National Guard April 2011 : Page 44

A conversation with Sen. Patrick Leahy ‘If I didn’t believe in the Guard, I wouldn’t do this.’ PROMINENT TABLETOP display case in the confer-ence room of his Capitol Hill office says a lot about Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. Ask him about it, and he happily reveals even more. The object of Leahy’s pride is his NGAUS Harry S. Truman Award, a distinctive presentation item featuring 13 hand-painted pewter militiamen—one for each of the original colonies—un-der a plexiglass cover. The association bestows no more than one a year. Leahy received his in 2003. “People in Congress get a lot of awards; most of mine are in storage,” he says. “But this one is special. The figures are just so authentic. It still fascinates me. I look at it every single day. And almost everyone who comes here for a meeting stops and looks at it.” Leahy uses similar words when speaking of today’s flesh-and-blood citi-zen-soldiers. As co-chairman of the Sen-ate National Guard Caucus, he thinks about the force every day. And even after holding the position since 1999, serving as one of the Guard’s go-to guys in the Senate still seems to fascinate him. Leahy sat down with N ATIONAL G UARD magazine last month to talk about de-fense issues, his legislative priorities and the way ahead for the caucus. A You took over as Democratic co-chair of the Senate National Guard Caucus in 1999. What prompted you to take such a prominent role in Guard issues on Capitol Hill? Guard caucus would be together and we could accomplish more. Of course, then came the wars in Iraq and Af-ghanistan, which gave us the ability to go in and get a lot for the Guard they wouldn’t have had otherwise. What were your original objec-tives when you came in as co-leader of the caucus? Vermont is such a small state, you get to know everybody. I had friends from high school that were in the Guard; a couple from college. I knew how good these people were and how hard they worked. But when I would go visit them during training, I would see that their equipment was so out of date. All they would say was, “It’s the best we can get.” I mentioned that to Sen. Wendell Ford as he was preparing to leave as the Democratic co-chairman of the Guard Caucus. He said, “I wish you’d take it over. You really care about these people. [Senator] Kit Bond’s a former governor. He’s on the other side [as Republican co-chairman]. I wish you’d take it.” And I did. Kit and I always got along well anyway. He’d been an AG [attorney general]; I’d been a district attorney. And we made the decision right from the get-go that we would not let par-tisan politics come into it. We would try to seek a consensus on everything, because if we were together, then the I wanted the Guard to be on an equal footing. If they’re going to be called to do the same job as every-body else, to take the same risks, they would need to have the same training and equipment. I was convinced after working with our Guard at home and talking with the Guard all over the country that they could do just as well as the active component, as long as they had the same tools. Your words and actions strongly suggest that you have the same passion for Guard issues today that you had 12 years ago. What is it about the Guard that has maintained your interest? Good people. It’s cliché to say citizen-soldiers, but they are. And when they get called, they leave their businesses, their professions, whatever 44 | Na tional Guard

A conversation with Sen. Patrick Leahy

A PROMINENT TABLETOP display case in the conference room of his Capitol Hill office says a lot about Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.<br /> <br /> Ask him about it, and he happily reveals even more.<br /> <br /> The object of Leahy's pride is his NGAUS Harry S. Truman Award, a distinctive presentation item featuring 13 hand-painted pewter militiamen–one for each of the original colonies–under a plexiglass cover. The association bestows no more than one a year. Leahy received his in 2003.<br /> <br /> "People in Congress get a lot of awards; most of mine are in storage," he says. "But this one is special. The figures are just so authentic. It still fascinates me. I look at it every single day. And almost everyone who comes here for a meeting stops and looks at it."<br /> <br /> Leahy uses similar words when speaking of today's flesh-and-blood citizen- soldiers. As co-chairman of the Senate National Guard Caucus, he thinks about the force every day. And even after holding the position since 1999, serving as one of the Guard's go-to guys in the Senate still seems to fascinate him.<br /> <br /> Leahy sat down with NATIONAL GUARD magazine last month to talk about defense issues, his legislative priorities and the way ahead for the caucus.<br /> --------------------------------------------------------------------------------<br /> <br /> You took over as Democratic co-chair of the Senate National Guard Caucus in 1999. What prompted you to take such a prominent role in Guard issues on Capitol Hill?