Analysis: National Guard has 'earned seat' at Joint Chiefs of Staff table

Wednesday - 11/9/2011, 12:17pm EST

Retired Maj. Gen. Gus Hargett, president, National Guard Association of the United States

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By Jack Moore
Federal News Radio

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff announced this week he won't support legislation that would make the Chief of the National Guard Bureau a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Army Gen. Martin Dempsey said only one official — the service chief — can be "in charge of the brand." He also pointed to the guard's lack of a budget.

Retired Maj. Gen. Gus Hargett, the former adjutant general for the Tennessee National Guard, who now serves as the president of the National Guard Association of the United States joined the Federal Drive with Tom Temin and Amy Morris to discuss the guard's point of view.

Hargett cited his respect and friendship with Dempsey, but said, "we just happen to disagree on this particular issue,."

"The role of the Joint Chiefs is to give their best military advice," to the President, his advisers and the National Security Council, Hargett said. "So, who is better qualified to give that unfiltered advice for protection and defense of the homeland than the chief of the National Guard bureau. It has absolutely nothing to do with the services. This is about unfiltered advice to the President as we go about protecting, defending and responding in the homeland."

Hargett, who said he agreed with Dempsey's "brand" comments, argued the National Guard actually has its own unique brand, too.

"The Army is its own brand, the Air Force is its own brand. But, you know, the Guard is the only component out there that's really two brands," Hargett said. "They're the citizen-soldier in peace time and and they're the guys called to active federal service in war time." Some 450,000 National Guard troops have been deployed since 9/11, he said.

And National Guard service members are equally proud to wear the mantle of citizen-solder as well as put on the uniform of the U.S. Army and Air Force, he added.

The other rationale for not having a seat at the Joint Chiefs table for the National Guard is the service's lack of an official budget. Hargett acknowledged that some guard funding is allocated to the Army and Air Force, whose chiefs then dole it out to the guard.

However, there are also funds directly appropriated by the guard, for a counterdrug and state partnership program, for example. The chief of the guard bureau is actually responsible for overseeing those funds .

There is also a moral component to the argument. Hargett pointed to comments from Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), who said the Guard has "earned a seat at the table".

The Senate is considering legislation authorizing the Guard's presence on the Joint Staff. The House passed a similar bill this spring, and a majority of senators support the move.

Hargett said he agreed with the argument that the guard's "sweat, sacrifices and blood" — particularly in Iraq — have earned it a place at the table. But he said the argument for including it on the Joint Chiefs of Staff is broader than that.

"This is really not as much about the war fight away from home, in my mind, as it is how we protect the homeland."