Gen. Frank Grass, chief of the National Guard Bureau, addresses a room of Kansas Army and Air National Guard members Aug. 5 during a stop in Topeka, Kan. Grass discussed the future of the National Guard and the challenges caused by reduced federal military spending. (John Milburn / AP)
TOPEKA, KAN. — National Guard Air and Army units should be able to maintain their readiness and deployment capabilities indefinitely despite a murky federal military budget outlook, the chief of the National Guard Bureau said Monday.
Gen. Frank Grass told soldiers and airmen of the Kansas National Guard during a stop at the State Defense Building in Topeka that the 460,000-member force is capable of continuing missions both overseas and domestically.
“When we can do that indefinitely as long as the resources are there and we keep our readiness high,” Grass said. “And this generation of Guardsmen and women expect to deploy.”
He said he has spoken with Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno about keeping Guard units in the mix for traditional rotations to Kosovo, the Sinai Peninsula and the Horn of Africa in coming years. Grass would also like to see the Guard continue missions in other countries for several months that could be integrated into two- or three-week annual training programs.
Grass, a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said while fewer soldiers and airmen may deploy in the coming years, those rotations will be shorter than in the past decade.
He also said the National Guard isn’t immune to the federal spending challenges facing the Pentagon, but any decision about cutting the number of reserve forces in uniform hasn’t been made yet. The automatic budget cuts that took effect in March resulted in more than 48,000 National Guard technicians being furloughed through the end of the current fiscal year.
In Kansas, the cuts affected 54 percent of the full-time employees of the Kansas National Guard, including some 1,100 technician positions. Grass said the balancing act is maintaining the Guard’s size and readiness while still finding efficiencies.
“We’re almost in daily conversations right now trying to figure out how can the Guard pay our part of the bill but still keep a very strong Guard,” he said, noting he expects to have a meeting with the adjutants general soon.
The National Guard share of the military’s budget is $25 billion.
Maj. Gen. Lee Tafanelli, Kansas adjutant general, said he and Grass discussed several ways Kansas is partnering with agencies to stretch resources and capabilities.