National Press Club

National Guard chief warns budget cuts may dull effectiveness

January 9, 2014 | By Ken Dalecki |

General Frank Grass, Chief, National Guard Bureau, speaks at The National Press Club Jan. 9, 2014.

General Frank Grass, Chief, National Guard Bureau, speaks at The National Press Club Jan. 9, 2014.

Photo/Image: Noel St. John

Budget cuts could dull the sharp edge that the National Guard's state-based units have developed since participating in deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, Gen. Frank J. Grass, Chief of the National Guard Bureau and a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a National Press Club luncheon audience on Jan. 9.

"We have the most battle-tested National Guard ever," he said. It can deploy personnel overseas within 72 hours, homeland fighter aircraft in six minutes and local emergency response teams immediately. "Our readiness is better than ever."

He said the Pentagon is working on plans to keep tighter defense budgets from blunting that effectiveness.

Grass, who is the 27th Chief of the National Guard and the second to sit on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said one of his biggest concerns is being able to respond to a domestic catastrophe, such as a major earthquake on the West Coast that could trigger infrastructure damage across much of the U.S. The biggest challenge regarding personnel is making sure those in the National Guard have "challenging missions" that allow them to apply their skills, he said.

Describing the National Guard as "an insurance policy in an uncertain world," Grass said the military "can't get it wrong" in trying to balance future cutbacks in full-time versus National Guard forces. He noted the role of the National Guard in helping Boston respond to the marathon bombings, the Northeast to Hurricane Sandy and snow and flood relief in Colorado.

He also cited the benefits of having state-based National Guard units with members with civilian skills and connections that make possible quick and effective action after disasters. "Our job is to make first responders successful," he said.

Grass said alliances between state National Guards and former provinces of the Soviet Union are bearing fruit, including the pairing of Maryland's National Guard with Bosnia's military. After deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan with Maryland National Guard members, Bosnia is eager to participate in similar operations and peacekeeping missions, he said.

Asked about resistance in Texas and some other states to extending benefits to spouses in same-sex Guard marriages, the four-star general insisted the National Guard has a "good relationship" with Gov. Rick Perry, R-Texas, and said "I don't know of any case where we have denied benefits."

He said the Guard is also taking steps to address the problem of suicides among National Guard members, including making available health professionals to members and their families. He said suicides are a puzzling societal problem and noted that half of the suicides in the National Guard involve members who have never been deployed.