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Caught Off Guard: The Link Between Our National Security and Our National Guard

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The current predicament of the Army National Guard reflects the changing role of the force itself—shifting the reserve component’s dual-purpose balance between domestic commitments and overseas imperatives decisively toward the latter as the Pentagon struggles to maintain high levels of ground forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. The heavy reliance on the Army National Guard, its combat units (Enhanced Separate Brigades) in particular, for overseas operations represents a fundamental change from the Guard’s planned role as a strategic reserve force whose wartime function was to deploy in the later stages of a major conflict if needed.

Ground troop levels in both theaters of war could not be sustained at the current rate with­out the numbers and skills provided by the men and women of the Army National Guard. Continued heavy use of Guard forces, however, has raised concerns about whether it can successfully perform both its domestic and international missions effectively.

As the Guard increasingly assumes the role of the active Army’s operational reserve, what consequences will there be for domestic contingencies and home­land security? In a previous report, “Beyond the Call of Duty,” we discussed the use of active brigades since September 11. This report will do the same for the 16 Enhanced Brigades of the Army National Guard. After clarifying the scope of the overuse of the reserve component, we will analyze the conse­quences for national security and homeland defense and then outline recommendations to ensure that the Army’s strategy and future plans for the Guard enhance the security of the American people at home and abroad.