Friday, July 30, 2010

ROA meets with President on Veterans Issues

President Barack Obama drops by a veterans service organizations meeting, co-hosted by National Security Advisor Gen. James Jones and Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, July 29, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Maj Gen David R. Bockel, ROA Executive Director, was among a handful of leaders invited to the west wing of the White House July 29 as President Obama continues to ramp up direct engagement with Veterans and Military Service organizations to get feedback on Veterans issues.

Gen Bockel's key discussion point at the meeting regarded the need to better coordinate treatments for Traumatic Brain Injury and Post Traumatic Stress since there is disparity between DoD, the individual services, Tricare and the VA. He also pointed out the issue is unique for members of the Reserve and Guard who often have to deal with all 3 health care systems for an issue that has latent effects long after redeployment.

President Obama attended the meeting where the group expressed pleasure at the President's desire to engage with associations, getting feedback from Veterans groups directly for the first time in many years. Representing the Reserve Component voice through ROA, Gen. Bockel was one of only a small group of individuals from various associations asked to attend the hour and a half meeting hosted by Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki and National Security Advisor Gen James Jones. The meeting was a two-way street, whereby Secretary Shinseki and Gen. Jones gave updates on the progress to implement automated systems for GI Bill payments, efforts to reduce veteran homelessness, and reduce the disability claims backlog.

Also discussed was the need of administration’s support for Sen. Daniel Akaka's (D-Hawaii) bill to correct several important oversights on the Post-9/11 GI Bill law - most particularly the importance of authorizing payments for non-degree granting vocational and job training programs, which ROA has advocated in both House and Senate hearings. Many returning veterans are not interested in college degrees, but would rather have technical training or work in apprentice programs. Other veterans can only get education through distant learning, which currently does not pay non-resident students cost of living expenses.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

FY2011 Defense Appropriations Update

As the FY2011 Defense Appropriations Process continues, ROA will keep you informed on relevant updates.

The House Appropriations Committee Subcommittee on Defense (HAC-D) plans to mark-up their bill in closed session today at 1:30PM. The Defense bill will not go to full committee mark-up until after the August recess.

It is rumored that the Senate Appropriations Committee Subcommittee on Defense (SAC-D) could mark-up their bill next Thursday, August 5, prior to going out for August recess.

It is also rumored that once the Senate marks the Defense Appropriations bill in subcommittee, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) will be asked to bring the Armed Services bill to the Senate Floor. This is not anticipated to happen until September, after the recess.

Both the House and the Senate will have 2 1/2 weeks of business left in the fiscal year when they return from August recess.

War Supplemental Bill Sent to President

CAPT Marshall Hanson
Legislative Director

The House on Tuesday passed a $59 billion emergency supplemental bill that will continue to fund overseas contingency operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The final vote was 308 to 114. Voting against the bill were 102 Democrats and 12 Republicans - three times the number who voted against it last year. Ironically, this means that more Republicans voted for it (160) than Democrats (148).

The unusually strong opposition by the president’s own party was motivated by several factors. Besides those voting against the spending in opposition to the war, many voted against the bill in protest of the Senate stripping almost $23 billion from an earlier House version of the bill for schools, summer jobs programs, college aid and minority farmers, among other programs. Still others voted against the bill because information on WikiLeaks caused them to question including funding for the Afghanistan government that classified documents revealed as indicating corruption and incompetence.

The military will get $37 billion in the bill, with another $22 billion going to domestic emergencies, such as flooding in the Midwest, funds for Haiti and cleanup in the Gulf of Mexico. The bill had been delayed because of Capitol Hill politics shifting spending bill priorities and debate over earmarks attached to the supplemental. The tardy war funding was badly needed by the Pentagon, which moved appropriated funding from other accounts to support the war efforts.

Monday, July 26, 2010

ROA to Testify on Arlington's Reserve Component Interment Policy

Andrew Gonyea
Communications Assistant

At a House Armed Services Committee hearing June 30, ROA highlighted the differential treatment of the Reserve Components regarding Arlington National Cemetery's (ANC) interment policies, and as a result, ROA has been asked to submit testimony for the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, Subcommittee on Contracting Oversight (SOCO) July 29 to further discuss this topic.

In its original statement for the record, ROA explained how current eligibility criteria is flawed and how it should be expanded and codified to align with the Department of Veterans Affairs' (VA) criteria. Despite the fact that over 750,000 Guard and Reserve members have been activated for homeland defense and overseas contingency operations since 2001, when they return to Selective Reserve status, they are no longer eligible for ANC burial unless they have received a Purple Heart, Medal of Honor, Silver Star, or higher, or received retired pay upon becoming age 60 and served a period of active duty (other than for training).

