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Lawmakers want to limit 'off-ramping' Guard units

Jun. 25, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
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Lawmakers want to limit last-minute decisions to deploy active-duty units in place of Guard and reserve forces.

The House and Senate armed services committees both want to impose restrictions aimed at a practice called “off-ramping.” They just have not agreed on the limits.

In its report accompanying the 2014 defense authorization bill, the Senate Armed Services Committee says services should be barred from canceling a reserve unit’s deployment within 180 days of its departure without the personal approval of the secretary of defense. If the secretary approves such a move, he would be required to notify the congressional defense committees and the unit’s state governor.

The House Armed Services Committee, in a report on its version of the annual defense policy bill, sets 120 days as the minimum notice for a canceled, postponed or altered deployment. The House report says if the secretary fails to provide “timely notification” he must notify the House and Senate armed service committees within 30 days, “explaining the reason for the failure and the units and members of the reserve components affected.”

Differences between the House and Senate guidance will have to be worked out before a final bill passes Congress.

The measures are in response to the Army’s decision to in March to cancel the deployment of four Indianan National Guard units to missions in the Horn of Africa and the Sinai Peninsula and replace them with active component forces to address a budget shortfall. Five-hundred people in two of the units were within six weeks of departure, and the other two units were within 90 days of departure.

About 400 soldiers from 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, will deploy to the Sinai Peninsula this summer, officials announced June 19. The deployment of the Fort Hood, Texas-based soldiers will begin in August or September, and they will go in place of two Indiana National Guard units that originally were slated for the mission.

The Indiana National Guard units had been preparing for the mission since they were mobilized in October 2012.

“The Army described this as a ‘short fuse decision,’ but its impact has been wide ranging on the National Guard in Indiana and the communities that support these service members,” the senate committee’s report reads.

The decision meant more 1,000 families lost access to TRICARE benefits, after all had been enrolled in the TRICARE Early Eligibility Program 180 days ahead of their scheduled deployment date, according to military officials.

Many of these troops made financial decisions and commitments based on the projected pay and benefits that accompany a year-long deployment. Students missed deadlines to apply for financial aid because they expected to be deployed. Some service members had already terminated leases. The units will be placed at the bottom of rotation for future deployments, and will have lost a year of eligibility for deployment.

“The committee is concerned that this type of decision indicates a disregard for the preparation of reserve component forces for deployment and the impact that a last-minute cancellation of deployment, for reasons other than a change in mission requirements, can have on morale, retention, and training,” the report states. “This provision is not intended to limit the flexibility of the Army to cancel the deployment of reserve component forces for the purpose of replacing them with active component units, but rather to ensure that strategic thought is given to reserve component mobilization and the determination to cancel a deployment.”

Staff Writer Michelle Tan contributed to this report.

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