Small Wars Journal

America’s National Guard: A Force for Irregular War and Homeland Security

Wed, 01/21/2015 - 12:05am

America’s National Guard: A Force for Irregular War and Homeland Security

John Maier

The recent debate surrounding the size and structure of National Guard attack helicopter forces calls into question the legitimacy of a historical and outdated archetype.  That is the practice of modeling reserve component forces to reflect the composition of active duty forces.   In the modern era, a new construct is called for. In order to create greater response options, our National Guard forces should be retooled for asymmetrical warfare and domestic utilization, while our active duty forces should maintain their kinetic combat supremacy.   Since the end of WW II, reserve forces have been constructed to mirror the active duty force structure in capabilities, (i.e., armor, artillery, aviation, etc.) as well as in organization. (i.e., unit types, force structure, specializations, etc.)  This paradigm is outdated, irrelevant, and limits national security response options.  Historically, the purpose of the reserve force was to “fill the gap” between the consumption of active duty forces by a peer competitor engaging in general to total war and the mobilization of society necessary to outfit new forces through reindustrialization and conscription.  This scenario has never emerged and is not expected.  The U.S. enjoys unparalleled technological superiority in mechanized warfare, while maintaining generally amiable relations with those nations that could be considered peer competitors.  The main security threat facing the United States today is from irregular actors engaging in increasingly lethal attacks launched from illicit safe havens.  The current mirroring of reserve forces with active forces maintains duplication for the least likely scenario, long-term industrial warfare, while leaving almost no capacity for the most likely scenario, asymmetrical warfare.  Maintaining this replication is a mistake.  The defense establishment must start building for what is actually happening instead of investing in what is unlikely to happen.  In doing so, we must accept that the most likely threats to the nation and its people exist along non-state fault lines, such as terrorisms, regional unrest, small wars, and emergency relief operations at home and abroad.  These missions do not require industrial warfare militaries and in many ways are the antitheses of industrialized warfare. They do require increased civilian engagement, extensive coalition cooperation, information operations, and SOF capabilities, all applied against limited objectives.  These capabilities embody a different type of military then the fire and maneuver force that currently comprises both the active and reserve components.

If they reveal anything, the U.S. military engagements of the past twenty years (Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo, and GWOT) demonstrate a permanent shift in the conduct of modern warfare.  An affirmation of British General Rupert Smith’s claim that industrial warfare is a historical remnant, while modern warfare has evolved among the people, requiring that actions be fought on a limited scope where the controlling variable is the behaviors and attitudes of the effected population.  Warfare for the foreseeable future, say thirty years or alternatively, the careers of today’s privates and lieutenants, is going to consist of repetitive, limited engagements conducted under complicated political arrangements between unstructured parties, for limited ends, in unfamiliar, often urban, environments.  Realizing the permanency of irregular warfare, the corresponding need for limited operations, and the current domestic financial crises confronting our military, we see that in many ways today’s operating conditions will remain for the foreseeable future.  As an additional factor, military organizations are becoming burdened with greater participation in domestic missions such as disaster relief and security operations each with its own political concerns.  Regrettably, current defense planning reflects a strategy of returning to peer-competitor industrial warfare fought in support of defined objectives. These plans are driving procurement cycles deigned to pursue increased technological acquisitions set against the cost savings of reduced manpower.  This paradigm is the opposite of that needed for resourcing the requirements for irregular, population centric warfare.  In application we are facing a future of warfare we are not preparing for.

That is not to say that America’s military does not face peer competitor threats or that we should sacrifice our hard won edge in industrial warfare.  The maintenance of peer to peer industrialized capability holds merit as the application of Phase II & III (seize/dominate) direct force will still be necessary, though applied for ends short of the complete destruction of the enemy.   What is needed in addition to a kinetic capability is a permanent capability for the multitude of Phase IV (stabilize) operations falling outside of peer to peer maneuver warfare.  Such a capability must be efficient, economic, and enduring. This problem is not without solution, a nation as talented, educated, and well resourced as the United States should not want for the means to secure itself or its interests.  Today’s variables present an opportunity to reconfigure a key component of our armed forces in order to create the necessary capability for future war while preserving our industrial warfare might.  In the face of current international crises the procurement driven, industrial warfare model can no longer be exclusively maintained.  Peer competitors may emerge and must be planned for; however, our military cannot be structured solely for state on state warfare, especially in light of the plain fact that such engagements are the least likely form of conflict to take place. Now that a temporary lull in operational missions is upon us there is a brief opportunity to create greater operational flexibility and greater options for decision makers by restructuring the National Guard for precisely the types of missions that organization has repeatedly successfully executed.