ROA supports in-ground burial eligibility for the following groups:
  • Any Reserve Component member who has served on active duty honorably in a combat or hazardous duty zone, but who has not been killed in the line of duty.
  • National Guard and Reservists who are killed in the line of duty whether on Active Duty for Training (ADT), Active Duty for Special Work (ADSW) for less than 30 days, or Individual Duty Training (IDT).
  • Gray-area retirees if entitled to retirement pay under Title 10.
  • Spouse, surviving spouse, or dependent children of any group of eligible National Guard and Reserve members.
ROA also noted that current ANC interment policies were developed to allocate the remaining cemetery land to "honor those who have contributed to the national security of the United States," but because ANC recently acquired more land, the urgency to exclude Guard and Reserve members to save space has been removed, and care must be taken to recognize their contributions to the total force.

A couple weeks later, ROA met with SOCO staffers to answer questions about the House testimony and to educate about the Army burial policy at Arlington National Cemetery for Selected Reservists, as they prepare for the July 29 hearing. At the request of the staffers, ROA contacted members of The Military Coalition (TMC) and National Military and Veterans Alliance (NMVA) to provide further input from associations on how ANC should be administered.

Should the Army-administered cemeteries such as ANC be moved under the Department of Veterans Affairs? Congress wants to know our opinion.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Slick Times for the 910th
Reserve’s aerial spray mission takes part in response to BP oil spill.

By David Small, Director, Air Force Section and Communications

The military’s oil dispersing capability was put to use for the first time during a natural disaster, as the Reserve used its aerial spray mission to combat the oil spill from the Deepwater Horizon explosion.

The C-130s deployed from the 910th Airlift Wing at Youngstown Air Reserve Station, Ohio, and returned home June 4 from Stennis International Airport, Miss., where they had been since May 1 helping with the Deepwater Horizon spill. With the two specially equipped aircraft were 60 Reservists. Together, they flew a total of 92 sorties, spraying 30,000 acres with nearly 149,000 gallons of aerial spray dispersant.

Initially, high winds and turbulent waters hampered the mission. "This is a situation we have trained for, for years," MSgt Bob Barko Jr. said of the Gulf mission. "To have the opportunity to do it in the real world and help folks along the Gulf Coast with this capability is really gratifying for everyone involved."

"We're very proud to have supported this cleanup effort," Col Fritz Linsenmeyer, 910th Airlift Wing commander, said in a press release. "Our Airmen have been training for this type of response, and we are pleased to have been able to utilize their skills and capabilities to help make a difference."

Since the Air Force’s inception in 1947, the service has had an aerial spray mission to control disease vectors, pests, and undesirable vegetation. Since 1973, that mission has resided solely with the 910th Airlift Wing. Most people familiar with the mission know of it for its success at abating the mosquito population, particularly around bases, but most notably in the wake of disasters such as Hurricanes Hugo, Floyd, and Katrina.

But just as missions across the Air Force expand their potential, so has the aerial spray mission. After decades of existence, the 910th Airlift Wing began participating in oil-spill clean-up exercises with the Coast Guard between 1992 and 1994, demonstrating the unit’s capability to spray oil-dispersing materials from its C-130H aircraft. This chemical helps the environment reclaim oil from slicks, such as the one from the Deepwater Horizon drilling incident threatening the Gulf Coast.

Like a liquid dishwashing detergent to a greasy pan, the chemicals take the oil molecules and break them down into smaller particles that the ocean can naturally process. Since the process can take years, scientists are uncertain of the long-term effects.

Popular Mechanics recently published a write-up on how these chemicals work. “As soon as oil hits water, the ocean begins its deconstruction. In fact, the marine environment handles oil much like a human body handles alcohol: destroying, metabolizing, and depositing the excessive compounds—in oil's case, hydrocarbons—then transforming the compounds into safer substances,” said Stanislav Patin in the Popular Mechanics article. An international expert on marine pollution, he is chairman of the Aquatic Toxicology Committee under the Russian Academy of Sciences.

While the long-term effects of the dispersant sprayed by the 910th Airlift Wing cannot be determined, its initial effectiveness was monitored by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the U.S. Coast Guard.

This portion of the military mission ended as U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates rejected a larger role for the military in combating the oil spill. “Gates says the deep-water disaster is beyond the military’s expertise,” the Air Force Times reported during Gates’ trip to Singapore in June.

Under the 2005 Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, to avoid competition with the commercial sector, any further needs for this type of mission will be handled by the oil company, BP.

