Mr. Obama: Sign that bill to give the Guard a seat

Friday, December 16, 2011

Prospects look good for a seat at the table for a National Guardsman among the Joint Chiefs of Staff, according to a Lewisburg man and the president of the National Guard Association of the United States.

"It looks very good," said Larry McKnight, executive director of the National Guard Association of Tennessee, reporting on recent developments in Washington, D.C. "It has to go back to the House and Senate for a thumbs up or thumbs down vote. At this point it would appear to be that it will be a thumbs up."

Many Marshall County residents know McKnight and his sons who're also Tennessee Army National Guardsmen, and there are a great many more men and women in this South Central Tennessee area who serve in the Guard. They probably know what many of us civilians had not known.

National Guard soldiers' interests are not represented on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that panel of senior uniformed leaders from the U.S. Department of Defense. They advise the President, the National Security Council, the Homeland Security Council and the Secretary of Defense. Military Service Chiefs from four branches of the military are among the Joint Chiefs, but not the Guard.

Seems odd, doesn't it?

This nation has been fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan where a great many of the soldiers on the ground are technically in the Army or the Marines, but they volunteered - many of them did for a second, third or fourth tour of duty - from their National Guard units. Wartime reliance on citizen soldiers became a factor for this state's immediate past governor when the ranks of our state Guard were depleted by war and could have been assigned to flood, tornado and other disaster recovery duties.

While gathering information for this advocacy of a new national policy, it seemed clear that the Coast Guard isn't on the Joint Chiefs of Staff either. A friend of mine elsewhere was a Coast Guard officer. After establishing port security in the Middle East, he was sent to Germany to help supervise transportation to and from Iraq and Afghanistan. Logistics was his specialty in Germany. There's more to war than bombs and bullets.

It's odd that the Coast Guard doesn't have a seat among the Joint Chiefs.

Meanwhile, there's good news on the legislative front from Retired Maj. Gen. Gus L. Hargett Jr., president of the National Guard Association of the United States.

A House-Senate Conference Committee this week issued a defense authorization bill that "brings the National Guard to the cusp of its greatest legislative victory in more than a century," said Hargett, a Tennessee Guardsman at heart. "Not since the Militia Act of 1903 created the modern, dual-mission National Guard have we seen approval of legislation that could have such a significant positive impact on our force."

Lawmakers' approval will provide civilian leaders greater access to the Guard's expertise during a domestic crisis.

And President Barack Obama should sign the bill into law.

These views are the author's and not necessarily reflective of the Tribune's views.