This past weekend, I participated in my final winter meeting of the National Governors Association in Washington, D.C. These meetings allow governors to come together to share ideas and discuss issues that our states face collectively. As you might expect, other governors approached me about the ground we have broken on health care in Arkansas, both with our Payment Improvement Initiative and with the Arkansas Private Option.
Those discussions, however, were one-on-one conversations. When the governors gather as a group, we usually discuss issues that most or all of us are dealing with as a group in each of our home states. And in my time as governor, I may never have seen an issue that has united state executives across the country more than the potential cuts confronting the Army National Guard.
Military cuts are definitely coming in the United States as part of the continued effort to reduce costs and slow the growth of our national debt. However, part of the U.S. Army’s latest budget request includes potential cuts to the Army National Guard. Governors understand that military cuts must be made. The argument we made to President Obama and others is that the National Guard has a record of being cost-effective and productive. Cutting back on our Guard strength in order to reduce military spending would be penny wise and pound foolish.
The role of our National Guard has shifted since 2001. While the Guard continues to respond to disasters and other emergencies here at home, it has become a more experienced combat force, fighting bravely alongside active Army personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many Guard members have had prior military experience before enlisting, meaning that they are better trained from their first day in a Guard uniform.
When the American military presence in the Middle East ramped up during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the subsequent increase in force structure came from the active Army, not from the Army National Guard. Governors feel that the rollback of the corresponding funding, as our overseas troop strength is reduced, should mirror that approach. Otherwise, we may harm the readiness of Guard units to respond at the state level, one of its primary functions.
Two years ago, we faced similar looming cuts with our Air National Guard. Congress did not carry out the proposed cuts, instead creating a National Commission on the Structure of the Air Force. While we did still see some personnel shifts in Arkansas, the end result was not as drastic as it could have been.
Along with other governors, I’ve signed a letter to President Obama making our case against the potential National Guard cuts and asking for reconsideration. One of our suggestions is to establish a similar independent commission to examine the structure of the Army.
As governors, we understand fully the need to balance budgets and make cuts when necessary. States do a far better job of it than the federal government does. I feel that with closer examination, the Commander in Chief and other military leaders will recognize the financial sense it makes to keep our National Guard forces at current strength. It’s cost-effective, it’s pragmatic, and it helps preserve readiness and safety here at home.