The National Guard in a Time of endless war


"…On his first day, he woke up early, showered and beat his housemate out the door. Normally, the traffic during his commute to his new office in Charlottesville would have driven him crazy, but not today. He was thrilled to inch along the highway with everyone else on their way to work, and grateful that his new employer didn't seem to have a problem with his Guard service.

Still, he did not mention the rumors that had been floating around the 2-224th for several weeks. In the summer of 2009, the unit's two weeks of annual training were supposedly going to be in the snow-capped mountains of Canada, where the pilots could get used to flying at high altitude.

Which some speculated meant one thing for the battalion: Afghanistan as early as 2010. "  Washingtom Post


It is often said now that there will be no surrender ceremony to mark the end of these wars.   The end can not be foreseen.  What can be foreseen is that Craig Lewis' dilemma will continue to be shared for many "part time" soldiers for a long time.

There was a time when the National Guard was a bit of a joke to the "real Army."  I spent a summer in the early '60s (1963 – well before VN) training National Guard and Army Reserve units from the northeastern U.S. at what was then Camp Drum, New York.  They were a very mixed lot.

There were states like Massachusetts and New Jersey that possessed division sized National Guard commands with ancient names and pride to match.  There was a brigade sized National Guard from the Connecticut suburbs of New York City.  That outfit had a battalion of infantry in which riflemen were commonly Wall Streeters, lawyers, businessmen, etc.  They  were an amazing group.  You did not have to tell them anything more than once.  There was a "bluestocking" National Guard infantry unit from New York in which the officers had their meals catered in the field from a famous New York City restaurant.  Units like these reflected the social structure of their home towns and were a kind of exercize in civic duty.  There were also National Guard units from rural and relatively poor parts of the northeast.  In those units it was clear that the small amount of money that came to the Guardsmen in drill pay was a major incentive for service.

On the Army Reserve side of things, the service units, medical, etc. were full of professionals from their civilian careers.  They were fine, but the combat units of the Army Reserve were just awful, undisciplined, slovenly, disrespectful, and full of hostile, resentful refugees from the draft.  In many of these units, the officers were plainly afraid of the men.  One reserve division buried two jeeps out in the woods while they were at Drum.  Somebody wanted to come back for them after they went home.


That was an era that has little or nothing to do with today's National guard and Army Reserve.  The Army Reserve is now made up largely of Combat Support and Combat Service Support units (and individuals).   Combatant units (infantry, armor, artillery, etc.)are in the National Guard where they are supported psychologically by state tradition and hometown support. 

There no longer is much of a difference between the Army's reserve components and what the generals like to call "the active force."  Reserve units have served so much on full time duty and have been trained and equipped to "active force" standards that they are largely indistinguishable from the fulltimers.

Question – Is a mobilized reserve component unit part of "the active force?"  If it is not, then the Uptonian nonsense of calling the Regular Army the "active force" is truly unmasked.  Want me to explain that?

In any event, people like Captain Craig now have all the burdens of an "active force" career with few of the advantages.  A life in whch a man or woman is regularly uprooted from civilian surroundings, sent to war and then put back into civilian life with its very different mores and lifestyle is not a viable life.

Some of you will say.  "Oh, good.  They won't be like the brutal alienated professional soldiery!"

Unfortunately, you and all the therapists in the world do not seem to understand that soldiering is, in fact, a life apart and to some extent must remain that if long and serious wars are to be fought.

These militia soldiers should be kept on full pay and benefits between deployments.   pl

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28 Responses to The National Guard in a Time of endless war

  1. John Minnerath says:

    Or, should we just do away with our current NG and Reserve components as an outdated concept.
    And increase our standing “active” forces to higher levels and have the “full time” professionals we expect them to be anyway?
    Create a new public service type organization on non military lines to do the civic duties units like the NG are now expected to also perform?

  2. VietnamVet says:

    I had not realized that even before Vietnam the Slackers has infiltrated the Army Reserves. No wonder the hatred of draftees engulfed Donald Rumsfeld and his peers. The natural outcome of this hate is two little colonial wars without enough boots on the ground to pacify the countryside.
    The Army’s leaders are on never ending rotations to war, 4th and 5th tours currently. No matter the cause or the belief system, the human psyche cannot withstand constant stress and the loss of buddies and troops under their command, year after year, without changing. I know of no modern army that has fought constantly, generation after generation; except perhaps the British Imperial Army and modern weaponry smashed it.
    I don’t know if it is denial or the leadership recognizes the truth but hides it from Americans. The Long War will end. The costs are too enormous.
    Everything comes around again. Each new generation is a blank slate. I won’t be here, but the next American War when it comes will have draftees. In Mexico?

