Future of the Force Structure

Who Controls Who

Guest post: @Tommywasright, a SFC with 28 years of service, is an adjunct instructor at a small college in Maine. In this post, he shares his concerns about the makeup of the Congressional Commission on the Future of the U.S. Army.

In light of the looming budgetary skirmish that is shaping up in DC regarding the amount of Force Structure each branch of the US Army should get, it’s worth taking a look at the evolution of today’s Army National Guard (ARNG) and some relatively recent attempts to grow the active component at the expense of the Guard. In the interest of full disclosure, I am an active Guardsman who spent almost six years on active duty with the US Army.

Historical Underpinnings

Born out of militia traditions of the several European nations that colonized the eastern seaboard of the New World, the Army National Guard (ARNG) traces its roots back to the initial settlements in Jamestown, Virginia and Plymouth, Massachusetts. While these elements were poorly equipped, marginally trained and established in an ad-hoc basis to counter immediate threats, they nonetheless established the American tradition of citizen soldiery responding to external threats to their homes and settlements that would eventually become their country.[1] This proud tradition continues to this very day as members of the Army National Guard deploy around the globe in defense of the nation.

As colonial populations grew and spread inland, tensions flared between colonial settlers and the native inhabitants of the land that was being settled upon, necessitating the need for a more organized form of defense. In December 1636, the Massachusetts General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony directed the establishment of the first militia regiments in North America. Based heavily in English tradition three regiments were formed; these regiments eventually became the base for all modern armies, and because Massachusetts was the first government in North America to raise militia regiments, December 13, 1636 has become recognized as the birth date of the modern U.S. National Guard.[2]

Militia units went on to fight against enemies foreign and domestic, fighting first against the French in support of England during the Seven Year’s War and later fighting against the English during the American Revolution, while also providing protection against Native Americans during the myriad of colonial/Native American conflicts occurring during the colonial period.

Legal Foundations

At the Constitutional Convention, our founding fathers wrote the legal foundations for the National Guard into the nation’s founding document, The Constitution of the United States. Constitutionally, control of the militia split between the states and executive governments respectively.[3]

Numerous Militia Acts enacted between 1782 and 1908 clarified the role of the ARNG. Of specific significance, the 1903 Militia Act (The Dick Act) converted the militia into the National Guard. The Dick Act prescribed the organizational structure and discipline within the ARNG be the same as that in the Active Army. Additionally, funding was increased for equipment and training and two distinct classes of militia were created; the Organized Militia (ARNG) under joint federal-state control and the Reserve Militia, which was the mass of 18–45 year old males otherwise available for military service.[4]

Further codification of the ARNG occurred through the passage of National Defense Acts (NDAs) starting in 1916. Particularly significant are the NDAs of 1916 and 1933. Arising out of the failure of the ill-conceived Continental Army plan to gain congressional support, NDA-1916 saw the organized militia of the United States officially dubbed the National Guard, and increased the duration Guard units trained at summer camp, now referred to as Annual Training (AT).[5] NDA-1933 established the ‘National Guard of the United States’ as a permanent ‘reserve component’ of the Army, consisting of Federally Recognized units, cementing the role of the Guard as a permanent part of the Army, both in peacetime and in war. Thus, the composition of the National Guard of the United States and the National Guard of the Several States was the same in terms of personnel and units while their titles meant something completely different. The National Guard of the United States was the title for the Guard that had the role of responding to federal missions, while the National Guard of the Several States was the title that recognized the role of the Guardsman as militia.[6]

