he continues to serve in the military as an Air Force Reservist.
Graham sat down with NATIONAL GUARD last month to talk about defense issues, his legislative priorities and the way ahead for the caucus.
How much was your Guard service a factor in your desire to be the next caucus co-chairman?
It was a big factor. I served in the South Carolina Air National Guard after I got off active duty and I was struck by the professionalism of the Air Guard and the Guard in general.
The citizen-soldier is the closest thing to a draftee we have in the sense that the infrastructure around active-duty soldiers and airmen doesn't exist with the Guard. A lot of times, units from small communities are called on to serve. A unit will be deployed from a small town in South Carolina and that family support network that you have on a base doesn't exist. So I really want to stay involved with Guard issues because it's a unique part of our military. It's the part-time soldier that has unique needs.
When an active-duty soldier is called to deploy, there is a commissary on base, there's a chaplain on base, there's a benefits person that can help you. A lot of times when a National Guard member is called to active duty, a spouse is left behind who may have not been in charge of the family budget before and it's just a completely different experience.
I think Congress needs to understand how unique this experience is, and I think my time in the Guard will help me be a good advocate for the unique nature of the National Guard.
Although you no longer serve in the Guard, you've remained very close to the organization. From your vantage point, how has the Guard changed over the last 10 or 15 years?
[It has] fundamentally changed in the eyes of Americans. It's no longer the place you go for one weekend a month, two weeks a year. The National Guard has been deployed extensively since 9/11. We couldn't do the war without the Guard. The air crews on the Air National Guard side have flown the wings off C-130s. And every part of the Army National Guard also has been brought to the fight. It's a transformed organization. It's the most combat ready the National Guard has been since World War II.
After 9/11, I think, the role of the Guard has changed forever. The importance of the Guard to winning the war on terrorism is just beyond measure. The skills that our National Guard members possess in their day jobs are exponentially multiplying their effectiveness in the war on terror. You have National Guard units that are bringing agriculture experts to Afghanistan. National Guard members have so many day jobs that are relevant to the war on terror that I think the Guard today is an indispensable part of the American military.
All the recent talk about cutting defense spending has many in the Guard worried that Pentagon leaders will try to cut Guard programs, force structure and personnel end-strength to retain more costly active-component structure. Do you share these concerns?
My concern is the top line budget. If you can reform Pentagon spending, count me in, including the way the Guard works. If we can save money and do things better, I'm all for it. But as a percentage of the gross domestic product, our defense spending is at an historic low, and we're involved in two wars with all kinds of dangers throughout the world.
So what I'm going to do with my time as co-chairman of the Guard caucus, as well as a United States senator, is make sure that the top number on defense is protected and that when it comes time to allocate the funds that the reforms–the money we saved–come from programs, not components.
And yes, I would be very disappointed if Guard infrastructure were up for cuts ahead of other infrastructure. What I'm looking at to reform the military is functions, not components.
Do you think Pentagon officials view the Guard any differently today?
Absolutely. In the first Gulf War it was this group they worried about: Are they overweight? Are they ready? Can they make everything? Do they know how to work the equipment? When I go to Afghanistan or Iraq and do my reserve duty, I see National Guard units all over the place. You can't tell the difference [between them and active-component units]. And I think the active-duty force has an appreciation for the Guard on the air and the ground side unlike any time in the history of the United States because these units are just as interchangeable as active-duty units.
Does the Guard need a seat on the Joint Chiefs of Staff?
I think so. The Guard has changed forever. The reason I would like a seat at the table is because the needs of the Guard are different. You have, like I say, units in small communities, isolated sometimes, and our military infrastructure needs to be redesigned. Having a seat at the table, I think, would really enhance not only the effectiveness of the Guard, but always keep our active-duty components informed about the Guard's unique needs.
Guard leaders believe the solution to modernizing the entire U.S. military in challenging fiscal times is to rely more on the cost-effectiveness of the Guard. What are your thoughts?
That's true. It's like 25 cents on a dollar to keep a Guard member in terms of the cost. It's a good bang for your buck. So when you're looking at leaner budgets and more efficient spending, you need to look at how we can utilize this force that is easier to maintain.
However, having said that, the one thing that I don't want the Guard to do is overextend itself. There are active-duty jobs out there that the Guard could probably do just as well and would be cheaper for the government. But the one thing we can't do as Guard representatives is overextend our force.
You know, national defense done on the cheap is not a wise move to make in these dangerous times. I'm all for economic efficiency, thinking about how to use the Guard more or less because it's a cheaper service to maintain, cheaper component to maintain. But we also have to realize that the people in the Guard have been stressed. They have been deployed multiple times. And sending them to do border security on the Mexico-U.S. border makes some sense, but we don't want to take the force that has performed so well and overextend it.
It's a balancing act between trying to make the Pentagon the most efficient and getting the best bang for your buck. And God knows the Guard is one of the best bangs for your buck from a taxpayer's point of view, but you don't want to break it. You have long been an advocate for a reduction in the age that Guardsmen and Reservists become eligible for retirement pay.
Do you plan to take up this issue in the new Congress?
Absolutely. I think the one thing now that would really be an overdue just-reward is early retirement based on active-duty service. So I'm going to push hard this year to try to get a retirement that you can earn your way down to retire at 55.
I also think TRICARE for Guard and Reservists was a great step forward in making the benefits package more attractive. Before Sen. [Hillary] Clinton and I passed legislation allowing Guard members and Reservists to sign up for TRICARE, a lot of Guard members and Reservists would come into active duty without health insurance. Many would be medically disqualified. Well, if you are under TRICARE you then have a health care network available to you [and] you are ready to serve. It's good for readiness. It's good for retention. It's good for recruiting. The same dynamic applies to early retirement.
