Special to the Tribune
WASHINGTON- President Barack Obama on Saturday signed the National Defense Authorization Act with a provision giving the National Guard's senior officer, the chief of the National Guard Bureau, a permanent seat on the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
"The Empowerment Act was long overdue," according to Larry McKnight of Lewisburg, executive director of the National Guard Association of Tennessee. "Having our Chief sitting at the table with the other senior leaders provides them a more complete picture of the non-federalized National Guard whose dual mission is in support of homeland defense and civil support missions."
Retired Tennessee National Guard Maj. Gen. Gus L. Hargett Jr., president of the National Guard Association of the United States, said nearly 500,000 men and women in uniform plus hundreds of thousands of relatives and retirees can celebrate the new law that adds one of their own to the nation's senior panel of military advisors.
"This is the Guard's most significant legislative victory since the Militia Act of 1903 created the modern, dual-mission National Guard," Hargett said.
"The primary role of the Joint Chiefs is to advise the president, the secretary of defense and the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security," he said. "Without the Guard at the table, our civilian leaders didn't have direct access to expertise on the Guard's domestic-response capabilities. In the post-9/11 world, it was a void that had to be filled. And now it has been filled."
McKnight agreed, adding, "When it comes to our federal mission, over 20,000 Tennessee National Guard members have proudly served alongside their active duty counterparts since 9/11. "
The National Guard Association of Tennessee advocates improved working conditions for members of the state National Guard, as McKnight points out, "Life Insurance for the National Guard only covered the guardsmen when on duty," he said. "Pay for guard drill was paid quarterly and you never knew the date that the check would arrive. Equipment was World War II vintage and schools for training were limited.
National Guard advocates began lobbying for representation on the Joint Chiefs of Staff years ago. Legislation to achieve that higher level of influence gained momentum last spring after the House passed an amendment that would give the Guard a seat at the table and Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., the co-chairs of the Senate National Guard Caucus, included the same proposal in a more comprehensive Senate bill.
The NGB chief - a four-star general - previously participated as an invited guest in some discussions with the Joint Chiefs. He was not a required participant and was often excluded from meetings. Nor did he have the ability to nominate Guard officers for positions that require Senate confirmation.
The new law enables the NGB chief to sit with the heads of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines - none of whom have ever served in the Guard - and provide the Guard, for the first time, permanent representation among the nation's senior military officers.
Other Guard Empowerment provisions in the law include requirements for the Pentagon to delineate Guard and Reserve equipment procurement in future budget requests, to prepare a report to Congress on the costs of Guard and Reserve units versus similar active-component outfits, and to consider Guard and Reserve officers for appointment to certain command positions.