By Sgt. Jim Greenhill, USA
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M., Sept. 18, 2006 – The National Guard's domestic equipment levels must be significantly improved, the chief of the National Guard Bureau said here Sept. 16. "We are superbly equipped overseas," Army Lt. Gen. H Steven Blum told the 128th National Guard Association of the United States General Conference. "The soldiers want for nothing as far as equipment in the combat zone, and that's the way it should be."
But the domestic picture is less rosy. "We are now in a dangerously low resourcing level for missions back here at home, and that must be seriously addressed," Blum said.
Talking to about 2,500 National Guard officers and others attending the conference, the general used the analogy of a small-town fire department that needs people, training and equipment to fight fires. Americans would not tolerate inadequately equipped fire departments, he said.
"Nobody would accept that from their fire department in any hometown in America, and we should not allow that to be accepted in any (National Guard) armory or readiness center," he said. "The American people are not going to be happy with a response from the National Guard that has not been fully equipped for the mission it has been assigned."
The comments were the one note of warning during Blum's hour-long "State of the Guard" address that highlighted five years of extraordinary change.
"Sept. 11 (2001) marked the beginning of a no-notice transformation of the National Guard," he said. "For the minutemen and minutewomen of the National Guard, it was a call to arms, and we have been answering that call to support and defend America and its freedoms and our very way of life every day since."
Since the Sept. 11 attacks, the National Guard has added 45 weapons of mass destruction and civil support teams; 17 chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and high-yield explosive enhanced response force packages; 54 computer emergency response teams; six critical infrastructure protection-mission assurance assessment detachments; 54 reaction forces; 54 24-hour-a-day joint operations centers; and numerous other capabilities, Blum said.
"Show me any organization anywhere in the world that has made that much progress that fast on such important issues in five short years," he said.
He cited a litany of achievements that included:
-- The immediate response to the Sept. 11 attacks and the subsequent airport mission that restored civilian confidence in flying;
-- The historic response to Hurricane Katrina. "The Guard's response ... may well go down as the Guard's finest hour," Blum said. "I have never had a prouder moment in my almost 40 years in uniform";
-- The contribution to the war effort in Afghanistan and Iraq;
-- The mission on the U.S. border with Mexico, where up to 6,000 citizen-soldiers and -airmen are taking part in Operation Jump Start, the National Guard's assistance to the Border Patrol; and
-- The State Partnership Program, counterdrug operations, family programs, Youth ChalleNGe and numerous other initiatives that have continued in spite of the much-increased domestic and overseas operations tempos.
"You name the theater, the Guard is there," Blum said. "You name the operation, the Guard is there. And that's the way it should be, because when you call out the Guard, you call out America, and this nation should never go to war without the National Guard because it will go to war without the nation's will behind it."
Defying Army predictions that the Guard's numbers would shrink to 324,000 citizen-soldiers in 2006, the National Guard had its best year of recruiting in 35 years, Blum said. Recruiting and retention must remain an absolute priority, he added.
"The National Guard is a national treasure," he said. "The National Guard is a national bargain when it comes to national defense. The National Guard is providing real, critically needed skills and real capabilities -- not just some PowerPoint slide promises that never materialize that you've all seen in other places.
"For the National Guard, homeland defense is deeds, not words," Blum said. "The National Guard's proven performance has been simply incredible. We don't check pedigrees and worry about who's in charge. We want to know what needs to be done, and we go and do it, and that's your National Guard."
The general expressed particular pride in the fact that the National Guard has maintained its commitment to the Youth ChalleNGe program that helps at-risk high school dropouts regain their footing. The program has graduated some 60,000 youths, he said.
"They represent 60,000 lives saved from either a cemetery or a jail cell," he said. He called Youth ChalleNGe one of the most worthwhile of the important missions the Guard carries out.
"I am, if you can't tell, immensely proud to be the chief of this organization," he concluded.
The conference host, NGAUS, includes nearly 45,000 current and former officers. NGAUS was created in 1878 to provide unified Guard representation in Washington with the goal of obtaining better equipment and training by petitioning Congress for more resources, the same mission it has today.