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May 17, 2006—The new Commission on the National Guard and Reserves has a “very clear” agenda from its Congressional taskmasters—examine every aspect of current reserve operations and make recommendations in the form of policy and legislation. And, next month, it must present its initial findings and outline a work plan.

The commission’s chairman, retired Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Arnold Punaro told Washington-based defense reporters Tuesday that the panel, which started work in March, already has identified three key issues: outdated command and control statutes, the new “operational” reserve environment, and equipment woes.

Punaro said that the commission’s early work has clearly illuminated the need for DOD to improve the way it works with local and state governments. He believes much of the commission’s efforts will center on proposing ways to de-conflict Title 10 and Title 32 command and control arrangements.

The issue of who has the final word on National Guard units, bases, and equipment reached a fever pitch last year during the 2005 BRAC process. There was a decided difference of opinion between state officials and the Air Force, which had proposed eliminating aircraft from many Air National Guard units and closing facilities. (See “Total Force Turbulence.”) The acrimony spread anew following last year’s hurricane season when the Administration asked for more control of the National Guard to respond to major natural disasters. Punaro noted that not one governor expressed any interest in having the federal government run their state, which, he added, is “not something that’s new to [Hurricane] Katrina, it’s been that way for at least 10 years.”

Punaro said that command and control “statutes are very confusing” and that is “certainly going to have to be clarified.” He added that the commission will spend a lot of time on this and has asked the American Bar Association to assist.

In his view, a Guardsman or Reservist should not be prevented from assuming command of, say, US Northern Command. However, according to Punaro, some active duty personnel have a “very difficult time” letting reservists be in charge of anything. “They’re going to have to get over it,” Punaro asserted.

Another major focus for the commission, said Punaro, is the “profound shift” that has occurred within the Guard and Reserve since the end of the Cold War. During the Cold War, the reserve components were trained, organized, and equipped as a “strategic reserve” against Soviet expansion. Now, he said, these components are “clearly an operational reserve.” The commission plans to review whether this shift from strategic to operational status is feasible and sustainable.

“Those are two big questions I think the commission will look at,” said Punaro. Lest anyone think the commission already had formulated a position, he emphasized, “There is evidence on both sides of the issue.”

A third key issue is equipment, which has been the subject of some initial discussions. Punaro said that the “majority stakeholders”—governors—have expressed grave concerns about the solvency of their Guard units, some of which return from overseas without their equipment. Punaro said he has been “surprised” at the lack of basic equipment—trucks, gear, and fuel tankers—that would be needed for state disaster assistance. He did note that the service vice chiefs of staff also have expressed to the commission very strong concerns about equipment problems. Punaro called the issue an “Achilles heel” that Congress and DOD must address.

“If the Guard and Reserve are going to be as effective as we want them to be … we have got to make changes,” maintained Punaro.

Among those changes could be a reanimated proposal to elevate the status of the chief of the National Guard Bureau. The Congressional National Guard Caucus has proposed making the NGB chief a four-star general with a seat on the Joint Chiefs of Staff. According to Punaro, the commission will take an “objective look” at the proposal. However, he added that such a move would fundamentally alter the military command structure established by the Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986—meaning it is not something to be treated lightly. (Congressional backers had hoped for a positive recommendation in the commission’s initial report, but they decided to press on with legislation.) 

The commission has until March 2007 to make its final report to Congress.