WASHINGTON, D.C. – As the Pentagon struggles to maintain high levels of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Department of Defense recently announced plans to deploy four more National Guard brigades to Iraq in the next year. As the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have stretched the total Army, much has been said about the strain on the Active Forces, while the parallel strain on the Guard and Reserves has gone largely unnoticed.
A new report from the Center for American Progress analyzes the deployment and use of each of the 16 Enhanced Brigades of the Army National Guard. The heavy reliance by the military on the brigades of the Guard and Reserve is unprecedented and has placed a tremendous strain on these brigades and their soldiers. Since 2001, every Enhanced Brigade has been deployed overseas at least once and two have already been deployed twice. To keep up with the administration’s current escalation strategy, the Pentagon has rewritten rules that previously limited deployment of Guard and Reserve troops to 24 months out of every five years.
“These units and their families are being stretched to the breaking point,” said Lawrence Korb, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, “and it only hurts future recruitment when the Pentagon shortens the time soldiers spend here at home.”
Additionally, there are consequences here at home as states are scrambling to prepare for natural disasters or terrorist attacks, roles traditionally filled by the National Guard and Reserves. To ensure that follow-on brigades are fully equipped, troops are leaving equipment behind in Iraq and Afghanistan, leaving them unprepared to face disasters like hurricanes, tornados, or acts of terrorism. For instance, in July 2005 the Louisiana National Guard reported it had less than 5 percent of the required amount of more than 200 critical items, including generators, trucks, and radios. Two months later, these troops were hamstrung in responding to Hurricane Katrina. The report concludes by offering a set of concrete recommendations for the Department of Defense to restore the Guard and Reserves to their full capabilities. These include proposals that restore the infrastructure and equipment necessary for these troops to perform their jobs as well as support that will limit the personal strain imposed by extended deployments. These troops first need the proper equipment, so Congress should fully fund the reset of National Guard and Reserve equipment.
The report also calls for an increase in the size of the active forces by 100,000 and legislation that limits Guard and Reserve troop deployment to no more than one year out of five. Finally, a proposed volunteer homeland security corps would serve as a backstop to the lack of National Guard and Reserve troops that continue to be deployed on extended overseas tours.