Evolution of the ARNG

As our nation has evolved, the role of the ARNG has evolved as well, moving from the initial militia force established in colonial time and ratified into the Constitution in 1789 into the primary combat reserve role the ARNG provides today. Up until the start of the Korean War the bulk of Army was maintained in the reserve component (especially the National Guard), except in times of major conflicts. When major conflicts arose — such as the Civil War, World War I, and World War II — the comparatively small active component expanded through the activation of militia and federal reserves, recruitment of additional volunteers for the active component, and the use of conscription. At the end of the conflict, active force levels dramatically reduced. This alignment changed with the onset of the Cold War; the start of the Korean War in 1950 saw the United States double the size of its active forces. However, with the end of the war in 1953, the size of the active component did not decrease nearly as much as it did in earlier eras.[7] Downsizing of the active component after the Vietnam War saw a shift in Army policy leading to a renewed focus on using ARNG forces to supplement the active component. The Total Force Policy, established in 1973 by Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger on the basis of the 1970 Total Force Concept developed by Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird, integrated the three different components (Active, Guard, and Reserve) into a total force package that moved away from conscription. Rather, Guard forces (along with Reserve forces) would be used as the initial and primary augmentation of the active component.[8]

The last decade plus of conflict in Afghanistan and Iraq has seen the ARNG assume an operational combat role vice an augmentation role. A recent Brookings Institute study sustains this evolutionary view of the ARNG and posits further development of ARNG forces stating:

Putting more of the responsibilities for ground combat into the combat proven reserve component is both consistent with the new demands of the evolving international order and justified by the superb performance of National Guard and reserve units in our recent wars.[9]

The array of forces within the Guard, consisting of 28 Brigade Combat Teams, 48 Multi-Functional Brigades, 8 Divisions and 2 Special Forces Groups in FY 2014[10], is not an accident but deliberate recognition by our nation’s leadership of the Guard’s ability to provide additional capacity the Active Army cannot afford.

The Guard is the Army’s connection to the Country and builds domestic and international partnerships

The ARNG connects the people of the United States and their elected representatives with the Army.[11] Living and working within almost 2600 communities throughout the 50 United States, 3 Territories and Washington D.C, the ARNG connects the American citizens with the Active Army.[12] ARNG Soldiers come from every background and profession, bringing vast and critical diversity to the Army. This design is not accidental, rather, it demonstrates an understanding that the Armed Forces are an expression of the nation. This designed alignment of the forces within the post-Vietnam Army is deliberate and ensures the Army will not engage in sustained combat without the explicit support of the American people as expressed by their representatives in Congress.[13]

Through the State Partnership Program (SPP), the ARNG connects the Army with 74 partner nations. These partnerships establish long-term security and personal relationships that support the goals of our geographic combatant commanders and the State Department.[14] This program presents a unique means to build national security by linking military power with our civilian leaders’ diplomacy objectives.

Dual State and Federal Role

The National Guard has a special role as the original homeland security and defense force. Using our unique array of authorities, the ARNG responds to the needs of the nation and states. Positioned with Guardsmen in virtually every Zip code within the nation, the ARNG provide an immediate response to local, state, and national emergencies as well as ongoing domestic missions. Close ties with the states and local communities enable the National Guard to play a significant role in domestic emergencies.[15]

The ARNG provided demonstrable success in simultaneously fulfilling its role supporting civil authorities (state) while still engaged in combat overseas (federal). In 2004, 50,000 Guardsmen deployed in support of Hurricane Katrina relief at the same time 80,000 Guardsmen were deployed on federal orders.[16] Additionally, the establishment of dual-status commanders, embraced by the Secretary of Defense and implemented by US NORTHCOM, was accomplished as a result of the recognition of the competency and utility of the Guard.[17]

Attempts to reduce ARNG force structure/equipment availability since WW II

Since World War II, there have been two specific proposals put forth regarding reorganizing the National Guard encompassing efforts to merge the reserve components (with other reserve components or with their respective active services) and to rebalance capabilities between reserve and active components.[18]

1947 saw the convening of the Committee on Civilian Components, also known as the ‘Gray Board’. Designed to examine the best use of the country’s reserve forces, the board concluded that the National Guard system, with its dual nature, was not adequate for the needs of the Cold War and recommended merging the both the National Guard and the Reserves in a unified force, titled the ‘National Guard of the United States’ under federal control.[19] This attempt at reorganization was repudiated by Congress, who instead enacted the Selective Service Act in 1948, which in part stated “it is essential that the strength and organization of the National Guard, both Ground and Air, as an integral part of the first line defenses of this Nation, be at all times maintained and assured.”[20]