While the clean-up responsibilities do not lie with the government, other government responders included people from the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of the Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the U.S. Coast Guard. Additionally, the Navy dispatched 66,000 feet of inflatable oil boom and other equipment to the region.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

University Consults ROA, Others on Vet Studies Center

ROA's Defense Education Forum hosted a presentation by the University of Utah about a new National Center for Veterans Studies that is being developed by that institution. Officials from the new program sought feedback from the more than 20 military and veteran associations in attendance as to what areas the new center should focus on. Issues discussed included veteran employment, follow-on education, and how to partner with America to help veterans who have returned from overseas contingency operations.

Tied to the National Service Academy, one of the topics was how veterans could continue to do public service. The vision is that both the Veterans Studies Center and the National Service Academy will be franchised programs that will be offered at a number of institutions of higher learning. Not only will DoD become involved, but so will the Departments of Justice, State and other federal agencies.

You can read more about the proposed center at http://ncvs.law.utah.edu/.

ROA President Meets with Senate Democratic Leadership

ROA President RADM Paul Kayye sat down with Senate majority leadership today. The Reserve Officers Association was one of 13 associations invited to meet with Democratic senators. More Senators attended than associations with at least 22 elected officials stopping in to listen to association concerns. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) was in attendance, as were Veterans Affairs Chairman Daniel Akaka (Hawaii) and Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (Mich.).

RADM Kayye talked about the deployments of the Guard and Reserve and reminded the group that when it comes to benefits such as the Post-9/11 GI Bill, Title 14 as well as Title 32 service should be recognized for the education allowance.

Other topics that were discussed were veterans' employment and training and the need for a jobs program, marketing Hire a Vet, support for military members and the families as they transition into veteran status, VA claims processing, and the need to pass the Defense Supplemental, among other topics.

ROA Testifies at Post 9/11 GI Bill Hearing

ROA submitted testimony for the record for the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee (SVAC) hearing held today on improvements to the Post 9/11 GI Bill. The discussion was prompted by legislation introduced by Chairman Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii).

(See previous blog, SVAC Chair Introduces Act to Improve the Post-9/11 GI Bill)

Near Memorial Day this year Chairman Akaka introduced S.3447, the Post 9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Improvements Act of 2010, to improve the Post 9/11 GI Bill. Title 32 AGR (Active Guard Reserve) eligibility is included in the bill, but Title 14 for Coast Guardsmen is not, and ROA advocates its inclusion. Additionally, ROA is pushing to add OJT (on the job training) and apprenticeship programs for time served since Sept. 11, 2001 to be fully credited, earlier payments under the Montgomery or other GI bills to be deducted from the value of earned Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits, as well as other improvements.

To read ROA’s full testimony, please visit www.roa.org/testimony.

CSP Hosts India and International Security Lecture

Austin Brigden
Communications Intern

The Center for Security Policy hosted a lecture “India and International Security” July 16 by Jeff M. Smith, a Kraemer Strategy Fellow and member of the American Foreign Policy Council. The lecture focused on U.S.-India relations and broader Indian security concerns. Smith described how the two countries had shared an estranged cold war relationship, but had grown closer since 9/11 due to actions of the Bush administration. He claims these efforts are again becoming strained.

Quite simply, Mr. Smith believes that these strained relations are resulting from the Obama administration not giving India adequate attention or having enough meaningful strategic dialogues. In addition, Indian leaders are upset about US relations with China (India’s key regional competitor) and with Obama’s desire to appoint a special envoy to the controversial Kashmir province.

Furthermore, the two administrations do not agree on the issue of global warming and many Indians have concerns about US withdrawal plans from Afghanistan. With India’s concern over a resurgent Taliban and their close proximity to Afghanistan, they are concerned with such plans.

The second half of Smith’s lecture focused on India’s national security policies and priorities. Smith highlighted the opposition China presents to India, with Chinese claims to Indian territory. The Indian response has been to raise two new mountain divisions with massive military mobilization geared towards addressing the opposition that China presents. According to Smith, India has even drafted plans for fighting a two-front war. Other Chinese threats include the establishment of naval posts in the Indian Ocean and the selling of arms to Pakistan. Furthermore, Smith noted Chinese plans to build nuclear power plants in Pakistan despite these plans violating international law as Pakistan is not nuclear NPT compliant.

The other major national security threat facing India comes from the Naxalites, a Maoist group responsible for multiple ambushes on Indian troops and for roughly 900 deaths last year. The Indian Prime Minister has called this India’s greatest national security crisis and has plans to switch from state police to the army in an effort to resolve this issue.

Overall, the major theme of Smith’s presentation was to recognize India’s importance as a growing regional power and as a permanent ally in the fight against Islamic extremism. The future of U.S.-Indian relations may be in flux, but much of it depends on how the Obama administration handles future encounters.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

ROA Briefed on New START Treaty

ROA President, RADM Paul Kayye, met with White House staff on Tuesday and was briefed about the new START Treaty and the upcoming Senate ratification vote that will likely be sometime this fall.