<br /> <br /> Vermont is such a small state, you get to know everybody. I had friends from high school that were in the Guard; a couple from college. I knew how good these people were and how hard they worked. But when I would go visit them during training, I would see that their equipment was so out of date. All they would say was, "It's the best we can get."<br /> <br /> I mentioned that to Sen. Wendell Ford as he was preparing to leave as the Democratic co-chairman of the Guard Caucus. He said, "I wish you'd take it over. You really care about these people. [Senator] Kit Bond's a former governor. He's on the other side [as Republican co-chairman]. I wish you'd take it." And I did.<br /> <br /> Kit and I always got along well anyway. He'd been an AG [attorney general]; I'd been a district attorney. And we made the decision right from the get-go that we would not let partisan politics come into it. We would try to seek a consensus on everything, because if we were together, then the Guard caucus would be together and we could accomplish more. Of course, then came the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which gave us the ability to go in and get a lot for the Guard they wouldn't have had otherwise.<br /> --------------------------------------------------------------------------------<br /> <br /> What were your original objectives when you came in as coleader of the caucus?<br /> <br /> I wanted the Guard to be on an equal footing. If they're going to be called to do the same job as everybody else, to take the same risks, they would need to have the same training and equipment. I was convinced after working with our Guard at home and talking with the Guard all over the country that they could do just as well as the active component, as long as they had the same tools.<br /> --------------------------------------------------------------------------------<br /> <br /> Your words and actions strongly suggest that you have the same passion for Guard issues today that you had 12 years ago. What is it about the Guard that has maintained your interest?<br /> <br /> Good people. It's cliché to say citizen-soldiers, but they are. And when they get called, they leave their businesses, their professions, whatever it is, and they go. They have families. They are leaving behind people who do not have all the advantages of being on [an active-component] base. They're from all these small towns. And they've become such real people to me. I've been in a position where I can help because of my seniority on the Senate appropriations committee. And after awhile, it's like the work I do with law enforcement–I used to be in law enforcement–it becomes as much a mission as anything else. I know they'll fulfill their mission. A lot of them look to me to fulfill my mission here on the Hill, and I'm not going to let them down.<br /> --------------------------------------------------------------------------------<br /> <br /> Almost everyone associated with the force will tell you the Guard today is a very different organization than it was in 1999. Obviously, 10 years of war has had a lot to do with this. How has the Guard changed in your eyes over the last 12 years?<br /> <br /> I don't think the people in the Guard–at least not their motivation– have changed. They're the same strongly motivated people. But now there's a realization in the country that these are not weekend soldiers. These are real soldiers and airmen and they can go in there and do the things that need to be done. So, I find more and more support from the public when I say, "Well, we've got to give them the equipment and give them the leadership." Fifteen years ago, the idea of getting a four-star at the head of the Guard, you'd get nowhere with it. But when Senator Bond and I pushed it, we got strong bipartisan support, and we got it through.<br /> --------------------------------------------------------------------------------<br /> <br /> The Senate National Guard Caucus has certainly played a significant role in increasing Guard readiness over the last 12 years. How much personal satisfaction do you take in today's National Guard?<br /> <br /> I get a lot of personal satisfaction. When they talk about so-called earmarks, the biggest earmark either Senator Bond or I was involved in was either a Bond-Leahy or Leahy-Bond earmark for equipment and training for the Guard. Up-armored vehicles. MRAPs. All these things, we put through. So, I take a lot of satisfaction in seeing it done. I am not interested in just getting money through and hope there will be a highway named after me some day. There never has been. And I don't want one. But when I go out and see the Guard train, I feel great.<br /> --------------------------------------------------------------------------------<br /> <br /> Do you think Army and Air Force officials view the Guard differently than they did 12 years ago?