What are some of your other priorities for the caucus?
I'm going to try to sit down with Senator [Patrick] Leahy [the Democratic co-chairman of the caucus] and make some informed decisions. What I'm looking for is on the benefits side. How can we make sure that the sacrifice that Guard families make is honored to the maximum ability and make sure that the benefits–whether it be early retirement, health care–are consistent with the sacrifices they make?
But the main goal of any military force is to protect the nation, so my No. 1 priority is to make sure that the Guard is relevant in terms of equipment and missions. To make sure that the Guard has the ability to go to the fight and that the equipment that we're assigned is reflective of the value that the Guard brings to the fight.
And the unique nature of the Guard where you have civilian day jobs that can really affect the war on terror better than maybe an activeduty job cannot be lost. You've got civil affairs, you've got MPs who are Guard members and reservists who can come and really do things in Kandahar that other people can't.
In recent years the caucus has been very preemptive in dealing with the Pentagon, often prodding Army, Air Force or Defense Department officials to address Guard issues before they require legislative remedies. Do you see this tactic continuing?
Yes. I think that the whole point of the caucus is to lean forward, be proactive, stay engaged, keep the forward momentum and tell the story effectively before it becomes a crisis.
The Guard has long counted on Congress to cover some of the shortfalls in the Army and Air Force budget request for the Guard. Some refer to these congressional add-ons as "earmarks," a practice many in and out of Washington deride as wasteful spending. How do you see Article 1, Section 8, of the U.S. Constitution as it relates to earmarks?
My view on earmark reform is that I'm willing to have a timeout on earmarks to convince the public that we are going to change the way we do business. Earmarks have been abused. They've been dropped into bills in the middle of the night, not vetted for things that have absolutely no public purpose.
But I have two caveats. When it comes to vital infrastructure in South Carolina, if the president doesn't take care of the needs in South Carolina and we can't reform the system to take care of the needs of South Carolina, I'll do what I need to. Same for defense. If I see a situation where I believe the Pentagon has left out something important to the Guard and we can't persuade them to include it, then I will do what's necessary to make sure that the Guard has the money, has the equipment it needs.
I favor a new process. To get an earmark, I think you should have your colleagues approve it. I think it should be vetted and what the Guard caucus has been able to do to procure funding for the Guard is, they've got a bipartisan group that pursues this money so we're not hiding anything. So what I'm wanting is transparency. I don't want any more earmarks in the dead of the night. I want people to know what we're asking for and have a chance to object. To me that's the new system that I'm looking for.
So, working with Senator Leahy, anything we need to pursue for the Guard will be done in a transparent fashion. The whole country will know about it. To me, I think that's the system that we need when it comes to earmarking–that you stand by the earmark, you put your name by it and that you convince your colleagues that it's for a purpose worthy of taxpayers' dollars.
Members of Congress tend to view issues by how they affect their states. How will you and Senator Leahy get caucus members to look beyond their immediate constituents and view the Guard from an overall, national perspective?
Just by telling the story of its contribution to the war. That's a pretty easy case to make because when you look at the value of the Guard that's brought to the fight in Iraq and Afghanistan and other places throughout the world, the security of the southern border, it's a pretty easy case to make that this is a national treasure. And you need to look beyond the armory in your home state to the fact we literally cannot fight the war without the Guard. They bring too much capacity, they have too much talent to be thought of as a regional force.
This is a dual force. It has a state role. It's very important to local communities and governors to have the National Guard serve the state. That's an important mission. But I can tell you, without hesitation, from 9/11 to now, the Guard has changed forever in the eyes of most Americans and certainly in the eyes of those who understand how to win this war.
So I don't believe many members of Congress are going to have a regional or parochial view of the Guard because it will take about five minutes to explain to them that the Guard from a national point of view is indispensable in winning the war.
How do NGAUS and individual association members fit into caucus plans and efforts?
As a politician, I get lobbied all the time. That's good. The American people need to be able to lobby their members of Congress, whether it be in some town hall meeting where somebody will ask them to do something or some other venue. Paid lobbyists, that's great, you know, that's fine.
But there is no stronger force on Capitol Hill than people from the state coming to a member of Congress' office advocating for the National Guard. NGAUS hits way above its weight. It has the ability to take core issues and spread the need for those programs on Capitol Hill more effectively than any other body than I can think of because NGAUS is a grassroots organization.
And I can assure you, members of Congress are going to always listen to the citizen-soldier, and NGAUS is the voice of the citizen-soldier. It has been an indispensable voice. Without NGAUS, there would never have been any bill to expand TRICARE benefits. Without NGAUS, we're not going to be able to do the things that I want to do and lower the retirement age.
I just want to compliment Senator Bond. What Senator Bond did many years ago has been an invaluable service to the nation, particularly to Guard members and their families. I've got big shoes to fill, but I look forward to working with Senator Leahy and continuing the tradition of Senator Bond and Leahy working together. They are ideologically miles apart when it comes to political philosophy, but they sure bridged the gap when it came to the Guard. I want to continue that.
We don't want to take the force that has performed so well and overextend it.
My No. 1 priority is to make sure that the Guard is relevant in terms of equipment and missions.
Read the full article at http://www.nationalguardmagazine.com/article/The+Guard+has+changed+forever%27/597934/57089/article.html.