Only four associations were invited to the West Wing situation room, where VFW, the American Legion, and MOAA were briefed along with ROA. Seeking ROA’s support, a deputy national security adviser to the vice president summarized the treaty and provided background which lead to some of the treaty restrictions on nuclear weapon inventories. The White House anticipates that the treaty will be voted out of the Foreign Relations committee before the August recess, and that the Senate will vote on the treaty after Congress returns in September.

GAO Consults ROA on TRS

ROA was interviewed July 16 by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) on a congressionally mandated study analyzing TRICARE Reserve Select’s (TRS) acceptance in the Guard and Reserve community.

CAPT Marshall Hanson, ROA legislative director spent 40 minutes talking with two GAO representative on how to improve the program. He pointed out that while www.TRICARE.mil provides a lot of information about the various health care programs, Selected Reservists have to seek out the information. Information about TRS isn’t necessarily being disseminated on the drill floor, so many Guard and Reserve members are unaware of their benefits and how to get their doctors to accept TRICARE. CAPT Hanson also brought up how TRICARE for Gray Area Retirees is not being implemented in a timely fashion.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Defense leaders: 'We have enough C-17s'

David Small, Communications Director
Andrew Gonyea, Communications Assistant

At a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing July 13, senior Defense Department officials affirmed what Defense Secretary Robert Gates and others have been preaching: tax dollars should not be spent on additional C-17 transports beyond those already programmed. This position is one that members of ROA think is premature until a decision is made on how to fully proceed with plans for the full strategic airlift fleet including C-5s.

Visit the hearing page

Among the points witnesses made at this hearing were that the current strategic airlift fleet is strong and right-sized, and the Air Force already has excess C-5s and C-17s. The question we must ask, however is ‘what defines excess?’

Maj. Gen. Susan Desjardins, Air Mobility Command's director of strategic plans, requirements, and programs, also pointed out that the Air Force estimates it would save about $325 million over the FYDP if Congress grants the service's request to retire 22 of the least reliable C-5A transports. The savings would come from "depot-level maintenance, flying hours, and modernization activities that these aircraft would otherwise require." Desjardins noted that MCRS-16, the Pentagon's newest mobility study, identified excess strategic airlift capacity, and said that the savings would allow the Air Force to shift 16 C-17s permanently to the Air Force Reserve.

On the other side of the equation is the C-5 modernization program whereby a C-5 of any model can be re-engined and avionics upgraded allowing it to fly well past its current service life given its proven structural integrity. Only one C-5M created out of a C-5A has been tested thus far and initial results are favorable. ‘M’ is the moniker for an aircraft that has gone through both the Reliability Enhancement and Re-engining Program (RERP) and the Aviation Modernization Program (AMP). Congress, however, is not throwing any money toward RERPing and AMPing the oldest C-5s. Neither is the Air Force asking for it, placing all their eggs in the C-5A retirement basket. As a matter of fact, the Air Force is on record publicly rejecting the concept of C-5A conversion, focusing RERP/AMP efforts on the C-5Bs in the regular component.

ROA's strategic airlift resolution, No. 10-07 passed in February, calls for "the proper mix of strategic airlift that includes further procurement of additional C-17 Globemaster III aircraft as may be required to ensure an adequate airlift force." The resolution also cites the significant need to replace the Guard and Reserve's C-5 aircraft, which are not currently scheduled to go through the Reliability Enhancement and Re-engining Program (RERP). The resolution adopted by ROA put faith in the idea that the MCRS 2016 study, not released at the time, would be based on sound judgment and forward thinking planning.

In an effort to slice $100 billion from their budget, perhaps DoD has also put too much faith in their plans. They put too much trust in their airlift algorithm, and are moving forward with seemingly no plan for the future. They are not advocating a necessary bridge to get to their plan now by keeping the C-17 line open until some of the congressionally scrutinized C-5As are allowed to retire with enough of the rest to be modernized, possibly backing themselves into a corner.

While the members of ROA fully recognize today’s budget constraints and the need to execute certain risks between mission and funding, members of ROA do not think it is altogether wise to shut down the only strategic airlift line currently running in the American aerospace industrial base without having all these other ducks lined up beforehand.

Read more about this topic in The Officer Magazine September edition.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Update: Arlington Cemetery administration testimony

ROA Testimony to the House on Reserve Component members burials at Arlington resulted in a phone call from Senate staffers to be briefed on the same subject.