<br /> <br /> There is no question. When I meet with members of the Joint Chiefs, the service secretaries or the secretary of defense, it's obvious that they see the Guard differently today. They never could have fielded the size of force they did in Iraq and Afghanistan without the Guard. And they know it.<br /> <br /> The public appreciates it, too. In our state, there's been opposition to the war in Iraq, but there's been no opposition to the Guard. On the tragic times when we've had to bury a Guard member, everything shuts down in that part of the state. Everybody is there. Everybody sees it as a solemn duty.<br /> --------------------------------------------------------------------------------<br /> <br /> You referenced something that is very different than in the Vietnam era. That is, people today who oppose the war tend not to oppose the warrior. To what do you attribute that?<br /> <br /> I think, over the years, people realize the horrible mistake they made in taking their opposition to the war out on the warriors. One of my best friends was in a firefight in Vietnam two days before he was walking down the street in a major city in uniform here at home. He felt scorn. This is a man highly decorated who put his life on the line for his fellow Marines. He deserved better.<br /> <br /> One thing that may have made a difference was the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall [in Washington, D.C.]. I was one of the co-sponsors with Senator John Warner of Virginia to have that wall and to build a monument there. I remember the debates and some people wanted to make a grandiose thing. The designer, Maya Lin, made it simple. And it's perfect. People came there and saw family members trying to get closure by touching the name of a loved one. People who didn't want to talk about the war would be there just to put a flower in front of their buddy's name.<br /> <br /> Let me share something that is very emotional for me. We had a late night session here awhile back that went to about 2 or 3 o'clock in the morning. It was sleeting, raining– sort of halfway between rain and snow and sleet. I was driving back to Northern Virginia to our home. I went down Constitution Avenue. It's 3 o'clock in the morning and the weather is just horrible. I thought, "I'm going to stop. I'm going to the Wall. It will be probably the one time in my Senate career that I'll be there alone." I got there and there were a dozen people around at the time in that weather. One was a man, bearded and in fatigues. … I asked him, "Why?" … He said, "I couldn't come when it's public. I came to say goodbye to my buddy."<br /> <br /> I go for walks on the Mall a lot and go by the Wall. There are always people there. The country has come to the realization that our Vietnam veterans weren't treated right. I know I have fought like mad to get money in the [Department of Veterans Affairs] system. These guys came back and a lot of them had what we know now as post-traumatic stress syndrome. They weren't getting the housing. They weren't getting the treatment. They deserved better.<br /> <br /> I think today, whether you were for or against the war, people realize these are Americans who didn't have to go. They go because they volunteered to be ready to go when their country calls them. We have to show them respect.<br /> <br /> When I am home, I say to people, "Look, if you know somebody who is in the Guard–the family of someone who is in the Guard–drop by and just say, "Hi." Offer to run an errand for them. Offer to baby sit." One thing that always gets a laugh, I say, "Offer to mow the lawn or shovel the snow. In Vermont, that can be the same day."<br /> <br /> If I didn't believe in the Guard, I wouldn't do this. My wife's the honorary chair of the Guard Family Caucus. Last Friday we spoke at their dinner. She was giving out her cell-phone number and her e-mail address to people. They call her. And she'll call the VA. She'll call friends. She's got doctors who volunteer. She's talked to them herself.<br /> <br /> I know how we felt when our youngest son was called up for Desert Storm–a young Marine, a young lance corporal. That war was over so quickly, he didn't get in harm's way. But you know all the feelings you have before they go. You magnify those for somebody who's gone for a year, two years now. And every time you hear on the news there's a firefight near Kandahar and three American troops killed or a helicopter crashed, every single family who's got somebody over there: "Is that ours? Is that ours?" And sometimes it is.<br /> --------------------------------------------------------------------------------<br /> <br /> You have long been an advocate for the Joint Chiefs of Staff to include the chief of the National Guard Bureau. Is it time for that to happen?