  3. William R. Cumming says:

    My belief is that studies of the NG and Reserve roles must number close to 100! Why! LBJ made the decision to fight Viet Nam with draftees, not with NG and reserves. Nixon somewhat agreed although draft ended on his watch. Bush decided that NG and Reserves who had not really fought before his father activated units for Desert Shield and storm to be utilized in his FREEDOM Campaign. NG and Reserves were utilized in the first Bush deployment but only as individuals not as units.
    Does any of this make sense? It does if you look at the politics of the whole thing and not from a military standpoint. Should that be the case? Maybe in a democracy (republic) yes? At least for the most part all of our soldiers are citizens or hope to be so. The real politics are driven in part by money. What is the cheapest way to get the forces you need! I am not an expert but it does seem that for many reasons, economics also drives these decisions. What does bother me is that despite the current system of equivalent training and experience (including combat) their are distinct culture differences between NG units and Reserve Units and the “Active Service.” Who thinks this is important? Apparently the individuals involved but not so much the system. So not sure where this leaves us except that if the current fighting was largely a drafted military suspect political repercussions would be overwhelming. But maybe not! No one seems to ask anymore Why do we have the military we do have? Could it be different or even better? Whose to evaluate? The politicians? The economists? The Flag Ranks? Society? Very few other countries can even figure out why we do it the way we do. Hoping someone in US understands and thinks it is AOK! My bottom line is it effective and efficient at what it is asked to do? COIN or SysAdmin as some theorists would posit? Time will tell. No audit of systems like combat.

  4. Farmer Don says:

    Still reading your blog everyday. Thank you for all the info.
    Why does the USA even have or need a National Guard? What is their mission?
    What business do the States have with a military?
    Who pays the bills for the National guard? The Feds or the States?
    Who controls the National Guard, the Feds or the States?
    Please enlighten me.
    Don S.

  5. Patrick Lang says:

    Unlike the Canadian provinces the states are sovereign entities that created the union. Contrary to the baloney about “before the Civil War one said the United states are, and afterward one said the US is…” the states still retain much of their sovereignty.
    It is a sovereign right of the states to have armed forces called the militia. No state has ever chosen to give up its right to a militia of its own.
    In the later 19th Century the US Army frustrated in ots atttempt to obtain congressional assent to an “expansible army” on the German model, sought to obtain some measure of control of the states militia in order to make them into a usable reserve for mobilization purposes.
    This was only partially successful. By agreement with the states some portion of the state’s militia was “recognized” by the US Governemt and provided with equipment and money for federal purposes of training and organization.
    So far as I know, no state has ever given up its militia rigths and some maintain more or less organized militia forces outside the National Guard. Most National Guard officers hold two commissions, one in the federally recognized NG and the other a state commission.
    The National Guard remain state troops but subject to into federal service for a national emergency.
    The states pay their expenses when the NG or other militia are undertaking state duties and the federal government pays when Guard units or individuals are in federal service.
    The states have been very aggressive and successful politically in defending this set up.
    There is a “National Guard Bureau” in the Pentagon for the purpose of defending the Guard’s rights and separate status. It exists by law, passed over the Army’s opposition.
    There has been much talk of having a National Guard full general sit as a member of the Joint Chiefs.
    If you think this system complicated, it is and it is unlikely to change.
    The Army Reserve has nothing to do with the states. pl

  6. William R. Cumming says:

    The Federal Government pays 95% of the salaries, training costs, and equipment costs of the National Guard. When federalized pursuant to Title 10 of the US Code the Federal Government pays 100% of the costs. When the Guard is under State control it is regulated under Title 32 of the US Code and in fact there is provision for a State Militia even beyond the NG. When the President declares a disaster or emergency pursuant to the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (Public Law 100-707)which amended in part, supplemented in part and revoked in part the Disaster Relief Act of 1974 (Public Law 93-288) the activation by the Guard is by act of the Governor affected by the disaster or emergency but the costs of the NG deployment are paid for by FEMA. If the NG is federalized as for the riot and civil disorder in LA in 1992 which was a declared fire disaster and the NG federalized DOD seeks reimbursement from FEMA.

  7. PeterHug says:

    Dear Pat (and Don),
    Please let me know if this is completely wrongheaded – but –
    My impression has always been that the current force structure including the divisions between the Regular and National Guard components of the Army, is designed (with malice aforethought if you will) so that no significant ground war can possibly be fought without involving the National Guard. And this is done precisely because such an involvement will get all the US citizens at least minimally involved–to the point that (hopefully) any truly unpopular commitment entered into by an Administration would then be prevented from going forward before it becomes some intractable national commitment.