View ROA's statement for the record on rules for interment at Arlington Cemetery


ROA met last week with staffers from the Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs, Subcommittee on Contracting Oversight, about Arlington Cemetery. CAPT Marshall Hanson, USNR (Ret.), ROA’s legislative director, and Elizabeth Cochran, ROA’s legislative assistant answered questions about ROA’s House testimony to help educate the professional staffers about Army burial policy at Arlington Cemetery for selected Reservists as they prepare for a hearing at the end of the month.

At the request of the staffers, ROA also contacted members of The Military Coalition and the National Military and Veterans Alliance as the committee is seeking further input from associations on how Arlington Cemetery should be administered.

ROA encourages Reserve Component members to take the DADT survey

A DoD working group that was set up by the secretary of defense to develop a readiness study released a survey to 400,000 service members seeking views about the effects of repealing the current don’t ask don’t tell policy (DADT), which has been included in both the House and Senate versions of the National Defense Authorization Act. Being roughly half of the total force, half of these surveys were sent to National Guard and Reserve members. DoD hopes to receive completed surveys within 45 days. The Coast Guard was among those who received the survey.

ROA encourages those serving members who received the electronic survey to participate. The associations have been reassured that anonymity will be maintained when answering the questionnaire. About 100 questions in length, it will take about 15 minutes to take the survey. The questions range from how service members think those whom they believe may be gay or lesbian in their units currently affect morale both at home and in combat to questions regarding how they would react in various personal situations both at home and in combat.

ROA was invited and participated in the DoD Review Working Group on DADT policy changes. Last week, ROA’s executive director, MG David Bockel, USA (Ret.) and legislative director, CAPT Marshall Hanson, USNR (Ret.) participated in a conference call with the Pentagon, were ROA and other military and veteran service associations were briefed on the release of this survey. The confidentiality of the survey was discussed, along with other aspects of the process. This survey will provide input as to how the repeal of DADT might affect the readiness and discipline of the armed forces. The survey is not a referendum on gays and lesbians in the uniformed services. Defense Department officials have maintained that the goal of the survey is to gauge possible problems or confusion with plans to repeal the controversial 1993 law, but not to provide opposition to such a move.

A written survey will be sent out in August to 150,000 spouses of serving members. The Pentagon is seeking information for a number of different groups. ROA contributed input as an association earlier in the year and is formulating a Defense Education Forum event to provide a further venue for discussion.

Criticism of the questionnaire has been voiced by gay and lesbian groups, which discourage their military members from responding to the survey due to a perceived lack of confidentiality and objections over the concept of polling the troops. DOD has emphasized that confidentiality will be respected. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has appealed to gays and lesbians serving in the armed forces to answer their surveys.

For those not chosen to participate in the survey or even those selected, an option to voice further opinions exists in an online inbox available for military and civilian members of the Defense Department. Troops can log into http://www.defense.gov/dadt with their common access card to provide their input.

While this site is not confidential, directions are provided from the site, as well as in the survey, so that members who wish can continue a "confidential dialogue" with non-Defense Department members of the working group. Once service members enter the confidential site, they will be given an untraceable PIN number allowing them to log on from any non-government computer.

Review the PDF of DoD’s DADT Survey

Friday, July 9, 2010

Give us input: ROA to meet with GAO on Tricare


The Reserve Officers Association legislative team has a meeting with the GOA this week to discuss outreach efforts by the Tricare Management Activity. We are looking for your input. From your perspectives, how would you answer these questions? Please post your responses to the blog here. If you wish to be contacted about your response, please do not post anonymously.

Access to Care under TRICARE Reserve Select
1. What impediments, if any, is ROA aware of regarding the ability of the Selected Reserve to access health care and mental health care under TRS?
2. Is ROA aware of any concerns TRS beneficiaries may have regarding access to care? If yes, please describe these concerns and whether they may vary by region.
3. Are the issues regarding access to care under TRS different or unique from those experienced in other TRICARE programs?


Outreach and Education
1. Is ROA aware of any challenges regarding the ability of Selected Reservists to obtain information on TRICARE Reserve Select, including mental health benefits?
a. How satisfied is ROA with DOD's efforts to inform Reservists about TRS and the access to healthcare and mental health providers?
b. What steps could DOD take to improve its outreach efforts for reservists?
2. How helpful is TRICARE Management Activity's publications about TRS, regarding health care and mental health care? Are there any improvements that can be made?
3. How satisfied is ROA with efforts of TMA's TRICARE Regional Offices to educate Reservists about TRS?
a. What if any steps could regional offices take to better educate Reservists about TRS?