<br /> <br /> I hope so. It's going to require a lot of work, but we're slowly overcoming the obstacles. It's a process. Right now, we're trying to get a three-star as a deputy to the chief of the National Guard Bureau. And I'm wearing down opposition on that to the extent that I was at a breakfast the other day and they were saying now it's a question of finding slots and so on. I said, "You can do that."<br /> <br /> I think a Guard seat at the table would help. I actually think it would help the Joint Chiefs of Staff. I think it would help them because when they make plans, and I know we'll always be involved, it will be good to have this other perspective. The NGB chief can say, "Fine, you're going to take the Guardsmen from Illinois and Maine, Vermont and Texas, here's how you can best incorporate them."<br /> <br /> I do get teased by everybody from the president on down for always mentioning the Vermont National Guard.<br /> --------------------------------------------------------------------------------<br /> <br /> Even from the president?<br /> <br /> Oh, yeah. We came in one time when we were in a meeting in the Old Executive Office building–I forget what the meeting was–but [Defense Secretary] Bob Gates, [Admiral] Mike Mullen [the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff] and the president are there. One of them started chuckling. I said, "What's funny?" They said, "We wanted to see how long it takes for Senator Leahy to mention the Vermont National Guard." I said, "Now that you mention it."<br /> --------------------------------------------------------------------------------<br /> <br /> All the talk about cutting defense spending has many in the Guard worried that Pentagon leaders may try to cut Guard programs in an attempt to retain more costly active-component structure. Do you share these concerns?<br /> <br /> I share those concerns in this regard: There is no question that there will be cuts in just about every area. There already has been. But I don't want them to be disproportionate. And I don't want to see us lose the abilities the Guard has gained. It was hard fought to get the equipment and the training. Now, I actually think, and I will make the argument, there are a number of areas where they can save money by investing in the Guard because they can do things for less money. They can do the more specialized [tasks] in different areas.<br /> <br /> Give the Guard the equipment. Give the Guard the funding, and say, "OK, here's the mission and here's the specialty we need." Now, if they don't come through, shift the money elsewhere. My bet is the Guard will come through. I've seen it in electronic warfare. And I've seen it in a number of other areas.<br /> <br /> Things are not as they were in the Cold War period, when we had massive armies against each other. It's going to be more and more very specialized warfare. Secretary Gates has said that. Others have, too. And I think it's the reality of not fighting conventional armies. We're not going to have the Warsaw Pact marching on NATO. I just think today that you can get more for your money by investing in the Guard than elsewhere. They can move quicker. They can be less rigid sometimes. And they bring their civilian skills with them.<br /> --------------------------------------------------------------------------------<br /> <br /> A big issue for many Guardsmen is reducing the age that Guardsmen and reservists become eligible for retirement pay, especially making retroactive to Sept. 11, 2001, the deployment-based early-retirement program. Do you plan to take up this issue this year?<br /> <br /> You know, there's no question it makes sense. But with all the other things we're going to be facing with the Guard, I don't see us being able to get something like this through this year, as much as I'd love to. This is not something I want to try and then get shellacked on because I think it would set the Guard back. I hope eventually it can happen. I'm supportive of it. But it will require doing it in a way that makes sure it's going to work.<br /> --------------------------------------------------------------------------------<br /> <br /> What are your priorities this year for the caucus?<br /> <br /> Our biggest priority is to make sure there's not a meat ax approach to budget cuts, and to make sure the Guard is not treated like the unwanted interloper. Most people won't, but there may be some tempted to. The Guard will take its part in the sacrifices, but I want to see how our money is being spent. And I want to make sure now that after we've spent a decade getting the training, getting the equipment and all that, we don't let it slide back, because we'd have to do it all over again the next time we need them.<br /> --------------------------------------------------------------------------------<br /> <br /> 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 some kind of legislative remedies. Will you and Senator Graham continue to use this tactic?