  8. Clifford Kiracofe says:

    “Time of endless war…”
    American citizens might wish to ask themselves just why this republic needs to be in a state of endless war necessitating constant global military intervention?
    More fundamentally, what kind of world do we in fact live in from the standpoint of the global “balance of power” or “correllation of forces.” It is not bipolar any longer.
    Is it then unipolar or multipolar? If unipolar is it a matter for the US to simply “dominate” the planet? Or if multipolar would the issue be how to bring fundamental change to our outdated national strategy?
    Our armed forces, however they may be organized, carry out their mission(s)under the requirements of our national strategy which has military as well as diplomatic, economic, and other elements to it.
    Has the Obama Administration made any fundamental changes in the national strategy undertaken by the Bush Administration? The underlying concept of the Bush Administration was that the Cold War being over, it was now a situation of a “unipolar” rather than “bipolar” world.
    This world, according to our official National Strategy statements, was one in which the US objective would be to maintain “full spectrum dominance” over any power or combination of powers. No multipolar world here with attendent fundamental adjustments in US bipolar stratetgy required.
    This was the core of the Neoconservative strategic vision, shared by Rummy-Cheney and the Decider (remember him?),for this republic…global dominance in a “unipolar world.” The Iraq War was a part of that vision.
    Endless war and imperial policy are core components of such a national strategy.
    Now let’s turn to the Obama Administration. Has the “Changer” changed the core national strategy of the Bush Administration? Granted the “Eastern Establishment” elite’s imperial global strategy has older roots reaching back to the War with Spain. But has Obama CHANGED our national strategy?
    It does not appear that he has. Speaking of our military, he just seems to have told the folks at Annapolis that his intention was to maintain US “full spectrum” global “dominance.” Read his speech.
    As I have posted before, the Cold War militarization of US foreign policy, which includes defense policy, continued under little Bush using the “Clash of Civilizations” theory and thus the “Muslim” (and Chinese and continued Russian) threat replaced the old “Communist” threat.
    “Full spectrum dominance” in the multipolar world wer live in is not a realistic national strategy. It wasn’t for little Bush and his “Decider” Administration and it not going to be a realistic strategy for the Obama “The Changer” Administration.
    On the code word “dominance” as national strategy one can read the Neocons but going back to their mentors such as Brzezinksi and Huntington gives context.

  9. FDChief says:

    Perhaps an alternate solution would be to devise a geopolitical strategy that doesn’t involve committing so much of the U.S. land combat forces to chasing raggedy-ass guerillas and local badmashes around the wilds of central and southwest Asia that requires the constant activation of the reserve components? Or at least performing SOME sort of strategic calculation of costs versus benefits of having the RC permanently activated?
    Let’s just throw men and money at the problem without trying to figure out how to deal with it the most efficient and cost-effective way.

  10. Patrick Lang says:

    Creighton Abrams (God Bless his memory) structured it that way when he was chief if staff at the the end of VN. He did it for the reason that you mention. I heard him say so. pl

  11. rfjk says:

    “…any truly unpopular commitment entered into by an Administration would then be prevented from going forward before it becomes some intractable national commitment…”
    Unfortunately, it didn’t work. Only a universal draft can assure that outcome as it did in Vietnam and why Bushites did not implement it.

  12. John Minnerath says:

    Throwing out of consideration old long range strategical plans for how the NG could be used to maintain a public commitment or support for or against a military involvement somewhere, or how the NG fits into some grand scheme of government policy, in the present the Guard is being used beyond what we have and should expect them to do.
    With the current small size of a standing active force, the NG is being called to Federal service more than ever before, there just aren’t enough reserves to pick up the slack. The fall back of the Selective Service System to provide massive amounts of manpower for some clash of conventional armies seems an unlikely solution at the present.
    Guard units are activated and deployed so often they’re no longer the “part time” soldiers they used to think of themselves as. Young friends of mine who joined the Guard after their separation from active duty have been called up so often they no longer have a civilian life. But, at the end of a deployment, they’re discarded by the DOD and expected to magically change from their uniforms into their civilian clothes and return to normal civilian life, work and family.
    It don’t work!
    Because of these things, a lot of good people, who would otherwise join the NG, for whatever reasons, decide against it and we come up short again.
    I don’t know the answer to how to save and repair the old and venerable tradition of the National Guard in the United States, but something needs to be done.
    It’s time for wise minds to begin to grapple with the problem and come up with a plan that will maintain our military forces and their capabilities while still honoring the traditions of the Guard.
    Sorry if this is a rambling comment that provides no answers, but this issue has been a troubling and vexing problem to me for a number of years.

