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Immigration Plan Places New Demands on National Guard

May 17, 2006 at 6:10 PM EST
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JUDY WOODRUFF, NewsHour Special Correspondent: Members of Congress peppered the Pentagon’s top brass today with questions about President Bush’s plan to use 6,000 National Guard troops to help secure the U.S.-Mexico border. During a hearing, West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd pressed Lieutenant General Steven Blum, chief of the National Guard Bureau, for more details.

SEN. ROBERT BYRD (D), West Virginia: Let me ask you, how do we know that these deployments won’t detract from the ability of guardsmen to respond to emergencies in their home states?

LT. GEN. STEVEN BLUM, Chief, National Guard Bureau: We have sufficient soldiers to do the overseas war fight, prepare for the upcoming hurricane season, still have the forces that we need to respond for terrorism in this country or a WMD event, and, as the secretary said, at the high-end limit of 6,000, that only represents a little less than 2 percent of our available force.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Currently, there are more than 440,000 civilian soldiers serving part-time in the Army and Air National Guard.

Guardsmen and women usually drill one weekend a month and two weeks a year under the command of state governors.  But during war or emergencies, the president can press them into federal service. Most deployments are limited to 24 months.

When on active duty, Guard members get paid the same as regular forces and are eligible for pensions, but only receive limited benefits. The Pentagon has resisted efforts by Guard leaders and governors to include a Guard general as a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

More than 80,000 Army Guard and Reserve troops are on active duty now, the busiest time in what has been a busy decade and a half for the Guard, from the call-up of the first Gulf War, for peacekeeping operations in the Balkans, to guard airports and other facilities after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and in keeping the peace in Afghanistan and Iraq, two conflicts that have left 398 Guard dead.

In 2005, more than half of the Army’s combat brigades in Iraq were pulled from the National Guard, the biggest use of part-time troops in an overseas conflict since World War II. Currently, some 22,000 Guard troops are on duty in Iraq, down from about 40,000 several months ago; 5,000 Guard troops are serving in Afghanistan.

In addition to overseas combat assignments, the National Guard is often called to respond to natural disasters at home. This week, the Massachusetts and New Hampshire governors dispatched their National Guards to help respond to record flooding.

In the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, 50,000 Guard troops from across the nation were deployed to the ravaged Gulf Coast, while portions of the Louisiana and Mississippi National Guard were on duty in Iraq.

Despite the personal hardships and after two years of recruitment shortfalls, the National Guard this year says it is exceeding its recruiting goals.

The National Guard's capabilities

Lawrence Korb
Center for American Progress
This will just be one more disruption, and they're not going to be doing their primary mission. They're going to...be doing this, and so, if we need them again in Iraq and Afghanistan, they may not be as ready.

JUDY WOODRUFF: For more, we go to Brigadier General David McGinnis. He is a 29-year veteran of the Army and National Guard. He has served as director of strategic plans and analysis for Reserve affairs at the Pentagon.

Lawrence Korb, assistant secretary of defense for manpower and Reserve affairs during the Reagan administration, he is now a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, a public policy research group in Washington.

And Stephen Biddle, a senior fellow for defense policy at the Council on Foreign Relations, he has served as a consultant to the Pentagon.

Gentlemen, thank you all for being with us.

Let's start with the mission that the president wants the Guard to fulfill. And, General McGinnis, let me begin with you. Are you confident that the Guard can fulfill what the president -- this mission the president has laid out?

DAVID MCGINNIS, Brigadier General: Very much so, Judy. The Guard has a lot of capability left now that Iraq is over. It's a suitable mission for the Guard. The Guard should be the force of choice for this mission, because the Guard has more roles than just the Reserve of the Army and the Air Force.

This is deploying the Guard under its constitutional role, as the organized militia to enforce the laws of the union. It's a very appropriate job. The numbers that we're talking about are easily within the Guard's capability to accomplish.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Lawrence Korb, easily within the Guard's capability?

LAWRENCE KORB, Former Assistant Secretary of Defense: Well, I think it's going to have long-term impacts on the Guard. People talk about the fact -- they say, "Well, 460,000, that includes the Air National Guard, not just the Army National Guard." And as General Blum was testifying, these are soldiers, so it's primarily that.