<br /> <br /> We will. You have to understand, Lindsey Graham and I are close friends. Different political philosophies? No question. Different parts of the country, too. But I was thrilled when Kit Bond called and told me that the Republican caucus was picking Lindsey to be the co-chair. I knew that we could work together. Both of us want to accomplish the same things for the Guard. And we won't need a lot fanfare.<br /> <br /> If we can win with quiet breakfasts and quiet meetings and briefings and persuasion–a win's a win. There were so many times that Bond and I would be on the phone with the secretary of defense or we'd drop over there or the chairman of the Joint Chiefs would come over here. There wasn't a lot of table thumping. It was just quietly asking, "OK, how much of this can we do?" And sometimes the response would be, "If we're not being publicly forced into it, we can do 80 percent of this and then we'll work on the 20 percent next year." Well, that's a win.<br /> --------------------------------------------------------------------------------<br /> <br /> The Guard has long counted on Congress to cover some of the shortfalls in Army and Air Force budget requests for the Guard. Some refer to these congressional add-ons as "earmarks," a practice many in and out of Washington broadly deride as "wasteful spending." How do you see Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution as it relates to earmarks?<br /> <br /> I strongly believe in the value of earmarks, in which Congress sets some of its own budget priorities, in addition to those recommended by federal agencies like the Defense Department. The Constitution gives the Congress this authority, so eliminating congressionally directed spending would be a sizable shift of power to federal agencies and the White House.<br /> <br /> The Senate appropriations committee has not yet defined an earmark for the purposes of the new rule banning them. I hope that Guard programs won't be seriously hindered. Many Americans may not realize that some folks consider many programs on which the Guard depends, such as annual military construction and the National Guard and Reserve Equipment Account, to be earmarks. It's safe to say that without many joint Leahy- Bond earmarks over the last decade, the Guard wouldn't be as capable today as it is.<br /> <br /> Earmarks help Congress respond to real needs. Sometimes federal agencies aren't close enough to the situation to reflect these needs in their overall budget priorities. I put a great deal of effort into working closely with the Guard, with the Vermont Guard and with the communities of Vermont in vetting the earmarks that I sponsor.<br /> <br /> Sometimes the Defense Department will not make the initial investment in even a highly promising capability– one that eventually becomes a successful program that saves lives and maintenance costs. The Goodrich Health Usage and Monitoring System is an example of an earmark that I supported which has proven its value when installed on Army helicopter systems. Today the Army has expanded this earmark program onto several helicopter platforms as a program of record.<br /> --------------------------------------------------------------------------------<br /> <br /> Members of Congress tend to view issues by how they affect their states. How will you and Senator Graham get caucus members to look beyond their immediate constituents and view the Guard from an overall, national perspective?<br /> <br /> In every case I can think of, what is good for the Guard is good for our country and good for Vermont. I have never faced a situation where I had to choose between the country, Vermont, and the Guard.<br /> --------------------------------------------------------------------------------<br /> <br /> NGAUS has long believed in the power of grassroots lobbying. How do cards, letters, telephone calls and e-mails from Guardsmen across the county influence the work of the caucus?<br /> <br /> Many citizens would be surprised by how often a single, thoughtful letter, call or e-mail message can draw attention to a real need, or prompt research or fresh thinking about an issue. Members of Congress listen to their constituents, so it's a crucial part of the process for the men and women of the Guard–from the state adjutant general to the newly minted private– to let their senators and representatives know how they feel about issues of importance to the Guard. These voices, much more so than any others, determine how the Congress will act on issues affecting the Guard.<br /> <br /> We need to make sure the Guard is not treated like the unwanted interloper. Most people won't, but there may be some who are tempted to.<br /> <br /> I think a Guard seat at the table would help. I actually think it would help the Joint Chiefs of Staff. <br />

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