  13. William P. Fitzgerald III says:

    Pat Lang,
    Aaah! Camp Drum in the spring and summer! I was there in the 70s with the “Jersey Blues”. National Guardsmen didn’t use the term active army much. Regular Army being the preferred usage. The Regular Army was admired, except when they came snooping around (inspecting)and interfering (instructing). A brief anecdote, on my first trip up there with my new tank company (I was new, not the company), I returned from a meeting to find that our bivouac had been set up and it resembled Robin Hood and his merry men in Sherwood Forest. So, my first job was to make them sleep by crew and with their tanks and get rid of the gaily colored tents.
    More to the point, repeated lengthy activations aren’t good for the Guard and will eventually winnow out those who have businesses or responsible jobs.
    A final word. Pennsylvanians visiting France should go view the 28th Division monument in the Argonne Forest.

  14. Patrick Lang says:

    I like the Sherwood Forest thing. My memories of the troops that summer range from that sort of whimsy in the Guard to squalor and chaos in the Reserve. I remember your outfit, the 50th Armored Division (the Jersey Blues) with great affection. I would have been happy to serve with them.
    I used to take a couple of mermite cans of coffee (five gallon thermoses)plus donuts made in the Regular Army instructional team’s mess out to serve to troops at a mid-morning break at training sites. This was almost always gratefully accepted.
    One day I watched a company of reserve “troops” from the NY City area (77th Division) mock their company commander, a hapless soul. He ranked me but I told him that this was unacceptable. When he did nothing, I put the ringleader, a Soprano type, in the front leaning rest position. I told him to start doing pushups. He got to 100 plus and collapsed. His littermates started snarling and my three RA soldiers got a couple of axe handles out of our jeep. When superman was carried off, we offered the rest the coffee. None of them (except for the officers and seniot NCOs) would get in line so we poured it out on the ground in front of them. I never had a problem like that with RA soldiers and draftees.
    In my opinion the division that these men were from should have been disbanded as worse than worthless. These are the same characters whom I mentioned earlier who buried two new M151 jeeps on post at Drum while they were there. One of the soldiers in the RA instructional team saw them doing it usine a bulldozer out of the division enginner battalion. We went out and probed this suspicious patch of earth in the woods and there they were! Several went to prison for that. I hoped they enjoyed that view of Ft. Leavenworth.
    Before you ask, I was threatened once in VN by a soldier who did not want to something I told him to do. That didn’t work out well for him. pl

  15. James Joyner says:

    If ANG and USAR soldiers had all of the benefits of Regulars, plus the pay of their civilian jobs, why would anyone be foolish enough to commit to full-time service? You’d essentially reverse the status quo, rendering the Regulars second class citizens.

  16. Patrick Lang says:

    In re “The Regulars,” aren’t they now treated as second class citizens? They are not even called that by the generals. They have no name. They are merely “the active force.”
    I preferred John Ford’s evocation of them as “the 50 cents a day professioals in dirty shirt blue. Where they went, there today is the United States.” pl

  17. Walter says:

    They gambled and lost.
    Most of the guys I know who went into Army Reserves did so to get free college education and other financial benefits betting that that they would not be called into duty, but merely to go on weekends to carry out there obligation. They did not expect to or want to get called into war. They gambled and lost their wager that they wouldnt have to do much in exchange for free money. I can imagine them thinking back in the 1990’s “There is no way we are gonna go to war. The Soviet Union is impotent….no enemies on the horizon…National Guard seems like a good deal.” I dont mean to sound insensitive but that seems to be the reality to me. Our leaders could probably care less whose lives they destroy and how war effects these guys.

