On Monday, November 28, 2011, the Senate approved an amendment to the annual Defense Authorization Bill that would give the National Guard its first seat on the nation’s highest military council, the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS). The amendment, which was introduced by Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and has 71 cosponsors, will make the Chief of the National Guard Bureau a permanent member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff serves as the military advisory board to the President, Secretary of Defense, and the National Security Council. As it stands currently, the JCS Chairman has two assistants for National Guard and Reserve matters. This means that the National Guard and Reserves do not have a direct voice in advising civilian leaders on military and defense issues. The historic absence of a Reserve Component vote on the JCS has become increasingly tenuous as the Reserve Component has transitioned from a strategic to an operational force.
Since 9/11, the role of the National Guard and Reserves has increased to over 800,000 activated service members. Of those members, over 400,000 serve in the Army National Guard or the Air National Guard. With the greater responsibility and presence in today’s national defense, both at home and abroad, the National Guard and Reserves should have a prominent voice when advising our nation’s leaders on matters concerning the military and national security.
The effort to bring the National Guard to the forefront is a part of a series of reforms introduced by Senator Leahy and Senator Graham. Their National Guard Empowerment and State-National Defense Integration Act, also known as “Guard Empowerment II,” is part of a legislative attempt by the Senate National Guard Caucus to give the Guard a more meaningful voice in Pentagon circles where key policy and budget decisions are made that affect the Guard. In addition to establishing a seat for the National Guard on the JCS, the bill will help reestablish the position of the Vice Chief of the Guard Bureau at the three-star level; enhance the Guard’s representation at the senior levels of U.S. Northern Command; and help clarify the disaster response command relationship among the Guard and the U.S. military commands. 
The Reserve Officers Association believes that the voice of all Reservists and Guardsmen needs to be present at the highest levels of national security decision-making. Given their operational posture over the last decade these service members are entitled to have a larger say at the Pentagon and on the Hill. By allowing a seat for the National Guard on the JCS, there is more voice for Guardsmen as well as greater input on domestic matters and homeland security. The Senate’s passage of the amendment may be a step in the right direction for Guardsmen, however will it serve as a motivation for the Reserve to gain a voting seat as well? If equal sacrifice deserves equal representation, then it seems prudent that both Reserve advisers be elevated to voting members of the JCS. This stronger presence of Guardsmen and Reservists will only allow for a stronger national defense, both domestic and overseas, as well as the assurance of the necessary resources and incentives for recruitment, retention and preparation in today’s world.