Jim Kouri
Is the National Guard prepared for border security?
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By Jim Kouri
March 16, 2009

Once again, political leaders in Washington — most of whom have no military or law enforcement experience — are making overtures to deploying US National Guard troops to the US-Mexico border. However, a question that needs to be answered prior to such a deployment is: Are National Guard units prepared for such a deployment?

The September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the global war on terrorism have triggered the largest activation of National Guard forces since World War II. As of June 2004, over one-half of the National Guard's 457,000 personnel had been activated for overseas war fighting or domestic homeland security missions in federal and state active duty roles.

In addition to increased usage, the Guard has also experienced long deployments and high demand for personnel with specific skills, such as military police. The high pace of operations and the Guard's expanded role since September 11 have raised concerns about whether the Guard is capable of successfully performing its multiple missions within existing and expected resource levels, especially given the challenges it faces in meeting future requirements.

The Army and the Air National Guard have begun adapting their forces to meet new warfighting requirements since the September 11 attacks, but some measures taken to meet short-term requirements have degraded the readiness of nondeployed units, particularly in the Army National Guard. To deploy ready units for overseas missions, the Army National Guard has had to transfer equipment and personnel from nondeploying units.

According to Pentagon sources, the Army National Guard has performed well over 75,000 personnel transfers. Similarly, the Army National Guard has transferred over 50,000 equipment items to prepare deploying units, leaving non-deployed Army National Guard units short of critical equipment they need for war.

Moreover, the Army is still structured and funded according to a plan that does not provide Guard units all the personnel and equipment they need to deploy in wartime, so the Army National Guard will be challenged to continue to provide ready units for operations expected in the next 3 to 5 years.

The Air National Guard is also adapting to meet new war fighting requirements, but it has not been as negatively affected as the Army National Guard because it has not been required to sustain the same high level of operations. In addition, the Air National Guard generally maintains fully manned and equipped units. While the Army and the Air National Guard have, thus far, also supported the nation's homeland security needs, the Guard's preparedness to perform homeland security missions that may be needed in the future is unknown because requirements and readiness standards and measures have not been defined.

Without this information, policy makers are not in the best position to manage the risks to the nation's homeland security by targeting investments to the highest priority needs and ensuring that the investments are having the desired effect. Since September 11, the Guard has been performing several unanticipated homeland missions, such as flying patrols over U.S. cities and guarding critical infrastructure. However, states have concerns about the preparedness and availability of Guard forces for domestic needs and natural disasters while overseas deployments continue at a high pace.

The Department of Defense plans to publish a comprehensive strategy for homeland security missions that DOD will lead. However, DOD has not reached agreement with multiple federal and state authorities on the Guard's role in such missions. Also, the National Guard Bureau has proposed initiatives to strengthen the Guard's homeland security capabilities. However, many of these initiatives are at an early stage and will require coordination and approval from other stakeholders, such as DOD and the states.

In the absence of clear homeland security requirements, the Guard's preparedness to perform missions at home cannot be measured to determine whether it needs additional assets or training.

Sources: US Department of Defense, General Accountability Office, AmeriCop USA, National Security Institute

© Jim Kouri

 

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Jim Kouri

Jim Kouri, CPP is currently fifth vice-president of the National Association of Chiefs of Police... (more)

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