Arguments for revamping the entire military based solely on asymmetrical threats will not be successful. Currently, resources drive strategy which drives procurements, procurements which have cyclic backing among the numerous parties. Maintaining the current construct will not allow for the type of radical transformation some advocate.  Due to the current conflict, the nation would be under threat during any period of transformation with the services conducting combat operations.  Institutional degradation caused by reconfiguring an army at war would hinder transformation resulting in reduced capabilities.  These conditions create an inability to currently retool our active component forces so long as GWOT remains.  This does not mean, however, that we cannot create the necessary irregular warfare response capability while supporting the citizenry at home.  There is great efficiency to be gained within the structure of the National Guard.  Based on its dual state-federal nature, the National Guard must always be prepared for its wartime role while also conducting defense support to civil authorities.  The capabilities for both are remarkably similar. Asymmetrical warfare calls for flexible, mobile forces, such as light infantry, military police, rotary wing aviation, psychological operations, public affairs, civil affairs, horizontal engineers, field surgical hospitals, tactical-level military intelligence,  and cultural awareness/language.  Much of this capability already exists within the National Guard.  The National Guard has built a homeland based response force over ten essential capabilities: Aviation/Airlift, Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear Response, Engineering, Medical, Communications, Transportation, Security, Logistics, Maintenance and Command and Control.  These capabilities correspond with the identified capabilities for irregular warfare.  Through precise, limited transformation existing National Guard capabilities could be adapted to provide a dedicated dual use Asymmetrical Warfare-Defense Support to Civil Authorities response option.  

The Army’s current Operations Manual describes full spectrum operations as offense, defense, stability, and civil support operations, assigning these across Joint (Overseas) Campaigns and Homeland Security missions.  Offensive and defensive operations are dedicated to the traditional war-fighting tasks of the past century such as movement to contact, attack, and mobile defense.  The other two operations, stability and civil support,  present different operating tasks, such as providing civil security, restoring essential services, support to governance, and support to disaster response or terrorist attack. These tasks fall across the spectrum of operations occurring in Phases IV-stabilization, counterinsurgency, peace operations, and defense support to civil authorities. They do not require armored fighting vehicles, artillery, or attack helicopters; nor do they require multilayered computer interconnected command and control modules permeating every decision cycle.  What they do require is cultural awareness, social understanding, diverse transportation assets, human based intelligence, expeditionary medicine, community policing, information operations, civil support, mission command orders, and above all good, quality human capital.  These capabilities are well established in the National Guard and are exercised everyday by Guardsmen across the war fight and the homeland defense missions.  Many of the deeper irregular warfare skills, such as language, cultural studies, and counterinsurgency techniques can be institutionalized in National Guard units who traditionally retain unit members for longer tours than their active duty counterparts and therefore, can retain long-term skill sets within their personnel.  Building and retaining geographic and cultural specialization within National Guard personnel will lead to cost savings and deeper operational capabilities.  This gains additional relevance as many of these skill sets run across the spectrum of operations, including civil-military relations, security operations, information operations, restoration of essential services, and support to governance, all within the joint interagency environment. 

National Guard capabilities and personnel are prepackaged in a modular structure across the Guard, providing an independent task organization from Company to Division level.  This becomes an attractive attribute when applied against the long duration of a fluid counterinsurgency effort which can ebb and flow as the campaign is progressively waged.  National Guard resources can be tailored depending on force size and capabilities needed.  National Guard resourcing could also be institutionalized through modeling similar to the current Army AFORGEN model which anticipates uniform National Guard rotations occurring one year within every five years.  Such a policy of rotations should be implemented and accepted as an operational reality.  Modification to one year within four or even three years could reduce needed force structure, while producing operational experience in the Guard.  Deployment cost could be offset by permanently converting National Guard heavy force structure into irregular warfare and DSCA capabilities.  Operational flexibility would be maintained by keeping active component heavy combat based capabilities at the highest ratios feasible.  Current force mixtures would be altered, but not abandoned.  Active Duty and Reserve Component forces would continue to integrate in training and operations as they do now.  The future difference would be that such integration would be complementary not duplicative.  Though Guard structures currently lend themselves to assignment of hybrid operations, these alone are not enough. Certain retooling of National Guard units, equipment, and personnel will have to be methodically implemented across several years.  Additionally, certain DOTMLPF changes for the Guard should be implemented when necessary.  This is not to say that we abandon current doctrine, so much as to acknowledge that different mission sets for different components will require unique doctrine, facilities, funding, and improved statutory authorities.

