Q: What role does the National Guard play in the U.S. military?

A: In 1970, the Secretary of Defense presented a Total Force Concept designed to decrease defense expenditures by reducing all facets of the active forces and increasing reliance on the combat and combat support units of the National Guard and Reserves.

Faith in these components of the U.S. armed forces was well-placed. The National Guard has participated in every war or conflict our nation has fought. The militia was on the Lexington Green in 1775 for opening shots in the War of Independence. The greatest number of combat divisions to fight the Germans during World War I came from the National Guard. The National Guard doubled the size of the regular Army when it was mobilized a year before Pearl Harbor. More than 138,000 Guardsmen were mobilized for Korea. National Guardsmen were in Vietnam. More than 63,000 served in Desert Storm. They have been peacekeepers in Somalia, Haiti, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bosnia and Kosovo. A significant portion of U.S. forces in Afghanistan and Iraq came from the Army National Guard. At one point in 2005, half the combat brigades in Iraq were Army National Guard. That year also marked the largest deployment ever of National Guard troops in response to a natural disaster when Hurricane Katrina hit. These commitments and others have showcased the National Guard and reflect its contribution to America’s military strength and security.

In 2010, Iowa was ranked 15th nationwide for the percentage of our population serving in the National Guard. The Iowa Army and Air National Guard are headquartered at Camp Dodge in Johnston. The Iowa Army National Guard has 56 armories in 53 communities statewide. The Iowa Air National Guard has a fighter wing and squadron at the Des Moines International Airport, a refueling wing and squadron at the Sioux Gateway Airport, and a test squadron in Fort Dodge. More than 16,000 Iowa National Guard Soldiers and Airmen have served in overseas contingency and domestic operations since September 11, 2001. Recently, the Iowa National Guard welcomed home the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division, which had more than 2,800 soldiers serving on combat duty in Afghanistan. It was the largest single unit deployment of the Iowa National Guard since World War II. Separately, more than 900 Iowa National Guard Soldiers and Airmen responded to the Missouri River flood this year. It was one of the longest state-based active duty missions in Iowa National Guard history.

Q: Is the Guard’s role in Pentagon decision-making commensurate with its role on the battlefield?

A: While the Total Force Concept officially made the National Guard and Reserves integral to any extended campaign by U.S. forces, the culture at the Pentagon has been slow to adopt to this new reality as the Guard and Reserves have not been given support that’s on par with that dedicated to active forces.

The Guard often gets hand-me-down equipment from the active duty or doesn’t get the latest equipment when it is allocated, but Guard members are doing the same jobs as the active duty component and doing it well. No major deployment is really possible without the Guard. So, the Guard should have the same equipment and training as the active duty.

I’m a member of the Senate National Guard Caucus, which advocates for the needs of the National Guard as key decisions are made in Congress. I’m also a cosponsor of legislation that would give the Guard a seat at the table when major decisions are made, including how resources are allocated. The National Guard Empowerment and State-National Defense Integration Act (S.1025), or Guard Empowerment II, would build on reforms we achieved in 2008 by giving the Guard and Reserve a seat at the Pentagon’s budget and policymaking tables and updating jurisdictional and operational lines of authority. With more than 60 senators supporting this bill, it has a good chance of being considered during debate on the fiscal 2012 National Defense Authorization Act.