In early 1962, Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara proposed a plan that eliminated four National Guard divisions. A subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee conducted an evaluation of McNamara’s proposal and issued a report that was critical of both the testimony presented by Department of Defense and Army witnesses and the proposed reorganization plan, stating that the latter “was conceived by Army planners who were apparently more concerned with the problem of remaining within budgetary guidelines than with basically satisfying military requirements for increased readiness.”[21] This repudiation saw McNamara then submit a proposal in September of 1962 to realign National Guard forces realigning eight excess and low-readiness divisions into eight high-priority brigades.[22]

Additionally in 1981, The Congress of the United States recognized that Active Components do not procure all of the required equipment needed to resource their reserve components, especially in times of fiscal constraint, thus the National Guard and Reserve Equipment Account (NGREA) was established to supplant that shortfall. Intended to supplement the services’ base equipment procurement appropriations rather than replace it, NGREA funding ensures Guard (and Reserve) forces maintain a high level of equipment readiness. Of particular importance is the direction from Congress that the Active components are still expected and required to fund and equip their respective Guard and Reserve components, however, consistent with the total force concept, the Active components serve as the procurement contracting authority in support of the Guard and Reserve components. Congress thus expects the Chiefs of the National Guard and Reserve components to enhance equipment readiness, thus enhancing overall readiness by procuring items that the services’ base appropriations do not fund. [23]

Current Concerns

So why the narrative and why now? In large part it is due to the recent manning of a congressionally mandated commission on the future of the US Army. Mandated by the 2015 NDAA, the panel is “to study the structure of the Army to determine the necessary size; force mixture of the active component and reserve components; missions; force generation policies, including assumption behind those policies; and how the structure should be modified to fit mission requirements and available resources.”[24]

A quick glance at the background of the members of the panel shows a preponderance of active Army affiliation, which has the potential to bode less than well for the Guard. There are four retired Generals (none of whom are Guardsmen though GEN Stultz was Commanding General of the United States Reserve), a recently retired Sergeant Major of the Army, a former Department of Defense Comptroller, a former director for policy planning at the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy and the lone member with ARNG affiliation, a retired Colonel.[25]

From my view in the cheap seats, there are a couple of concerns. The first concern is the make-up of the commission. While I have no doubt all members will serve with the best interests of the nation in mind, I can’t help wonder about the context of their decision making process. When 6 out of 8 members in any group share the same background, the potential for a coalescing of views based upon that background isn't beyond the realm of possibility.

When 6 out of 8 members in any group share the same background, the potential for a coalescing of views based upon that background isn't beyond the realm of possibility.

My second concern is far more troubling. The majority of the gentlemen who gathered in Philadelphia some 228 years ago were civilians. There were relatively few Soldiers at that gathering, Washington and Pierce Butler are the only ones who spring to mind right now. Given the context of their time (mid to late 1700’s) the militia concept was the force de jour, notwithstanding the Continental Army which had been in existence for 12 years. It was those civilians determining the future of the country and the future of the military within the country, it wasn't a commission made up of retired senior leaders and policy makers. I understand that the commission will make recommendations that our civilian leadership will consider, however given the recent outcome of the National Commission on the Structure of the Air Force, their recommendations and our civilian leadership’s subsequent actions, it isn't hard to make an educated guess about the outcome of the current venture. If that comes to pass, I fear that our civilian leadership will have abrogated 200+ years of history and law.


[1] Doubler, Michael D. I Am The Guard: A History of the Army National Guard, 1636–2000 (Pamphlet No. 130–1: Department of the Army, 2001), 10–16 & Lord, Professor Harold, ed. How The Army Runs: A Senior Leader Reference Handbook, 2013–2014. (29th ed. Carlisle, PA: U.S. Army War College, 2013), 7–1

[2] Doubler, pg 16

[3] U.S. Constitution, Article 1, Section 8, clause 15 and 16 and Article 2, Section 2, clause 1