Operational utilization for these forces will not be limited to the overseas war fight.  In order to capitalize on the cost-saving benefit of the domestic National Guard, future homeland security and civil support needs should be achieved by direct Department of Homeland Security utilization of the Guard. Previously, major domestic National Guard responses have wisely utilized the provision of federal enablers while employing the Guard’s unique domestic operational depth and ability under state control.  This has repeatedly and successfully been achieved by utilizing the provisions of US Code Title 32 to provide federal funds to the state controlled National Guard.  Such missions as Hurricane Katrina, Operation Jump-Start, and the National Guard’s Counter Drug program operated this way to good effect.  Currently Title 32 limits the provision of operating funds and authorities to the Department of Defense. This encumbers interagency National Guard support options with lengthy reimbursement mechanisms and complex interagency agreements.  Neither of which is necessary, minor modifications to Title 32 would enable direct utilization of the Guard by the Department of Homeland Security subject to the provisions of operating funds and Secretary of Defense acquiescence.  This would lead to significantly increased operation depth for the Department of Homeland Security, while recouping the enormous multi-decade commitment the taxpayer has already invested in the National Guard.  It would also save lives, prevent suffering, aid business continuity, and enhance community based efforts.

Transformation of National Guard force structure for asymmetrical warfare will lead to greater deterrent and response options with significant cost savings.  The new operational paradigm confronting the U.S. requires a permanent force structure for those operations occurring outside of the scope of industrial warfare.   Concerns about retaining industrial warfare capability could be alleviated by instituting a methodical rebuilding of the necessary combined arms capability back into the Army and Air Force Reserves.  This could be done by the transfer of surplus personnel and equipment that will occur as a byproduct of the planned active duty force structure drawdown.  Creating multiple sourcing options across the full operational spectrum will provide dedicated industrial war fighter capabilities while providing for asymmetrical warfare activities such as counterinsurgency, peace operations, and Phase IV stabilization.   Current budget deficits and reported cuts in manpower are demonstrative of a future of reduced resourcing.  Moving forward into the era of modern warfare, the National Guard should no longer emulate the Active Duty unit organizational model which focuses on major kinetic combat operations, but should instead be organized, trained and equipped as an asymmetrical warfare force primarily for irregular warfare, peace operations, and limited interventions.  Not only will this realignment provide the United States with greater response options globally, it would provide for increased civil support capabilities at home.  This capability will be built by the Department of Defense for operational themes short of major kinetic combat operations while exercised by the Department of Homeland Security as an operational enterprise across appropriate domestic mission sets.  Secretary of Homeland Security execution will be enabled by modifying the current language in U.S. Code Title 32 to include missions performed at the request of the Secretary of Homeland Security, pursuant to Secretary of Defense concurrence.  Now and in the future, our nation will face asymmetrical threats ranging the spectrum from limited war to global criminality. Reconfiguring one of our reserve components to deal with these threats is a prudent measured action that will provide greater options for policymakers while leading to effective solutions abroad and at home.

About the Author(s)

John Maier is currently an AGR Lieutenant Colonel serving as an Operational Law Judge Advocate at the National Guard Bureau. He is a former 18 Series NCO, MI Officer, and Operations Officer and has served on several Special Ops TF Deployments as a Support Officer. He is a graduate of The Citadel, The University of Akron School of Law, and The Judge Advocate General's Legal Center and School.



Wed, 02/11/2015 - 7:34pm

I must admit to my Bias up front, I am an AGR NCO. This article peaked my interest because it advocates playing to the Guards strengths. All components are required with the current financial constraints, all components are required to mount an effective national defense and be capable of mounting expeditionary offensive operations. But anyone who advocates any single component should be able to operate alone or be constrained to CONUS operations is not seriously looking at our national capabilities, or our military heritage. During points of OIF close to 50% of forces in theater were Reserve component, Including Brigade Combat Teams. Active Component are undoubtly proficient at intial forced entry. But they often overlook the contributions of the Guard and Reserve Forces, I believe Guard bring many more well rounded skills to the battlefield. THe majority of active component forces are absurdly young compared to the corrresponding Guard unit. When I was regular army I was the "Old Guy" at the age of 23-24. The majority of the Guard Soldier's I serve with are on the North side of 30. How does this benefit the military? While we have not had the pace of depoloyments that active component has, most of my Soldiers are college educated, and have a variety of occupational skills which you rarely see in active components. Any given squad will have various skills, often corrections/police officers, contractors, skilled tradesmen, Paramedics, Fire Fighters, and Salesmen. This was not what we had when I was a Regular. This is particularly evident in the medical units I have served in, where many of the medics were experienced EMTs and Paramedics, as well as Nurses and Nursing students, and various medical professions. THe Medical Providers are often highly experienced PAs and various specilty Physicians, PT, and Nurses, there is a depth of medical experience not normally found in the active component. After 14 years of war while they might not have as many deployments most have deployed more than once.

