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Governor Beebe's weekly column and radio address: National Cuts To The National Guard

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This winter, I spoke about the unified front demonstrated by our nation’s governors over the worrisome matter of potential cuts to the National Guard. Cuts are planned over the next two years to reduce the size of the Guard nationwide from 350,000 to 335,000. This includes about 300 soldiers in Arkansas.

At our annual National Governors Association meeting in February, we made the case to President Obama and others that the National Guard gives Americans the best value for their military tax dollars. They protect us overseas while providing vital services here at home. That role on the home front has been highlighted during the past two weeks, as the Arkansas National Guard has helped with continuous response to the deadly storms of April 27th. Some of the Guard units that responded so effectively to tornado-ravaged communities are among those identified by the Department of the Army for future cuts.

We governors have recommended an independent study of Army force structure before final cuts are determined. Legislation to create such a study has now been introduced in the U.S. Senate. Unfortunately, we’ve seen how difficult it is to pass anything in Congress these days, and the cuts currently remain in place.

An even bigger blow to the Arkansas National Guard is scheduled to arrive in four years. This second round of cuts, scheduled for 2018, is a result of the sequestration law passed by Congress a few years ago. The concept behind the sequestration was that its cuts were so drastic that lawmakers would surely pass other, more palatable budget plans to prevent it from going into effect. So far, that hasn’t happened. We now know that if those sequestration cuts are enacted, our State will lose an additional 530 soldiers. The heaviest impact of this second reduction would be felt by the 39th Infantry Brigade.

Let me repeat: the sequestration was an invention of Congress to force itself into action, action that has not taken place. Losing 830 Arkansas National Guard soldiers by 2018 would obviously hinder the Guard’s readiness in our State. While the Guard always makes the most of the resources available to serve us, going from a total force of nearly 8,000 to less than 7,000 in four years would clearly impact their ability to perform their mission. The planned cuts still can be changed, as the Army will again review the force reduction plans in 2016. The clearest path to keeping our National Guard as strong as possible remains Congressional action. Of course, some cuts are unavoidable as deficit-reduction efforts continue. But the slashing and scattershot approach of sequestration could cost Arkansas greatly.

The men and women of the Arkansas National Guard have seen their roles change dramatically since 2001. The image of the weekend warrior is no longer a valid one, as they have repeatedly fought bravely overseas, side-by-side with active military forces, while continuing to serve us at home. Our State leaders in the Guard are working to minimize the impact of cuts in Arkansas, but the real possibility for action remains in Washington, D.C. You can make your voice heard, just as our nation’s governors have, about the importance of our Arkansas National Guard to our communities and to our country.