The Army National Guard does not have its full end-strength. It's supposed to have 350,000; it only has 330,000. And you can't deploy it all. There are specific units that you have to deploy. You want the right capabilities, so it's really a small pool from which you're drawing. And what you're...

JUDY WOODRUFF: So you're saying it's not as big as it appears...

JUDY WOODRUFF: For more, we go to Brigadier General David McGinnis. He is a 29-year veteran of the Army and National Guard. He has served as director of strategic plans and analysis for Reserve affairs at the Pentagon.

Lawrence Korb, assistant secretary of defense for manpower and Reserve affairs during the Reagan administration, he is now a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, a public policy research group in Washington.

And Stephen Biddle, a senior fellow for defense policy at the Council on Foreign Relations, he has served as a consultant to the Pentagon.

Gentlemen, thank you all for being with us.

Let's start with the mission that the president wants the Guard to fulfill. And, General McGinnis, let me begin with you. Are you confident that the Guard can fulfill what the president -- this mission the president has laid out?

DAVID MCGINNIS, Brigadier General: Very much so, Judy. The Guard has a lot of capability left now that Iraq is over. It's a suitable mission for the Guard. The Guard should be the force of choice for this mission, because the Guard has more roles than just the Reserve of the Army and the Air Force.

This is deploying the Guard under its constitutional role, as the organized militia to enforce the laws of the union. It's a very appropriate job. The numbers that we're talking about are easily within the Guard's capability to accomplish.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Lawrence Korb, easily within the Guard's capability?

LAWRENCE KORB, Former Assistant Secretary of Defense: Well, I think it's going to have long-term impacts on the Guard. People talk about the fact -- they say, "Well, 460,000, that includes the Air National Guard, not just the Army National Guard." And as General Blum was testifying, these are soldiers, so it's primarily that.

The Army National Guard does not have its full end-strength. It's supposed to have 350,000; it only has 330,000. And you can't deploy it all. There are specific units that you have to deploy. You want the right capabilities, so it's really a small pool from which you're drawing. And what you're...

JUDY WOODRUFF: So you're saying it's not as big as it appears...

LAWRENCE KORB: That's right. I mean, people make these statements, like Secretary Rumsfeld, who say, "Gee, we can keep 130,000 troops in the Army. We've got 2.4 million people in the service." Well, that counts the other services. It's mainly Army and Marines that you have there.

So I think that's the first thing you have to take a look at, and a lot of these people have been deployed a couple of times since September 11th. This will just be one more disruption, and they're not going to be doing their primary mission. They're going to -- in lieu of their normal training, they're going to be doing this, and so, if we need them again in Iraq and Afghanistan, they may not be as ready.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Stephen Biddle, to you, what's your sense of whether the Guard is capable of doing this job?

STEPHEN BIDDLE, Council on Foreign Relations: Well, I think the Guard's capable of doing it, in large part because it's been designed to be a program whose impact is so modest that the Guard can do it, with limited impact on its other responsibilities. I mean, they're deliberately using the two-week, normally summer training period that the Guard units normally go through anyway as the basis for their deployment on the border.

So I think the criticism of the program is in some ways been overdrawn, but I think it's also been dramatically undersold as a result. If we're really going to have a major impact on the permeability of the southern border, it's going to require a major effort in order to do it. This is not a major effort, and I don't think it's likely to have a major impact.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And I want to get to that point in just a minute, but with General McGinnis, I want to get back to something that Larry Korb said, and that is that, really, when you look at how the Guard is being deployed, there really is not as large a pool as it appears.

DAVID MCGINNIS: Oh, I would disagree with Dr. Korb. There's a large pool of Air National Guard members who can perform this type of duty.

Security police makes up a big part of the Air National Guard. Engineers also make up a big part of the National Guard. And even though the Guard had recruiting problems during Iraq because, when you deploy guardsmen, they don't recruit; guardsmen recruit for themselves. They don't have a professional recruiting force, such as the Army does. So I don't think that numbers are an issue.

The other point that Steve just brought up is that we've been sustaining forces using this system in South and Central America since the mid-'80s on operations for nation-building, during the Reagan administration. So I don't think -- I don't think it's an issue.

Are member numbers an issue?