I have nothing but respect for the active component, but I would like to see how they reacted to the austerity of maintaing unit operations as the AGR forces do, While when AC you have resources everywhere on post, unlike the Company Readiness NCO who is often the driving force of the Guard unit with a staff of up to 3 NCOs runs a unit the other 28 days a month. We are tasked with maintaing the medical readiness of our Soldier with extremly limited resources, and no TMC to call on, where even simple medical issues require an administrative and logistic dance to accomplish. Most Active Component Soldiers have little idea what the AGR does, where we are tasked with maintaing the Guard and Reserve formations.

I also believe we have a more measured use of forces, when we lose a Soldier, it is often someone we have known for years, and when we go home to our communities we still witness how it affects the community, we are ususlly still in the same community with their spouses, children, mothers, fathers, cousins, etc. And that does not go away, the loss stays with the community for years, and our armories are imbedded in the cities and towns throughout the state, not isiolated form the civilian community on a military post.

Are there bad reserve component units? of course. But it is also true of the active component. While there is some level of nepotism and politics in the guard, it is no different then the excess of the regulars. Our officer corps is less isolated than the Regular Army. This is usually since we have known our commanders at all levels since they were young LTs or OCS cadets, this is not to say there is lack of respect, but there is a willingness to speak our mind to our leaders. I may have known my Brigade Commander and State G1 since they were LTs, but I would never do anything other than render them the respect they are due and address them by their rank. This is the norm, not the stereotype of using first names.

I am proud of my service in the active component, I served with both the 82nd and 101st, but I am just as proud of my service in the Guard, and service in Anbar province. So I don't agree when active component leadershi advocates guard formations relegated to supporting homeland defense or CONUS missions, or try to strip our combat power. Walk in our shoes, kkeeping full time civilian employment, and often giving up 50% of your weekends to the Guard. Here in the Northeast while the active component is shut down on their post we are running the snow clogged seats assisting our citizens, and deploying to combat zones to round out our active forces.

That is my rant, all components are required to maintain our defense, but a well reasoned plan needs to be used. Play to each components strength, without belief one is superior to the other. Particualr the active component senior leadership worries me with their direction. I have the same suspicions of them as I do of a career politician, I am not sure they are in touch with the realities outside of their component, with the bloated staffs and a world run by aides and staffers. I worry of decisions being made to protect pet projects or beliefs rather than what is truly in the best interest of defense of our country. Just look at the Air Force debacle around the drive to get ride of the A-10 for CAS in favor of using the more glamorous newer high speed aircraft. I hope never to see the Army that driven by a corporate focus. But I do believe we need a well reasoned look at force structure, but I do fear it is something that needs unbiased arbitration, I fear our senior leadership is to entreched in protecting their turf.


Wed, 01/21/2015 - 2:18pm

LTC Maier:

I very much agree that we should be looking at something similar. You pointed out some great assets that RC troops have that aren't being used to the full effect they could be.

The Soviets used echelons of troops, in varying types and I think we need to have that capability. First, maneuver forces roll in and do their thing, then continue to isolate the objective, while a second echelon moves in, heavy on MPs, Intel, with a Combat Arms package as well. After they are set, then a 3rd echelon can come in for Civil Affairs and related type function. It's precisely in those follow on echelons that I think the RC type of units you envision are a great fit.

We can not have units do it all. We need to have units that are traditional maneuver units, units (and I am talking regular infantry etc.,) that are COIN units (there should be a school for this and SF should be the driving force behind it, just like Recondo School did in Vietnam) and then the CA type units. This business of throwing out the concept of unit integrity and trying to have any unit act in so many different roles was necessary, but a bad way to do business in the future.

Not that we would employ all 3 echelons every time. But we intend to occupy and hold in todays environment, WWII tacts COULD still work. However, we don't firebomb entire cities into waste, drop WMD and utterly beat a nation into submission in wars these days where they are utterly and absolutely defeated. Many opponents aren't consolidated in such a fashion where we could do so even if society would tolerate it.

I've served in both AD/NG units and I admire both. The NG has an inherent strength in the skill set it possesses for 2/3rd echelon missions.

Thank you for your article Sir.


Wed, 01/21/2015 - 1:41pm

Before buying the line that the Guard provides similar capacity at the cost of 39 training days a year, lets take a step back and look at the "traditional" RC training model of one weekend a month and two weeks at AT (generally in the summer). And....lets just forget about the additional leader time such as training meetings that we don't count in budget discussions or just ask leaders to do for basically free.

