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Four years ago this month, President Bush declared the end of major combat operations in Iraq. Today, the administration is completing its latest escalation by sending an additional 30,000 troops into what the National Intelligence Estimate of February 2007 describes as a civil war. However controversial this escalation may be, proponents and opponents of the war have reached a consensus on an equally important issue: nearly six years of war in Afghanistan and over four years in Iraq has pushed the total Army (Active, Guard, and Reserve) to the breaking point.
The crisis in our nation’s active armed forces has received a great deal of attention, but the corresponding crisis in the Guard and Reserves, the reserve component of our military, has gone largely unnoticed. Yet to maintain the occupation in Iraq and our commitment to Afghanistan, the Pentagon has had to rely increasingly on reserve forces. In 2005 alone, 14 of the Guard’s 38 brigades (including nine of the Army National Guard’s 16 Enhanced brigades) were deployed either to Iraq or Afghanistan; seven Guard brigades served in Iraq and another two served in Afghanistan—for a total of more than 35,000 combat troops. In 2005, 46 percent (or about 60,000) of the troops in Iraq were from the reserve component.1
The Department of Defense has recently announced plans to deploy four more Guard brigades—more than 13,000 troops—to Iraq within the next year, shortening their time between deployments to meet the demands of the administration.2 Lt. General Steven Blum, the chief of the National Guard, summarized the situation when he said the Guard is “in an even more dire situation than the active Army, but both have the same symptoms; I just have a higher fever.”3
The current predicament of the Army National Guard reflects the changing role of the force itself—shifting the reserve component’s dual-purpose balance between domestic commitments and overseas imperatives decisively toward the latter as the Pentagon struggles to maintain high levels of ground forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. The heavy reliance on the Army National Guard, its combat units (Enhanced Separate Brigades) in particular, for overseas operations represents a fundamental change from the Guard’s planned role as a strategic reserve force whose wartime function was to deploy in the later stages of a major conflict if needed.
Ground troop levels in both theaters of war could not be sustained at the current rate without the numbers and skills provided by the men and women of the Army National Guard. Continued heavy use of Guard forces, however, has raised concerns about whether it can successfully perform both its domestic and international missions effectively.
As the Guard increasingly assumes the role of the active Army’s operational reserve, what consequences will there be for domestic contingencies and homeland security? In a previous report, “Beyond the Call of Duty,” we discussed the use of active brigades since September 11. This report will do the same for the 16 Enhanced Brigades of the Army National Guard. After clarifying the scope of the overuse of the reserve component, we will analyze the consequences for national security and homeland defense and then outline recommendations to ensure that the Army’s strategy and future plans for the Guard enhance the security of the American people at home and abroad.
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