President Bush’s decision to surge U.S. forces into Iraq will require the activation of additional National Guard brigades in order to preserve a rotation base. No longer is the Guard a strategic reserve, one meant to be mobilized by the federal Government only in the event of a global conflict or a nationwide catastrophe. As Iraq and Afghanistan have demonstrated, the National Guard is an operational force. The Army will spend more than $21 billion over the next six years to upgrade the National Guard.
The National Guard also has new and growing responsibilities in the homeland for security and disaster response. Whether providing first responder support to civil authorities in the aftermath of a natural disaster or terrorist attack or assisting the Border Patrol, the National Guard’s role at home is growing.
One way the Army could significantly enhance the National Guard’s role in both war and the homeland would be by creating more Stryker brigades for it. The Stryker is the wheeled, armored combat vehicle that comes in ten different configurations, including command and control, reconnaissance, medical evacuation and engineer support. The Stryker best fits the National Guard’s need for dual-use equipment that can integrate with the best in the Active Component for overseas missions and also provide enhanced capabilities to meet their responsibilities to the states.
At present, there is only one Stryker brigade in the National Guard, the Pennsylvania 56th. The Army thinks so highly of the Stryker that it is converting six brigades or more than 15 percent of its combat force structure into these units. The National Guard, with 28 combat brigades planned, gets about four percent. The National Guard should have at least two — and possibly four — additional Stryker brigades to match their capabilities to that of the Active Component.
Additional Stryker brigades in the National Guard would provide significant new assets for the states and the Department of Homeland Security. Such brigades could be organized regionally, available not just to one governor but to several. Organized in such a manner, these brigades could support states in the Southeast in the event of hurricanes, those in the Midwest when tornadoes or violent storms strike, and in the West if an earthquake should happen.
The Army is spending a lot of money and effort to modernize the National Guard. It makes sense to do this in a smart way. This means expanding the number of Stryker brigades in the National Guard.
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