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Army says it won't cut National Guard, Reserve troops

WASHINGTON—The Army has no plans to cut National Guard and Army Reserve troops, senior Army officials said Thursday, responding to complaints from governors and members of Congress that the Army's restructuring plan would weaken those forces.

In the 2007 budget plan that President Bush will send to Congress next week, the Army proposes funding 333,000 troops for the National Guard and 189,000 for the Army Reserve, the current totals. That's 17,000 fewer Guardsmen and 16,000 fewer Reserves than Congress has authorized.

Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker, the Army chief of staff, and other senior generals said at a news briefing that if the National Guard and Reserve could recruit enough troops to fill all the positions Congress had authorized, the Army would provide the money needed from other parts of its budget. He didn't disclose the amount.

Lt. Gen. Clyde A. Vaughn, the director of the Army National Guard, said he was confident that the National Guard would achieve its goal of recruiting the 350,000 soldiers it was authorized to have. Because recruiting fell short for the Army in fiscal year 2005, all three components have boosted the number of recruiters and increased bonuses and other incentives in an effort to attract more soldiers.

The proposal on Guard and Reserve funding comes as the Army is under tremendous strain because of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Army also is restructuring its active-duty, Guard and Reserve components to increase the number of combat brigades and ease the pace of deployments. Lawmakers and governors have expressed concern that the Guard and Reserve would lose soldiers in the restructuring plan.

The Senate National Guard Caucus "plans to review the Army's revised proposal and overall budget submission to ensure that the Guard remains a capable, robust force, not just in terms of personnel end-strength, but also in terms of equipment and the presence of armories," according to a statement Thursday from the caucus co-chairmen, Sens. Christopher Bond, R-Mo., and Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.

"The caucus will work to ensure the Guard is not forced to close armories across the country, transfer out essential helicopters, and reduce other critical equipment such as communications gear and trucks," the statement said.

A National Guard leadership group, the Adjutants General Association of the United States, reported in a background paper that was prepared before the briefing that the Army originally wanted to reduce the National Guard by 25,000 people.

The National Association of Governors lobbied the Pentagon against reductions. The National Guard has provided almost 50 percent of the combat troops in Iraq, plus peacekeepers in the Balkans and the Sinai and 90 percent of the troops on the ground after Hurricane Katrina, the governors association said in a letter Jan. 19 to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

"We need more Guard troops at this time, not less," the letter said. "Given their performance at this time in our history, it is inconceivable that anyone would seriously consider a reduction in the National Guard force structure."

The group had no immediate response to the new figures Thursday, but stood by its concerns in the letter, said Jodi Omear, a spokeswoman.

Rep. Ike Skelton of Missouri, the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, wrote to Rumsfeld last week expressing concern over reports about downsizing the Guard and Reserve.

"We must have the right forces and the right equipment to meet the military's current and future missions," he wrote. "I see only increasing complexity and greater challenges in our future, and the planned cuts to Army National Guard and Reserve end-strengths are disturbing."

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., the top Republican overseeing personnel on the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Sen. Ben Nelson D-Neb., the subcommittee's top Democrat, also wrote to Rumsfeld expressing concern. They've sponsored a resolution that would require the Pentagon to fully fund the National Guard's equipment needs—estimated at $1.3 billion—and to consult with Congress and the nation's governors over any proposed changes to the National Guard's force structure.

Schoomaker said the Army had budgeted $21 billion for the National Guard to purchase new equipment through 2011. Because of the war, stocks of vehicles, weapons, spare parts and other equipment have fallen very low in active-duty Army, Reserve and National Guard units.

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THE NATIONAL GUARD AND THE ARMY RESERVE

The National Guard and the Army Reserve are made up primarily of civilians who serve on a part-time basis, usually one weekend each month and two weeks during the summer. Both may be called to active duty for limited periods.

Each state has its own National Guard units, which report to the governor. They can be "federalized" by the president in a time of crisis.

The Army Reserve is composed mainly of combat service support units, which provide specialized skills that the Army needs, such as military police and military intelligence.

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(c) 2006, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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