Role of the National Guard and Reserves in the Domestic Role of the Military


BG Harold Nevin, Wisconsin Army National Guard


Dr. Carlos Bertha, USAFA





This is only the third time I attend JSCOPE, but I have been surprised about the fact that the National Guard and Reserves appear to be under-represented here.  This might be coincidental, or it might be that there is a disproportionate effort to advertise this conference to the active components of our military and those of our allied nations.  At the end of last year’s conference, I met whom I thought must have been the only other National Guardsman in the conference, and I suggested to him that our voice, our “twist,” so to speak, ought to be heard the following year (and I am happy to say that he agreed with me).  Well, that year has gone by, and much to our relief, the subject matter for this year’s conference, the “theme,” happened to favor our presence in the conversation.  “The Domestic Role of the Military” is indeed an issue that I imagine all military members tackle at one point or another, but this concept, I venture to say, rings much closer to those of us who have served in National Guard or Reserves.

The Army and Air National Guard are an integral part of the Army and Air Force today. Both components serve the nation and state in a dual status, which is to support the federal mission upon mobilization and the state mission when called upon by the governor. Today the authorized strength of the Army National Guard is 357,000 soldiers in 54 states and territories. The Air National Guard strength is 109,300 in 1,240 units. National Guard soldiers in peacetime serve under their respective state Governor. Our soldiers and airmen attend the same schools as their active duty counterparts and then return to their home units for inactive duty for training (IDT) a minimum of one weekend a month and active duty for training (ADT) of two weeks a year, commonly referred to as “Annual Training.”

There is not an Active Component mobilization without the Army and Air National Guard providing personnel and units to support the federal mission. But that is not what we will focus our discussion on this morning. Rather, we will discuss the state mission and support the National Guard provides to civil authorities and the communities in which they serve. Here are some examples of the level of support the National Guard soldiers provided in recent years.  In the year 1999, there were 267 state call-ups providing 281,276 soldier man-days. In the year 2000, all states had soldiers on duty January 1st anticipating a Y2K problem. California and Pennsylvania also had troops on standby for the Democratic and Republican national conventions.  During the months of June through September 2000, 12 western states had over 2,235 soldiers mobilized to fight wildfires in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, California, Arizona, Nevada, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Texas. In Minnesota, 350 troops were called in for security and support after a tornado struck in July. In Rhode Island, 280 troops were called (also in July) to replace striking prison guards. In Arizona during the same month, 120 troops provided health care services to remote locations. When Hurricane Floyd struck in September, the Virgin Islands called up 200 troops; South Carolina, 3,700 troops; North Carolina, 3,900 troops; Georgia, 1,000 troops; New Jersey 1,800 troops, all providing security for property and support and comfort to those displaced from their homes. Kentucky called up 230 troops to contain wildfires during November. Washington mobilized 650 troops to quell riots at the Trade Summit meeting in November. Arkansas called in 450 troops to provide shelter, support and security after ice storms knocked out power across the state. These are examples of the varied types of missions and where National Guard troops have been used.

We have the force structure we do because of the agreement between the Army Reserve and the Army National Guard that the Army Reserve would primarily be combat service support and the Army National Guard would be combat and combat support. The reason we have the number of soldiers that we do is congressionally mandated, which in turn allows the Army to use all of the units rather then keep calling up the same ones for active duty. This helps prevent OPTEMPO burnout and soldiers losing their civilian jobs because if they wanted to be on continual active duty they would have enlisted for that.  The National Guard is most suited and qualified to be called out by their governor for State active duty. They use their training and military organization including equipment to accomplish those missions. This should be an added bonus to the local community and the state but their primary and most dangerous mission is their federal active duty mission and that has to be their primary focus.

Having provided a very basic notion of who we are and what we do, we thought we would address, albeit briefly, some of the sub-topic suggested by the conference organizers.  The first one is…

Is there a military-civilian value gap?

We cannot have a disciplined, effective, mission-ready military force without ethical leaders: soldiers, airman, sailors and marines alike.  On the civilian side you cannot operate a successful business without having ethical leaders and employees.  You will not have the climate to foster trust internally or with your customers. Without an ethical climate in a civilian business, you cannot expect to keep employees and customers for long.  The same applies to the military: keeping our soldiers and performing our missions effectively requires a sound ethical climate.