Brigadier General David McGinnis
Department of Defense
There's a lot of these type of specialty buried in every Guard combat organization. Every Guard brigade has a lot of people that can do this. And there are 30-odd Guard brigades out there.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, let's come back on the numbers point, quickly, to Larry Korb.

LAWRENCE KORB: Well, as I say -- and as you say, I'm just going what General Blum said. He used the term "soldiers." That, to me, is not Air National Guard.

And the other thing is they haven't been very clear of what units they're going to have and how it's going to work. But if you look at the units -- they're talking about intelligence and surveillance. And those are units that have been used an awful lot already in Iraq and Afghanistan.

And in the military, the Pentagon has a term for it, you know, high-density, you know, or low-density, high use. And that's the problem I worry about, because if you over-use those people, they're the ones that are not going to stay.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Do you want to come right back on that point?

DAVID MCGINNIS: Yes, I think when we're talking about these functions, a lot of them can be accomplished by generalists. There's a lot of these type of specialty buried in every Guard combat organization. Every Guard brigade has a lot of people that can do this. And there are 30-odd Guard brigades out there.

So I don't think it's -- and it hasn't been in the past. We've used similar numbers for shorter periods of time -- granted, not two years -- and we've been able to sustain those numbers fairly well. And a lot of it -- my guess is a lot of it will be done by volunteers.

Guard equipment

Stephen Biddle
Council on Foreign Relations
The part of the Guard that could have the greatest impact on securing the border is also the part of the Guard and the part of the Guard's equipment set that's in the most demand in Iraq: unmanned aerial vehicles, remote sensors.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Stephen Biddle, let me turn to the question of equipment. It seems that we hear from a number of people who know the Guard, and whether they support this new mission or not, they're worried because, what, $3 billion worth of Guard equipment, something like 64,000 vehicles, have been left behind in Iraq?

STEPHEN BIDDLE: Yes, only something like a third of the Guard's actual equipment nationwide is in the United States at the moment. Equipment wear and tear has been a huge problem, and the Guard was in many ways undercapitalized even before the war, so the wear and tear has been on top of a capital set that many people didn't think was up to the job to begin with.

I think this question whole question, though, with respect to equipment and everything else, turns on just what it is that you want these people to do. I mean, what sort of impact do you think they're actually going to have on securing the border?

The part of the Guard that could have the greatest impact on securing the border is also the part of the Guard and the part of the Guard's equipment set that's in the most demand in Iraq: unmanned aerial vehicles, remote sensors. The kinds of intelligence and surveillance capabilities, I mean, that could leverage a small force to make it more useful on the border are also exactly the sorts of things that we need the most in Iraq at the moment, and thus we have the least ability to swing to the southern border in the kind of numbers that would be required to make a difference.

JUDY WOODRUFF: General McGinnis?

DAVID MCGINNIS: I would underwrite what Stephen said. In the last 15 years, the Guard and the Army Reserve have been undercapitalized over $65 billion. About $11 or $12 billion of that has been Army Guard aviation alone, some of the items he's talking about.

And, as an example, just to send the enhanced readiness brigades to Iraq cost the Army $4.5 billion in emergency procurement. So the equipment is a bigger issue to me than people.

DAVID MCGINNIS: I'm worried about the equipment. I don't think the Guard's properly equipped, whether it's the border, Korea or Iran. The Army is -- the equipment that the Army has on hand today is totally committed in the Middle East and for the forces in the Middle East, and that's my major issue.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Lawrence Korb, another set of issues that have been raised are recruitment and retention. A year ago, we were being told there were serious shortfalls in the Guard. Now, we're told that those have caught up, and they're in pretty good shape. What's your sense?

LAWRENCE KORB: Not really, because the Army Guard is supposed to have 350,000 people. The Pentagon this year, when they went up to the Congress, said that we're not going to ask you for funds for 350,000 because we can't get that many people.

The governors complained, the Congress complained, so they put the money in there. But as we speak now, they're nowhere near the 350,000 that they're supposed to have.

Last year, in 2005, they only recruited 80 percent of the people that they needed. They've done better this year so far, but last month they didn't meet their quota and the big recruiting season is coming up now, and we'll see.

JUDY WOODRUFF: General McGinnis, I want to come back to you on this.