TRICARE Retired Reserve
1. What is the most up to date information ROA has obtained regarding the establishment of TRICARE coverage for certain members of the Retired Reserve? What is the status? Has it been approved? If so, what are the next steps?
2. On your website, you speak of concerns regarding the implementation of TRICARE for the Retired Reserve. What concerns you about implementation of the Retired Reserve program?
3. What does ROA feel will be the potential impact of the TRICARE Retired Reserve program for "gray area" reservists? Are there any concerns regarding this program?

Miscellaneous
1. Is there any other information that ROA would like us to know regarding either education and outreach efforts for the Selected Reserve or access to care for beneficiaries of TRS?

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Afghanistan War Documentary "Restrepo" Review

Andrew Gonyea
Communications Assistant

ROA staffers were recently invited to a special screening of Restrepo, a documentary that chronicles the deployment of a platoon of U.S. soldiers to Afghanistan’ Korengal Valley. Restrepo won the documentary grand jury prize at the Sundance Film Festival in January, and I feel privileged to have seen this eye-opening, inspiring film, which unfortunately will have a limited release this summer (see details at the end of this post).

Filmmakers Tim Hetherington, an acclaimed photographer, filmmaker, and war reporter, and Sebastian Junger, bestselling author of “A Perfect Storm,” “Fire” and “A Death in Belmont,” dug in with the men of Second Platoon, Battle Company of the 173rd Airborne Brigade for a year and shot 150 hours of their deployment. Most of the footage used in the film portrays life at OP Restrepo, the remote outpost the men built and manned in the Korengal. Named in honor of PFC Juan Restrepo, a medic with the platoon who was killed in action early in the deployment, OP Restrepo was considered one of the most dangerous postings in the U.S. military.

Life at Restrepo and in the Korengal is characterized by extremes. The outpost, for a while, consists of sandbags, ammo, and little else. There is no electricity or heat, no running water and no phone communication. The soldiers are frequently ambushed and engage in firefights at random times throughout the day. Between the firefights, they work tirelessly to strengthen their defenses, digging into the rock and dirt of the hilltop with picks and shovels, day and night. And when the men finally establish their hold on the hilltop and repel enough attacks, the opposite occurs - boredom sets in, and we see how the soldiers find creative ways to pass the time between hazardous patrols and encounters with the enemy.

Hetherington and Junger’s stated intent was “to capture the experience of combat, boredom and fear through the eyes of the soldiers themselves,” and Restrepo does that masterfully. The filmmakers slept alongside the soldiers, ate with them, survived the elements with them, experienced firefights with them and went on patrols with them. They captured moments of success and humor, danger and heartbreak, and yet their presence in the film is almost undetectable. In that way, they are able to bring the viewer to the Korengal to experience a 94-minute deployment with the soldiers of Second Platoon. The result is that the soldiers’ dedication, bravery, struggles, and camaraderie shine through, and we, as viewers, experience to a small degree what war is like for troops on the front lines.

Restrepo will be playing at select locations throughout the country. To learn more about this film, please click here.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

ROA once again rejects merger of Reserve and Guard

By David Small, Bob Feidler and CAPT Marshall Hanson

In the July issue of National Guard magazine, which has not yet hit the news stands, Maj. Gen. Tod Bunting, Chairman of the National Guard Association Board, recommends merging the Army and Air Force Reserve with their National Guard counterparts.

One of ROA’s key accomplishments over the years is that ROA has helped save the National Guard and Reserve from being merged several times, the latest during the Commission on the National Guard and Reserve. There is a periodic cycle with such a merge being suggested almost every decade.

ROA’s members used a 10-point, fact-based argument in 2008 to convince the commission that such a merger was not feasible. This position was ultimately adopted by the commission. The most salient of reasons to reject the concept of a merged force is the Guard is a state force, while the Reserve is federal, a merger of the two causing all sorts of competition over resources and authority for each mission. The full 10-point argument is listed at the end of this blog.

The CNGR did, during its deliberations, consider recommending merging the Federal Reserve and the National Guard. One version proposed a total merger affecting only the Army Guard (ARNG) and Army Reserve (USAR); another left the USAR with only its IRR and IMA forces; still other versions eliminated the Air Guard and folded them into the USAFR. Hearings of the CNGR and evidence presented to it did not lay a foundation for these proposals, especially the merger of the ground forces.

Over the course of the Commission hearings, the issue of a merger was occasionally raised by questions from the Commissioners. The concept was not endorsed by most witnesses with the exception that in May, 2007, Dr. James Currie, a distinguished former member of the USAR and an historian, did respond favorably when asked if the merger issue had merit.

As Gen Bunting points out in his article, this is an issue that has come up before, most notably in the mid 1960’s under Secretary of Defense McNamara. It was ultimately rejected then. The issue largely lay dormant until now as the Reserve Components evolved and transformed over the past nearly half century. They are now an operational reserve and a key component of national security with distinct missions, organizations, and personnel.