Civilian values often cannot be compared to the values we hold near and dear in the military.  This is because civilians are so diverse in their backgrounds, experiences and employment, that a common set of values are not required to live their daily lives or to contribute to the common good of the organizations for which they work. My experience is that most members of the Army National Guard carry the Army's values into their civilian lives and bring it back every month to drill. The ones that do not live by our values usually find themselves in trouble on the military or civilian side (or perhaps both).

            Given that the National Guard and Reserves in any given state are composed largely of citizen-soldiers, one would think that the “military-civilian value gap,” if there truly is such a thing, might be bridged here.  National Guard soldiers are essentially both military members and civilians.  Members of the “regular” forces tend to view this in a slightly pejorative way, fearing, perhaps at times rightfully, that the civilian commitments of National Guard soldiers “dilute” their military competence and/or their acceptance or adherence to military values.

I tend to agree with BG Nevin when he says that guardsmen take their military values to their employers and, conversely, sometimes they mix their employer’s values with the military values, but this may be a healthy occurrence.  I think that it is more important (and interesting) to talk about the fear that I just mentioned on the part of the active components, the fear that guardsmen and reservists, by virtue of the fact that we train only on weekends and two weeks a year, cannot properly absorb (at least not to the full extent) the army (or air force, or navy, or marine) ethos.  And it’s not like this thinking has no precedence.  Socrates was concerned about this in The Republic (370b), where he says that one should only do one thing well; and we also have the old saw, “Jack of all trades, master of none.”  So, sure, there is something to be said about the fact that a person who devotes only “one weekend a month and two weeks a year” to military training cannot have the same base of knowledge than someone who devotes his or her entire workweek to the same endeavor.  Well, perhaps I can take this opportunity to dispel some of the myths that contribute to this image and/or put things in a different perspective.

First, I think I speak confidently for many other reservists when I say that “one weekend a month and two weeks a year” is a misnomer.  Take, for example, my tour as a headquarters battery commander: not a day went by (in my 2 ˝ year tenure) that I did not make a military decision.  And with commander’s recon, advanced parties, and all such oft-ignored duties, my “two weeks a year” have not been two weeks since I was commissioned.  Second, and BG Nevin already mentioned this, except for Combined Arms and Services Staff School (CAS3), I have always attended military schools alongside my active-duty counterparts.  If it seems that I am conflating “competence” with “value,” then perhaps I am (though I need to be cautious here).  Not that it’s the same thing, but I do believe that one is borne out of the other.  In other words, being competent the military profession requires the acceptance of (and the strict adherence to) requisite military values.  So whereas I might be addressing issues of time-in-service, which seem refer to the reservist’s ability to be “competent,” these issues, albeit indirectly, also affect the reservist’s disposition to internalize the military ethos.

On a more practical level, however, we find that this mixture of competences and values (that is, civilian and military) enriches, rather than dilutes, the military profession (as well as the civilian, but we will not address that here).  It has been my experience, given the kind of missions that I have been asked to take on, that my soldiers were particularly well qualified to handle the task at hand.  In Honduras, where South Carolina engineers (among many other states) were tasked with different road construction operations, the majority of the soldiers under my supervision were construction workers in their civilian lives.  Soon after I moved to Florida my unit was activated to quell a riot, which was a familiar task to a good number of those soldiers, who happened to be police officers in “the real world.”

In summary, two things are worth highlighting: (a) the value gap is narrower than it seems.  Reservists largely train with active duty soldiers and are therefore able to assimilate the military ethos just as readily, and (b) even if some of their competences are different, this is not necessarily a bad thing, especially given the types of missions they are routinely asked to take on.  (This is not to say, however, that there have been no problems with reservist-active duty relations).

Now, to the second question…

Are humanitarian and disaster relief missions appropriate for the military?

As BG Nevin already explained, part of the “mission” of the National Guard (as opposed to the Reserves) is the “state mission,” which most often includes humanitarian and disaster relief efforts.  He also said that this should not be considered as the National Guard’s “primary” mission, that the federal mission to backup the active components ought to remain our top priority.  However, since veteran National Guard soldiers have had (more than likely) a few “deployments” under their belts (in my case, I’ve been in 11 years and have had 3 deployments—one for fighting fires, the other two for riot control and aid to civil authorities during periods of civil unrest—but managed, of course not by design, to avoid two other disaster relief deployments), they seem to be the best candidates for such missions, even if they are “outside” of their state or perhaps even their country.  What do you think, BG Nevin?