[4] Doubler, Michael D. I Am the Guard: A History of the Army National Guard, 1636–2000 (Pamphlet No. 130–1: Depart of the Army, 2001), U.S. Government Publishing Office, 2001, pg 144; for specific verbiage relating to the formation of two classes of militia see: Militia Act of 1903 — Appendix 2, Fifty-Seventh Congress, Session 2, CH 196, Sections 1 & 3, January 21, 1903

[5] Doubler, pgs 156–159; Herring Jr., George C. “James Hay and the Preparedness Controversy, 1915–1916.” The Journal of Southern History Vol. 30, no. 4 (1964) pgs 395–402; Lord, Professor Harold, ed. How The Army Runs: A Senior Leader Reference Handbook, 2013–2014. (29th ed. Carlisle, PA: U.S. Army War College), 2013, pg 7–2

[6] Lord, pg 7–2 & Doubler, pgs 188–195

[7] Feikert, Andrew and Lawrence Kapp, “Army Active Component (AC)/Reserve Component (RC) Force Mix: Considerations for Congress.” Congressional Research Service, December 2014, pgs 3–4

[8] Feikert and Kapp, pg 4

[9] Roughead, Gary, Adm. U.S. Navy (Ret.), and Kori Schake. “National Defense in a Time of Change.” The Hamilton Project, Brookings, Discussion Paper, 2013–01 (2013): pg 13. Accessed January 15, 2015 http://www.brookings.edu/research/papers/2013/02/us-national-defense-changes

[10] National Guard Bureau, 2016 National Guard Bureau Posture Statement, 2015, pg 11

[11] Gates, Robert M. Secretary of Defense, “Managing the Reserve Components as an Operational Force.” Department of Defense Directive, no. 1200.17. 2008, para 4.d,

[12] National Guard Bureau, 2015 National Guard Bureau Posture Statement, 2015, pg 15

[13] Sorley, Lewis “Creighton Abrams and Active-Reserve Integration in Wartime.” Parameters, Summer, 1991, p.46

[14] National Guard Bureau, 2015 National Guard Bureau Posture Statement, 2014, pg 8

[15] National Guard Bureau, 2015 National Guard Bureau Posture Statement, 2015, pg 7

[16] Ellis, John, and Laura McKnight Mackenzie. Operational Reservations: Considerations for a Total Army Force. Carlisle Barracks, PA: U.S. Army War College, Strategic Studies Institute, 2014, p.5 and Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, Hurricane Katrina: A Nation Still Unprepared, 109th Cong., 2nd sess., May 2006, p. 476 for Katrina relief information; for deployment information see Ingram, William. Lieutenant General, Director, Army National Guard, written testimony for U.S. Congress, Senate Appropriations Committee, Subcommittee on Defense, Washington D.C., April 17, 2013

[17] Fugate, Craig, FEMA Administrator. Speech to attendees at Domestic Operations Course, Arlington, VA, January 18, 2013

[18] Buchalter, Alice R., and Seth Elan. “Historical Attempts to Reorganize the Reserve Components.” Federal Research Division, Library of Congress, 2007, pg. i

[19] Buchalter, Alice R., and Seth Elan. pg. 2

[20] Publication L. No. 80–759, Selective Service Act of 1948, 62 Stat 604, June 24, 1948

[21] U.S. Congress, House of Representatives, Committee on Armed Services, Subcommittee No. 3, Military Reserve Posture (report), 87th Cong., 2d sess., August 17, 1962, pg. 6670

[22] Buchalter, Alice R., and Seth Elan. pg. 8

[23] Senate, One Hundred Thirteen Congress, first session, Department of Defense Appropriations Bill, 2014, Report # 113–085,(Washington, D.C. 1 August 2013). Pgs 142–143

[24] Gould, Joe. “US Army Commission Members Named.” Defense News, March, 19, 2015. Accessed May 12, 2015 http://www.defensenews.com/story/defense/land/army/2015/03/18/us-army-commission-members-reserve-size/24980961/ and “Establishment of the National Commission on the Future of the Army.” Defense Department, March 26, 2015. Accessed May 12, 2015. https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2015/03/26/2015-06919/establishment-of-the-national-commission-on-the-future-of-the-army

[25] Gould