During the CNGR deliberations in the summer of 2007, ROA established an official Resolution (07-33) opposing the merger of the Reserve and Guard. Here is the text of that Resolution:

WHEREAS, both the federal Reserve force and National Guard have long and distinguished records of service and success in their contributions to the defense and security of the United States; and


WHEREAS, both the Federal Reserve force and National Guard have unique missions and strong traditions associated with their respective components; and

WHEREAS, the President and Combatant Commanders require the accessibility and force multiplier offered by the Federal forces of the Reserve without state restrictions; and

WHEREAS, the Guard can augment Federal forces but remain state centric, and

WHEREAS, there is no demonstrated cost savings or other efficiencies that have been demonstrated by supporters of a merger; and

WHEREAS, the Reserve and Guard play distinctive roles in support of many areas that takes advantage of specific unique training and strengths; and

WHEREAS, the distinct differences between the federal Reserve force and the National Guard appeal to different recruitment sources with which a merger would reduce the appeal to a potential pool of the population;

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the Reserve Officers Association of the United States, chartered by the Congress, urge the Commission on the National Guard and Reserve to recommend, and the Congress to maintain, a separate federal Reserve status for the United States Army Reserve and the United States Air Force Reserve and that they reject any effort to merge these entities with the Army National Guard and Air National Guard.

While the NGAUS article’s suggestion is fiscally driven, ROA’s resolution states there have been no demonstrated cost savings or other efficiencies proven in the merger concept. Any actual savings would be minimal at best since current force structures are valid. The only difference would limited overhead, which would be very limited and might actually increase state costs for those with large reserve populations.

Their article does not address any potential negative consequences for a merger, either, nor give any reason why Reserve Leadership doesn’t want it. The article simply ignores the opposing point of view.

Another thing noted about this NGAUS article is that NGAUS used a 1997 CBO report to make these recommendations and a reference from the LBJ administration. Given the massive changes since 1965 and even 1997, particularly in the use of the Reserve and Guard in the Operational Force, referencing outdated force structure ideas is fruitless.

The Congressional Budget Office recommendation from 1997 suggesting a merger recommended forming one Army reserve component. This was part of CBO’s deficit reduction recommendation, to save $2.2 billion. As we enter another time of proposed cuts to defense, it isn’t surprising that the concept of a merger would again be mentioned, yet the savings depend on cutting command structure, and eliminating guard divisions -- and again, have not been demonstrated.

Since 1997, a lot of streamlining has occurred in the realigning of Army Reserve Command as it dropped in strength to its current 205,000. The Army National Guard has actually grown. The roles and missions between the Army Reserve and the Army National Guard are different, with the Army National Guard be combat arms and homeland security, and the Army Reserve being combat support, with many Active Army functions being placed solely into the Army Reserve. Traditionally the Army Guard had no interest in the missions assigned to the Army Reserve.

While the Air Force views its three components as a total force, there are still differences between the Air National Guard and the Air Reserve. Title 10 assignments differ from Title 32 and state level command, with potential conflicts existing between control by the Pentagon and the state governors. Assets for the most part would be owned by the Active Duty Air Force, complicating state utilization. The Air Force Reserve's current organizational structure of a three component Air Force works. They have an outstanding record of readiness and are responsive to day-to-day needs, based primarily on volunteerism. The Air Force Reserve also has a number of unique programs that cannot be legally absorbed by the Guard. These include: Individual mobilization Augmentees, Management of retiree population, Individual Ready Reserve and the Standby Reserve.

Then there is the question of the Naval Services, with the Navy Reserve and Marine Forces Reserve, as there is no National Guard counter parts. It is unlikely that the National Guard Bureau is interested in wetting its feet with responsibility for new service components.

The case has not been made for a merger of the Guard and Reserve. No defense proponent has called for it; no comprehensive supporting case has been presented to the CNGR. Chiefs of the USAR and USAFR oppose a merger; no Guard leader has called for it. The various Reserve Components are now actively engaged in two ongoing conflicts and performing well. No added operational or cost efficiencies from a merger have been identified. Currently, the President and Combatant Commanders have immediate access to their Federal Reserve – this should not be limited by interjecting Governors and politics into our national security. Both the Guard and Reserves have distinguished histories of service and should be allowed to continue that service.

ROA advises and educates on national security, with unique expertise on issues that affect the 1.5 million men and women now serving in America’s Reserve Components – this includes the Guard.

A SEPARATE FEDERAL RESERVE AND THE NATIONAL GUARD SHOULD BE MAINTAINED – ESPECIALLY IN TIME OF WAR

Factors to Consider When Considering any Merger Proposals.