They are, but they should use the National Guard first if it is in the U.S unless it is of the magnitude that requires active duty assistance such as in the case of hurricane Andrew in Florida. For missions outside the US, we should be using the National Guard more to cut down on the Active's OPTEMPO and give them for time to spend on training for their primary missions.  As examples, the 34th Infantry Division in which I am the Assistant Division Commander has units deployed to Kuwait for 6-month rotations guarding the Patriot Battery sites and we have had units deployed to Bosnia twice and Kosovo once. The 49th Armored Division Headquarters of the Texas National Guard just returned from Bosnia and was the command and control headquarters for SFOR for 6 months. 

Should the National Guard be used in a domestic role? History has proven that they should. Not as a last resort but because the local authorities do not have the expertise, facilities, equipment or manpower to do the job. First lets explore why they should be used, and then what qualifies them to be used. Normally the Governor of the state is the only one who has the authority to call out the National Guard of his state. This is allowable because of legislation and laws. In many states the emergency management department is under the department of military affairs. This facilitates assessment and civil military cooperation, as the emergency management offices are capable to do assessments of the local agencies to handle a given situation but do not have the means to provide support. Usually a civilian authority in the local community, for example the mayor, will request the governor to make the call up because of a natural disaster or civil disturbance that their departments cannot handle. The governor then turns over this request to the state adjutant general who staffs it for the level of support and number of troops to be mobilized. The state incurs all costs for the pay and allowances of the personnel mobilized.

What makes the National Guard an ideal force to be first called in is because the large number of armories, 3,200 in 2,700 communities, allowing the units to respond quickly. The leadership and soldiers in many cases also live in the community and understand the local situation and the environment. They can respond rapidly because they live in the community. A personal example is when alerted as a company commander to support a prison strike I had 80% of my unit formed at the armory within 4 hours after being called. Within 8 hours, when we departed the armory the next morning for the prison, we had 98% of the unit present.

One of the questions that always arises is how can the National Guard do such a wide range of missions successfully? First, we have a common baseline and that is our military discipline, organization and training. Just the organization and leadership in our units is the basis for organizing for the mission. Many of the missions require soldiers and airman to do similar kinds of tasks that they are trained to do in their military jobs. For example, in providing security for a town ravaged by a tornado, our soldiers and airman stand guard over critical facilities, conduct patrols, and operate tent cities to provide shelter, food and water until more permanent facilities can be constructed. Also we use our armories as sites to house displaced civilians until housing can be provided. We also have equipment that is directly usable for support, radios, wheeled vehicles, mobile kitchens, aircraft, and engineer equipment and riot gear. The types and amount are not found in the civilian community to emergencies. Our soldiers and airman also bring civilian skills with them that are applicable to domestic support. These are all factors that contribute to mission success. Sometimes there is additional training required, such as forest fire fighting techniques but more often our military training is sufficient. That is why the National Guard is an ideal force to be used for domestic mission, they are trained, have the necessary equipment and can respond quickly.

To what extent should the military aid civilian law enforcement?

We can only briefly address this last question.  Reservists can and have aided civilian law enforcement agencies. We should not be going it alone unless marshal law is invoked.  Issues of Posse Comitatus are also important and often raised here.  This historic law, passed in 1878, prohibits the Army and Air Force from enforcing criminal law within the United States (18 US Code, Section 1385).  The Navy and Marine Corps are not included in the act per se, but are made subject to it by a DOD regulation (32 C.F.R Section 213.2, 1992); the Coast Guard is exempt during peacetime, as are the National Guard forces operating under the state authority of Title 32 (see Thomas R. Lujan’s “Legal Aspects of Domestic Employment of the Army,” in Parameters, Autumn 1997, pp. 82-97).  Is the National Guard better equipped (mentally, if not physically) to handle civilian law enforcement missions?  (It seems that I already answered this—with a “yes”—earlier).  But we can raise the recent (relatively anyway) controversies over the use of military advice for the Waco compound incident, as well as the use of Army and National Guard troops during the Los Angeles (Rodney King verdict) riots.  The general push seems to be in the direction of using the military for more and more law enforcement missions (for one thing, the Posse Comitatus Act (PCA) was revised to exclude cases in which illicit drugs where at the heart of the matter—see 10 US Code Sections 371-378 for exceptions to the PCA).  Is this the right direction to take?  Again, I think we are going back to a latent tension here: we are best suited for certain types of missions, but reservists ought not lose sight of their mission of being the “back-up” to the active duty forces.

Concluding remarks.

Q&A period or next panelist.