APRIL 23RD, 2008 | TomHarkin
Last week, Congressman Bruce Braley and I led a bipartisan effort of the Iowa delegation, in asking for the National Guard to have a seat on the Joint Chiefs of Staff. We sent a letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates making the request.
Because of the burdens of the Iraq War over the last several years, the National Guard has taken on a larger role with greater responsibilities in our nation’s defense.
While the demands upon, and the deployments of, our Guard members have increased dramatically, their role in the decision-making process has not.
Last year, for instance, the 1st Battalion of the 133rd Infantry of Iowa’s National Guard learned that their tour of duty in Iraq had been extended through their families and the media, instead of the proper chain of command. To add insult to injury, when these men and women arrived home, they were mistakenly told that they did not qualify for the full benefits under the GI Bill due to an error by the Army, even though they had served one of the longest continuous deployments of the Iraq War.
Incidents like this are not unique. The disconnect between the Pentagon and National Guard is real. There’s no better way to ensure the National Guard will have a voice in important decisions than giving them a seat on the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Finally, our National Guard units are also needed here at home, in order to respond to natural disasters and other emergencies when they are called upon by the states. Giving the National Guard a seat at the table will ensure that they are able to fulfill both roles – in combat and as first responders – and can complete both missions successfully.
The complete letter is below:
Dear Chairman Skelton, Chairman Levin, Ranking Member Hunter, and Ranking Member McCain,
We are writing to thank you for your leadership on the Armed Services Committees, and to urge you to continue your efforts to ensure that the National Guard has the equipment, support services, and power within the Department of Defense (DOD) necessary to adequately protect and provide for National Guard troops and families.
As you well know, the National Guard is serving our country at an unprecedented level. Lengthy and multiple deployments are placing great strains on National Guard troops and families, as well as on National Guard equipment and readiness levels.
As the role of the National Guard has shifted from strategic reserve to operational force, we are concerned that Pentagon policies and culture have not shifted accordingly. Unfortunately, while National Guard soldiers are increasingly being utilized along with active duty forces, we have seen the Pentagon often make decisions that directly impact the National Guard without properly consulting the National Guard or incorporating their requests.
The experience of the 1st Battalion, 133rd Infantry of the Iowa National Guard is a good example of the continuing disconnect between the DOD and the National Guard, and of the need for reform. This Battalion was deployed to Iraq in the spring of 2006 and was originally scheduled to return home in April 2007, but had their tour of duty extended as part of last year’s troop surge. When the Pentagon lengthened their tour of duty, they learned of this extension through the media and family members, instead of through the proper chain of command. This improper notification caused much unneeded stress and anxiety for them and their families.
Then, when the Battalion returned home in July 2007, after serving the longest continuous deployment of any ground combat unit in Iraq, they learned that many of them did not qualify for full Montgomery GI Bill benefits because the Pentagon had written their orders several days short of the 730 day requirement. While we are pleased that this problem has now been fixed through the Army Board for the Correction of Military records, this mistake also caused much anxiety for Iowa National Guard troops, and caused much unnecessary hassle for Iowa National Guard leadership.
Currently, members of this Battalion, along with National Guard soldiers from other units, are still waiting to receive the Post-Deployment/Mobilization Respite Absence benefit that they are owed from the DOD. It has been over six months now since the last affected Iowa National Guard unit returned home from Iraq, and the Pentagon has still not made a decision about how to pay these troops for this benefit that they are owed. Furthermore, there are indications that the Pentagon is likely to ignore requests from the National Guard that troops be paid a lump sum, and instead require the National Guard to bring troops back onto active duty and give them days off. We are troubled by this, because we have heard concerns from the National Guard that days of paid leave will be less beneficial to troops than a one-time payment, and that bringing troops back onto active duty will be an administrative burden for National Guard leadership and will be disruptive for demobilized troops.
We are pleased that Congress recently acted, through H.R. 4986, the Fiscal Year 2008 National Defense Authorization Act, to augment the power of the National Guard by elevating the Chief of the National Guard Bureau to a 4-Star General, enhancing the duties of the Chief of the Guard Bureau, and making the Guard Bureau a joint activity of the DOD. We are also pleased that this bill includes the Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program, to help ensure that National Guard and Reserve troops receive the treatment, care, and support they need and deserve when they return home. We hope these provisions will prevent other National Guard troops from experiencing problems similar to those faced by the 1-133rd, and will help ensure that the National Guard leadership has the influence and support in the Pentagon that they need.
We believe we must ensure, however, that the DOD implements these important reforms in a timely manner. That is why we request that you and the Armed Services Committees exercise the appropriate oversight to ensure that these reforms are properly and promptly implemented by the DOD.
We also believe that we must build on the progress made in the 2008 NDAA, and continue to work to enhance the power of the National Guard, and expand and enhance programs that benefit National Guard troops and families. As you craft the Fiscal Year 2009 National Defense Authorization Act, we specifically request that you work to enhance the functions of the National Guard Bureau and work to make the Chief of the National Guard Bureau a full member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Giving the Chief of the Guard Bureau a seat at the table would help ensure that Pentagon policies, initiatives, and decisions meet the needs of National Guard troops and families, and that the National Guard has the equipment, resources, and support that they need to perform their required domestic and overseas missions.
Thank you again for your leadership, and for your attention to our concerns. Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any questions, or if we can be of any assistance to you on these issues.
Senator Tom Harkin, Representative Bruce Braley, Senator Chuck Grassley, Representative Tom Latham, Representative Leonard Boswell and Representative Dave Loebsack.