  1. No major defense figure has called for a merger - not the President, not the Secretary of Defense, none of the Service Secretaries, nor the Joint Chiefs, no Combatant Commander, and no Reserve Chief – Guard or Reserve. Indeed, the Reserve Chiefs of the USAR and USAFR oppose a merger. Guard leaders have not publicly opposed a merger, but in private, many Guard leaders do not support it. The lone call for a merger has come from an academic who rendered distinguished service while in the USAR, but whose testimony was dated, inaccurate and speculative.
  2. The various Reserve Components – Guard and Reserve – are serving well as currently organized. They both have distinguished traditions of service that should not be trampled without a definitive rational to do so. No case was made that national security would be better served with a merger – not on cost, personnel utilization, mission, efficiencies, operational lines, or any other grounds.
  3. A merger may limit the President’s accessibility (ability to mobilize and use) to the Federal Reserve. There is some history reflecting non-cooperation between Governors and the President when the latter has wished to utilize the National Guard. The USAR is now a Federal asset and if they became a State asset (Guard), the President may ultimately gain access to them, but politics and the going through a Governor may well delay this access with highly negative consequences.
  4. Combatant Commanders would be limited. They need ready access to expeditionary forces, not ones that must leave 50 percent of their assets in a State.
  5. Both the USAR and USAF and ARNG and ANG have huge mission mandates already. And they are performing well based on most accounts. This is the classic case of don’t fix what ain’t broke.
  6. The Army Guard and the Federal Reserve are fundamentally different: the Guard is largely made up of combat formations and the USAR of combat support and combat service support performing functional missions. The USAR’s primary mission is to support Federal missions CONUS or OCONUS without regard to State borders or State permissions. The ARNG’s primary mission is a State mission with its secondary mission being a Federal mission. When a Federal mission is presented to a State, it State force must be federalize in order to conduct Federal missions outside of the State’s border and requires permission of the Governor. Merging the two forces would only further confuse Title 10 (Federal) and Title 32 (State).
  7. Guard units are unique to their State. The Federal Reserve frequently – usually – draw their personnel from across State boundaries and regions. Guard personnel are not easily transferable between States (of course, a Guard member always has the possibility of joining another State Guard if they move). The Guard and Federal Reserves, although following many similar standards, also have unique processes and personnel practices, for example, relating to promotion of unit members. Career pathways for Federal Reserve members may be limited if they folded into a State system. For example, a Captain in Pennsylvania may find a slot as a Major in New Jersey, and hold out the hope being a Battalion Commander in Maryland, and a Brigade Commander in Delaware. This upward mobility may not be as readily available in a State that would not have the same progression of size of units within a branch.
  8. Many people who are now in either the Guard or the Reserves, want to be in those entities – they don’t want to be in the other entity. A merger may well have a negative impact on recruiting and retention.
  9. We are at war. The units of both the Guard and the Reserves have become operational and operate at a high optempo relative to the old strategic reserve. With all the dramatic upheavals in individual lives and in the stresses on the various organizations and components of the Reserve Components, now is NOT the time to engage in discussion of a merger. It detracts from a difficult mission and adds excess burdens to already heavy ones.
  10. Merging of the Guard and Reserve at a minimum would involve – if we talk of ground forces only – nearly 600,000 personnel! With the Air Reserves added to the equation we are talking three-quarters of a million personnel. We all applaud efforts to be efficient, modern, and husband the public’s resources. But reorganization through merger of the Nation’s Reserve Components is a mammoth undertaking. It should not be confused with the relative ease of reorganizing or disbanding a civil or private entity of much smaller size and scope of operation – geographic and mission.

ROA Testifies on Veteran Status

ROA submitted testimony for the House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs at a July 1 hearing that included HR.3787, veteran status for Reserve Component members that served honorably for 20 or more years but were not activated for the required period of federal active duty.

Read ROA's testimony


Representative Tim Walz’s bill would grant veteran status to these service members that already receive military retired pay, medical care through TRICARE, and burial in veterans’ cemeteries. Both the Congressional Research Service (CRS) and the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) agreed no additional cost is associated with the bill and this group would not be granted new benefits. As Congressman Walz testified, “…I think it is a matter of basic common sense that if qualification for reserve retire pay is sufficient to secure government sponsored burial in a federal veterans’ cemetery, it should also grant the right to offer a hand salute during the playing of the national anthem, or take part in official Veterans’ Day events.” Despite Congressional support, and CRS’ and CBO’s okays, the Department of Veterans Affairs still does not support this legislation. As so many before have said, ‘it’s an honor thing’.