March 28, 2020

Icy reception for crisis response

All due crecit to the men and women of the Maine Army and Air National Guard who so ably assisted in recovery from the recent ice storm.

But why were hundreds of other Maine military reservists, equally willing and able to serve, not available to Gov. Angus King except through a time-consuming gaggle of red tape?

Because a tiny group of politicians in uniform have been blocking the reforms that would make all of the military people and units, active and reserve, in each state immediately available for emergency service.

The uniformed politicians are the politically appointed state adjutants general who control the National Guard in the name of the governors.

In fact, as the name implies, the adjutants general were intended to be only record keepers. Command was to have gone direct from the governors to the part-time commanders of a militia consisting of every able-bodied man in each state.

But because the governors give scany, or no thought to the military except in time of emergency, the adjutants general gradually moved into the command vacuum. They made of the 19th century militia a collection of political clubs. Fed up with that, the Navy and Marine Corps and, later, the Army and Air Force set up their own federally controlled reserve forces.

So, for most of this century, the taxpayer has been supporting six separate reserve forces, four federal and two state, all of them now funded from the federal treasury except for a tiny amount of state funding for the National Guard.

The Congressional Budget Office recently estimated that the excess administrative costs resulting from this arrangement at $2.6 billion a year.

And because the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps Reserve are under federal control, they cannot be called out for an emergency except through a snarl of red tape extending through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, a Military Support Directorate in the Pentagon and liaison officers in various headquarters as far away as Atlanta and New Orleans.

Thus, a Marine Corps Reserve rifle company in Thomaston that could have provided invluable help in clearing debris and traffic control, and an Army Reserve truck company in Auburn that could have carried supplies to remote towns were never used.

Indeed, through their Washington lobby, the National Guard Association, the adjutants general are uring Congress to make sure such Reserve units are never used. Fearful of the Guard being absorbed by the federal structure, the adjutants general would prefer to have Guard units brought in from neighboring states at two or three times the cost of using Federal Reserve units located in the stricken states.

On the other hand, the leadership of the federal Reserve forces object to being placed under the adjustants general, and with good reason.

Although the federal government pays more than 95 percent of the cost of the National Guard, the adjustants general have absolute control over all Guard careers. The result is that the Guard in each stae is run for the benefit of the adjutant general and the coterie of cronies who helped to get him or her appointed, or, as in Vermont, elected.

The most basic reform needed is separation of the political and military functions now vested in the person of the adjutant general. And, to quality for federal funding, the states should be required to accept centralized management of Guard officer careers as is done throughout the rest of the U.S. military system.

Those reforms would make it possible to form a joint military headquarters in each state controlling all reserve military units in the state, and with authority to make use of active military units in the state during emergencies.

That would eliminate the expensive and wasteful dual state-federal reserve forces system we have now, attain the large savings identified by thle Congressional Budget Office, and provide the governors with a far more effective emergency response system.

To prevent all that from happening and to protect their aggregations of high-ranking officers, the Guard and Reserve have installed uniformed, publicly funded lobbyists at every level of decision-making in the Defense Department. Congress has recently been pressured into expanding that lobby by creating a major general’s position for each of the Guard and Reserve in the staff of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Supposedly advisers, their true function is to keep an eye on each other and to insure that the wasteful status quo goes on forever. That will be the case until the public demands a change.

William V. Kennedy is a writer specializing in military affairs. He is a former member of the U.S. Army War College faculty and Strategic Studies Institute. He served in all National Guard and Reserve components of the Army and Air Force, retiring as a colonel.

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