Conference focuses on future of the National Guard as an operational force

Written by  //  August 9, 2011  //  Feature Stories

ORLANDO, Fla. (Aug. 9, 2011) – The future of the National Guard was the main topic of conversation as Florida Guardsmen gathered for the 2011 National Guard Association of Florida conference in Orlando July 29-31. As the troop levels in Iraq and Afghanistan draw down, many are wondering – after 10 years of service and sacrifice – what the National Guard’s new role will be in a post-war America.

Gen. Craig R. McKinley speaking at the National Guard conference in Orlando. Photo by Debra Cox

Gen. Craig R. McKinley, Florida Guardsman and Chief of the National Guard Bureau, told those in attendance that over the past ten years the National Guard has received what it needs to become a strong, relevant force by contributing significantly to current operations. “The question now is: How do we preserve it? How do we sustain it” How do we maintain it? And what are the critical issues that we have to fight hard for to survive in the future?”

Since Sept. 11, 2001, more than 15,000 Soldiers and Airmen from the Florida National Guard have deployed in support of ongoing overseas operations.

“Today the drawdown in Iraq and Afghanistan – coupled with the financial crisis that we’re in – may find our National Guard overtaken by events, without advocacy and used as a bill payer to sustain a defense construct that is unwise, inefficient, and high-risk for this nation,” said Maj. Gen. Emmett R. Titshaw, the Adjutant General of Florida.

“We must not allow our National Guard that we have invested so much blood and treasure in to be discarded or re-rolled into an irrelevant, strategic reserve force – ill-equipped and seldom used,” he added.

Once thought of as strictly a strategic reserve, the National Guard has played a key role in current overseas operations, at times making up nearly 40 percent of the forces deployed overseas. This idea of the National Guard as an “operational force” has provided military leadership with new options in the overall planning of military operations and the sustainment of a long-term military conflict on several fronts.

“The term ‘operational force’ means different things to different people,” said McKinley. “What I think an operational force is, is a well-equipped, well-resourced, above strength, ready to go to war within a week or so – not a month of two months – (force), and it has opportunities to integrate with the active component.”

According to McKinley, the National Guard has been an operations force for at least 5-8 years. As the nation moves forward, the National Guard as a cost-effective military force may provide an alternative solution to current force structure demands.

“We have to go back somewhere to a point where the National Guard becomes a force of choice, not a force of last resort to do work,” said McKinley. “When you put in that 1,000 active duty Soldiers cost the nation a billion dollars a year, you need to come back and say ‘Where’s the value of having Soldiers and Airmen in the Guard and Reserve?”

The Florida National Guard has a long history, dating back to 1565 when the first Citizen-Soldiers responded to the call to bear arms and protect their land. Today, Florida’s Citizen-Soldiers and Airmen continue to make contributions and sacrifices for our state and nation.

“We all have much to be proud of,” said Titshaw. “But all that we have done now just becomes resident in the historical record and in our memories. We must turn our eyes toward the horizon and ask ourselves, ‘What lies ahead?’

“This 446 year legacy will always be ours, but it will not necessarily ensure our future existence,” Titshaw continued. “Not unless we play an active role in explaining our enduring values to this nation and state.”

Finding a solution to how the National Guard will best fit into our Nation’s future is the focus of the leadership throughout the National Guard. According to McKinley, it may fall somewhere “between the strategic guard that we grew up in, preparing to fight the former Soviet Union, and this new hybrid operational force which most of you joined to be part of.”

“History has taught that in this nation we’ve always put the Guard back up on the shelf and we’ve let it deteriorate and we’ve let it fall away until the next time they needed us,” said McKinley. “My contention is, let’s not do that this time. Let’s preserve the investment that the nation has made in the National Guard. Let’s keep us up on the step. Let’s let you contribute as a first team player in the United States Army and the United States Air Force across this land and around the world.”