  18. HJFJR says:

    Colonel Lang:
    Having been in all three component, the Regular Army, the Army National Guard, and the Army Reserve, let me offer some insights (and opinions) regarding this discussion.
    First in answer to the question “Why does the USA even have or need a National Guard? What is their mission?” The answer to why does the USA have a National Guard is very simple it is Constitutionally mandated in Artile 1 Section 8 of the U. S. Constitution. Today’s state National Guard are the equivalent of the militias spoken of in the Constitution. I was recognized as such in the 1906 with the passage of the Dick Act and reenforced in the 1921 National Security Act, in which the National Guard was recognized as the principal reserve component of the United States Army. Of course this was over the objections of the Regular Army which wanted the Army Reserve to have this distinction because they were able to control the Army Reserve on a daily basis whereas the Army National Guard remained on the control of the Governors of the respective states.
    You are quite correct that the National Guard Bureau, and more specifically the National Guard Association of the United States wields great power within Congress and is quite able to change the direction of the Army (and to a lesser extent the Air Force) on matters related to the National Guard. In the 2008 Defense Authorization Act, the Chief of the National Guard Bureau was authorized to be held by either a Army or Air Guard Officer with the grade of the General; and the National Guard Bureau ceased to be a Joint Bureau of the Army and Air Force but rather became a Joint Bureau of the Department of Defense. The current Chief is General McKinley and Air Guard Officer. While not a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff he is routinely invited to the Army and Air Force four star conferences. The creation of a four star billet was one of the recommendations of the “Commission on the National Guard and Reserve” chaired by Arnold L. Punaro Major General (Ret USMCR). There are a number of recommendations which can be found at this link
    Based on my experience I have come to the conclusion that the United States can no longer afford a separate Reserve Components in the Army and Air Force. We are not going eliminate the National Guard so the choice becomes how do we provide a force responsive to the Army but at the same time provide forces which are responsive to the Governors of the respective states when required. We are not going to get around the constitutional requirements. I am not sure what the answer is, but it must be dealt with in any future revisions of the our National Security structure.
    Hank Foresman

  19. Patrick Lang says:

    The best source I have seen for the 19th Century roots of the NG situation is Weigley’s “History of the United States Army.” pl

  20. HJFJR says:

    Weigley is excellent, there are two other sources that provides great insight one is Samuel Hunington’s Soldier and State; and Brian Linn’s, The Echo of Battle: The Army’s Way of War. Mike Doubler has written an official history for the National Guard Bureau, Civilian in Peace, Soldier in War: The Army National Guard 1636-2000.
    Hank Foresman

  21. William P. Fitzgerald III says:

    Pat Lang,
    I should have added to “who have businesses or responsible jobs” – and who are the backbone of the Guard. Many of our people had careers with AT&T, Bell Labs, Bell Long Lines, Dupont etc. My 1st Sergeant owned a construction company and so on. These are the sort of people who can’t combine their civilian lives with repeated year long activations. I agree about a lot of the USAR units.
    Everyone have a good and reflective Decoration (Memorial) Day.

  22. William R. Cumming says:

    Actually Article I, Section 8 provides an authorization not a mandate for the National Guard. Two clauses mention the militia. First, “The Congress shall have Power To . . .provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Uniton, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions.” The Second, The Congress shall have Power to . . .provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress.” What I always found interesting is the dual oath that NG personnel take upon entry into the NG. A oath of loyalty to the United States and also to the individual State Guard unit they join, specifically the STATE of X. Confused, so is this system. In the 1980’s a challenge to deployment of the NG of the State of Minnesota overseas, without federalization, specifically for training, SCOTUS rules that the dual oath provision should be interpreted as giving precedence to the federal oath. Thus the deployment was determined to be Constitutional and appropriately authorized. I believe the case is Perpich v. US (1983) with Perpich being the then Governor of Minnesota.

  23. Cloned Poster says:

    Weekend warriors never make great troops, pump them with islamophobia, and they gets to be super-human weekend warriors.
    After all the ground and pound that they have been called on to deliver, are they doing the job?

  24. John Minnerath says:

    Cloned Poster that is pure BS and you should know better. I’ve known RAs who were worse than dead wood. And no few AF and USN types who were the same. Don’t remember if I ever worked with any USMC who fit that category, but I’m sure there are some there too.
    You can’t condemn the NG because of a few bad apples or some sub standard units and old misguided stereotypes, they’re everywhere.

  25. Andy says:

    Cloned Poster,

    Weekend warriors never make great troops, pump them with islamophobia, and they gets to be super-human weekend warriors.

    Wow, way to insult the entire guard and reserve – on Memorial Day no less.
    I served on active duty for seven years and have been in the guard or reserve for much of the past nine years. In some ways those “weekend warriors” are superior to their active counterparts, so your statement is completely false as well.

  26. Kathleen says:

    So many suicides and then they try to blame these on bad relationships. Hogwash
    These soldiers are overworked under paid and lied to. No pressure there

  27. Diane Greathouse says:

    Thank you, My daughter wants to join the NG after reading your posts I have a little more fuel for thought. My main concern as always that the promises the recruiter is offering her, such as college first, may not come true in a time of war. I realize your debate about “real training and commitment” is valid however with the changing of times so comes the changing of attitudes the services need to take in recruiting quality personnel.
    Mom in Al

  28. YT says:

    Mr. Kiracofe,
    Re: “Full spectrum dominance” in the multipolar world wer live in is not a realistic national strategy.”
    They could listen to this guy. —
    But are they ever gonna?
    Der alte jude, das ist der Mann.

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