Given that American's don't live and work today the same ways that they did in the 50's, 60's, and 70's, does it still make sense to use a training/drill methodology that hasn't adjusted to new realities?

Today, if you happen to have a good job that requires significant travel, you are likely shut out of contributing to most RC formations due to the limitation of our current model.

This long term personnel and training question is perhaps what the RC leadership should be looking at, rather than looking at what assets are we being asked to trade.


Wed, 01/21/2015 - 2:26pm

In reply to by MJ Fayette

If I read it right, the JAG was an 18 Series NCO and MI Officer before becoming a JAG (and OPs officer). If not, I still don't care because his points are in my opinion valid.

To say I think your thoughts that the NG shouldn't be called on for overseas duty, well, I won't even go there more than to say that its unrealistic.

As far as the NASCAR etc., type stuff, what's good for the goose.

I agree however, that the domestic mission should really be an NG priority. I think this should evolve to border security and at least in the 19yrs I was in the NG, rarely if ever, do the domestic missions fit into the Yearly Training Calandar.

MJ Fayette

Wed, 01/21/2015 - 12:06pm

I admit, I am a bit biased when a lawyer opines about the operational readiness and utilization of any part (active or reserve component) of our nation's war-fighting capabilities. And I'm even more skeptical when that lawyer/author advocates for the component he works for at the National Guard Bureau! But this particular article gives me greater pause than the first two circumstances combined.

First, let's all just please get one thing straight - the National Guard is NOT a cost-effective alternative to the active component when mobilized/federalized for an overseas mission or homeland response mission as this article suggests. It costs the same to pay, house, train, feed, etc. a National Guard Soldier or Airman on AGR/ADOS, Title 32 502(f) or Title 10 USC orders as any active component service member on active duty. Granted, when the Title 32 Guard is training 39 days a year for its domestic and warfighting missions, the costs are indeed much lower than those of the active component units training for their domestic and warfighting missions - both Army and Air Force. However, the author parrots the National Guard marketing tag-line of value to the taxpayer, but we have to keep the argument in context.

If we're going to use the National Guard for new missions as the author suggests that were normally conducted by AC elements, the taxpayer will not see any fiscal benefit, if that is part of the rationale. Indeed, it may cost even more because the National Guard facing potential call-up for mobilization receives more money to prepare itself for said call-up, and then needs even more money to train at the mobilization station in order to be ready for said mobilization. The Guard has, does and will hire additional personnel on active duty orders to be able to execute its federal mission, as well as purchase more equipment. These things cost a lot of money.

Secondly, with respect to the considerations given to "ARFORGEN," the "Army operational spectrum," and other terminology, I believe these concepst may already be overcome by doctrinal changes wrought by a decade and a half of war now. Our military "brain trust" - is in the midst of some serious "re-thinking" about our warfighting and post-conflict capabilities, and to reference old models and terms really serves no purpose. If the argument is to rely on the National Guard more for missions currently served by other elements or means, we have to apply the logic in conjunction with new and emerging doctrine and strategy even if that requires a bit of a wait.

As to the America's Homeland Security, the National Guard has proved itself over and over as the right force to respond to both man-made and natural disasters. In its role as a state asset, the Guard is the most effective, but it is also the most expensive as well. For a governor of a state to call up the Guard, that state must be able to fund it. Or as most commonly used, the state either seeks reimbursement from the federal government for using its Guard or asks in advance for its Guard to be placed on federally-funded orders that retain the governor's command and control. Again, effective for the domestic mission, not not fiscally efficient as the author suggests.

My recommendation would be to eliminate the Guard's overseas warfighting requirement, and allow it to stick to what it knows and does best - serve its local communities in times of crisis. With approximately $23 billion a year (or more) currently budgeted by Congress for the National Guard, (not counting any supplemental funding) it can and will easily handle domestic responses. But it should not be manned, trained and equipped to fight overseas. That should be the role of the AC and current Title 10 Reserve Components which should be re-configured for those missions. Neither should the Guard be paid to sponsor NASCAR, motorcycle racing, fishing teams, etc.; establishing and running a high school (Patriot Academy in Indiana) or anything else that doesn't fit with its Constitutional and state-driven mission. This will save taxpayers money, and ensure the Guard is able to focus on what it does best, not force it to eat more on its plate than is its ability to do so.

Finally, let's allow the operational planners and strategic thinkers in the Pentagon, in the 'think tanks", at Leavenworth and elsewhere re-tool America's fighting forces with an eye on emerging threats, lessons learned, and our nation's fiscal responsibilities. Then, allow the lawyers to examine the legal parameters - both existing and potentially necessary.