DAVID MCGINNIS: Judy, the Army Guard is ahead of its annual requirement this year, not only to replace its losses, but to catch up with the deficit that Dr. Korb mentioned.

The problem the Guard has is, when you take guardsmen away and send them to Iraq, they don't recruit. And there's no organization like the Army Recruiting Command to fall back and pick up that load.

So, as they get back, as they get home and get their momentum going, which they are and we're seeing the momentum build, that those numbers should take care of themselves fairly easily over time, over the next year to 18 months.

The other issue is the people that were forecasted to cut and run when they came back because of deployments from Bosnia to Kosovo to Afghanistan are staying, and the people that were deployed are staying in better numbers than those people who didn't -- the retention rates before 9/11.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Stephen Biddle, are you comfortable as the general is on this retention point?

STEPHEN BIDDLE: Well, I mean, I think the jury is still out. I think a lot of people have expected that there would be a recruiting crisis developing, especially for the Guard, but also for the active forces, as a result of kind of chronic, long-term commitments in Afghanistan and especially in Iraq.

I think so far people have generally been surprised that the crisis hasn't come. On the other hand, I think a lot of people are worried that, if we continue with the model that we have now of the kind of Guard rotations that we have and a continued heavy reliance on a Guard force that is largely citizen, part-time soldiers, eventually you're just going to break the camel's back with this, and sooner or later these chickens are going to come home to roost. They haven't so far. Whether they will eventually, I think we don't yet know.

Will 6,000 troops be enough?

Lawrence Korb
Center for American Progress
Who is going to be in charge? ... If you look at it in terms of whether you think it's right or not, the thing has not been well thought out, and the potential for it not achieving its objective is very high.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, let's come back to the question I think, that General McGinnis has posed at least twice in this conversation, Lawrence Korb, and that is whether this force that the president is calling for, some 6,000 -- and we're talking about doing it starting next month -- is that sufficient to make a difference in border security?

LAWRENCE KORB: Oh, not at all. I mean, it's more symbolic than anything else. I mean, if you really wanted to do this, you would have to put -- and I think I've seen figures, you know, 50,000 to 60,000 people there, if you really wanted to do it right.

So you're going to, in my view, get the worst of all possible worlds. You're going to send people down there in lieu of their regular training. You're not going to solve the problem. And you are raising the potential for something happening, like years ago when the Marines ended up shooting, you know, somebody trying to come across the border.

DAVID MCGINNIS: I would disagree with Dr. Korb on that, as well. First of all, I think that, if you gave the Guard the mission to help the Border Patrol on the border it would be done entirely differently than the president plans to do it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What do you mean by that?

DAVID MCGINNIS: Well, I think, if you ask the Guard to help the Border Patrol come up with a solution, the Guard would work with the Border Patrol and they could come up with a solution using sensors, using aircraft efficiently, using reaction forces, like we do with the air defense of America.

I sat down and did an analysis that showed that we could do it for substantially less money and with substantially less people. You're rotating people through the normal Guard system, just as we do with our fighter pilots, to guard America's skies.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But that's not the president's plan?

DAVID MCGINNIS: That's not the president's plan. So but still the president -- we really, as Stephen said, we really don't know what the president's plan is yet.

Six thousand people is doable. Anything he's going to ask the Guard to do I'm sure they're capable of doing. But I think it can be done smarter, and it can be done better if the Border Patrol and the Guard were allowed to collaborate on this, just as we did with issues like this previously and the drug war. So there's a long history here between the Guard -- a good positive history between the Guard and the Border Patrol.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Quick comment?

LAWRENCE KORB: Well, again, we don't know what it is. It hasn't been clear. It was made up on the fly. You're going to have them under the control of the governors, paid for by the federal authorities.

What happens if they're crossing between states? Who is going to be in charge? I mean, I think, if you look at it in terms of whether you think it's right or not, the thing has not been well thought out, and the potential for it not achieving its objective is very high.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, we're going to have to leave it there. We appreciate all three of you being with us, Stephen Biddle, joining us from Harrisburg, Lawrence Korb here, and General David McGinnis. Thank you all three. We appreciate it.

DAVID MCGINNIS: Thank you, Judy.

LAWRENCE KORB: Thanks for having me.