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Panel recommends big changes to Air Guard

WASHINGTON -- An independent commission has recommended changes for the National Guard and the five other reserve components to reflect their transformation from a strategic reserve to an operational force. 

"At the core of these changes is the explicit recognition of the evolution of the reserve components from a purely strategic force, with lengthy mobilization times designed to meet Cold War threats from large nation-states, to an operational force," the Commission on the National Guard and Reserves (CNGR) wrote in a letter that accompanied the report to senators and congressmen on the Committee on Armed Services. 

After 2 1/2 years of work, the commission delivered its final report to Congress, the Pentagon and other agencies Jan. 31, calling it the most comprehensive independent review in 60 years. 

Army Lt. Gen. H. Steven Blum, the chief of the National Guard Bureau, said many elements of the CNGR report are valuable. 

"This commission has made some very significant proposals, many of which have great merit, many of which actually validate some of the policies and the advancements that we have made in the Department of Defense in the last four years," General Blum said during a press conference at the Pentagon Feb. 1 with Paul McHale, assistant secretary of defense for Homeland Defense. 

The report has six broad conclusions and 95 recommendations based on 163 findings.

 · Conclusion One: "The nation requires an operational reserve force. However, DoD and Congress have had no serious public discussion or debate on the matter, and have not formally adopted the operational reserve. Steps taken by DoD and Congress have been more reactive than proactive, more timid than bold, and more incremental than systemic. They thus far have not focused on an overarching set of alterations necessary to make the reserve components a ready, rotational force. Congress and DoD have not reformed the laws and policies governing the reserve components in ways that will sustain an operational force." 

· Conclusion Two: "The Department of Defense must be fully prepared to protect American lives and property in the homeland. DoD must improve its capabilities and readiness to play a primary role in the response to major catastrophes that incapacitate civilian government over a wide geographic area. This is a responsibility that is equal in priority to its combat responsibilities. As part of DoD, the National Guard and reserves should play the lead role in supporting the Department of Homeland Security, other federal agencies, and states in addressing these threats of equal or higher priority." 

· Conclusion Three: "Current law and policy still reflect a Cold War-era vision of the employment of valuable military manpower assets and do not adequately support an operational 21st-century force. A new integrated personnel management structure is needed to provide trained and ready forces to meet mission requirements and to foster a continuum of service for the individual service member." 

· Conclusion Four: "The reserve components have responded to the call for service. Despite shortages in equipment, training, and personnel, they have once again proven their essential contribution to meeting national security requirements in a time of need. To sustain their service for the duration of the global war on terror will require maintaining the force at a new standard of readiness. Current policies cannot accomplish this task. A ready, capable, and accessible operational reserve will require an enduring commitment to invest in the readiness of the reserve components. This commitment will necessitate service integration, additional resources, and new constructs for employing the reserve components and for assessing readiness." 

· Conclusion Five: "To maintain an operational reserve force over the long term, DoD must appropriately support not only the service members themselves but also the two major influencers of members' decisions to remain in the military - their families and employers. Significant improvements in current programs in all three areas are essential to sustain an operational reserve force both today and in the future." 

· Conclusion Six: "The current reserve component structure does not meet the needs of an operational reserve force. Major changes in DoD organization, reserve component categories, and culture are needed to ensure that management of reserve and active component capabilities are integrated to maximize the effectiveness of the total force for both operational and strategic purposes." 

General Blum said that equipment shortages mentioned in Conclusion Four are improving because of "an unprecedented, historic commitment" by the president, Congress and the Secretaries of Defense, the Army and the Air Force. 

In 2006, equipment readiness was at 40 percent, General Blum said. In 2007, it was 49 percent. Today, it is 61 percent. A $45 billion taxpayer investment will increase it to 69 percent by the end of 2009 and 77 percent in the year 2013. 

"This is a tremendous success story of cooperation among our Congress, the White House, the departments and the end users, the National Guard," General Blum said before pointing to a statue of the Minuteman, the symbol of the National Guard. The Minuteman holds a plow and a rifle, symbolizing Citizen-Soldiers' and -Airmen's ability to set down the plow and take up the rifle at a moment's notice in defense of the homeland or for an overseas mission. 

"That Minuteman," General Blum said, "would smile if he knew that the leadership of this nation was devoting that kind of resources to him for the first time in history." 

The National Guard's structural transformation to a mirror image of the active component combined with improved training, experience, commitment and recruiting success make it the most effective force it has ever been, General Blum said. 

More than 115 witnesses testified before the CNGR during 17 days of public hearings. Commission members also conducted more than 850 interviews with subject-matter experts and made site visits.

The full text of the final report of the Commission on the National Guard and Reserves is available at: http://www.cngr.gov/.