Pentagon adds one more chair in Joint Chiefs' 'Tank'

Thursday - 1/5/2012, 5:11am EST

Jared Serbu, reporter, Federal News Radio

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Starting this week, there's another chair in the "Tank", the meeting room of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The 2012 Defense authorization bill President Obama signed on New Year's Eve makes Gen. Craig R. McKinley, the chief of the National Guard Bureau, a full member of the Joint Chiefs, despite the objections the pre-existing members of the JCS, each of whom advised lawmakers against making the change.

Before now, McKinley and his predecessors frequently attended JCS meetings, but only at the invitation of the chairman. The statutory addition of the Guard chief as a permanent member, backers argue, gives the National Guard, whose roots predate each of the active-duty military services, an overdue seat at the table in advising the nation's national security leadership.

"Obviously the members of the Joint Chiefs understand warfighting. That's what they've been raised to understand. But they're not raised to understand domestic response," said Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Gus Hargett, president of the National Guard Association of the United States and a former adjutant general of the Tennessee National Guard.

Gen. Craig R. McKinley

"When we had Hurricane Irene last fall, we moved active duty military around all over the place that we never used. Every state deployed guardsmen in support of the effort. And no one ever called Gen. McKinley to ask him what the Guard was doing to keep the country from duplicating efforts," Hargett said in an interview. "There are so many important things, like equipment that the National Guard uses for response, which never get talked about at the Joint Chiefs level."

According to the new legislative provision, the role of the Guard chief in the "Tank" will be to represent the non-federal missions of the National Guard: those that aren't already being served by the respective chiefs of staff of the Army and Air Force, the only two services with National Guard components.

"I never want to see the Army Guard and the Air Guard not be a part of the Army and Air Force," Hargett said. "But before 9/11, I never really took a good look at all the things we do that are not part of the war fight."

Hargett said his view of the Guard's role changed after the 2001 attacks and the subsequent re-shuffling of national security missions. Now, the Joint Chiefs, for example, had to not just provide military advice to the President, the National Security Council and the Secretary of Defense, but also to the Secretary of Homeland Security.

"After 9/11, we had so many guys serving as volunteers in a Title 32 status [under the control of state governors]. They weren't a part of the Department of Defense, but they were being paid with Department of Defense money. There are so many things there where we need to have better integration between the National Guard and the Joint Chiefs."

The addition of the Guard bureau was opposed by the then-current members at a November 2011 hearing, which members of the Senate Armed Services Committee noted as the only one they could recall in which every member of the Joint Chiefs had appeared to testify on any particular issue.

On this topic, the members were unanimous: adding the Guard bureau would be a bad idea. The Guard chief was not accountable for a budget in the same way the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines were. Also, he was not subject to the same clear line of civilian oversight as the other members of the JCS, who are each partnered with non-uniformed secretaries.

Each member went to lengths to recognize the importance of the Guard, but each argued against the idea of giving the Guard chief a seat on the JCS.

"Despite being my great friend, the Chief of the National Guard Bureau does not have commensurate responsibility, nor should we send the corrosive signal that we have two different United States Armies and two United States Air Forces," said Adm. James Winnefeld, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs at the November hearing. "While the legislation may send a positive message to the terrific men and women in the Guard, I'm concerned that it will send a very negative message to the remaining 40-plus percent of our nation's reserve component that they are somehow of lesser importance, and that future decisions could be taken at their expense. And I've heard that concern from members of our Title 10 reserve components whom I've asked."

McKinley, the National Guard chief, said in the sole statement the Pentagon released this week following the provision's passage, that he looked forward to working with his future colleagues.

"We are grateful for the efforts the executive and legislative bodies have gone to in placing the chief of the National Guard Bureau on the Joint Chiefs of Staff," McKinley said. "We look forward to working alongside the other Joint Chiefs to provide our nation's senior leaders with a fuller picture of the non-federalized National Guard as it serves in support of homeland defense and civil support missions."

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