Sgt. Brandon Coburn, a medic from Company C, 3rd Battalion, 238th Aviation Regiment, Task Force Dragon, is hoisted back into his crew's UH-60 Black Hawk during training in Afghanistan. (Sgt. Margaret Taylor / Army)
The Army National Guard will shrink by 8,000 soldiers in the next two years, but more cuts could be on the way as the Army wrestles with tightening budgets and getting the right mix of active- and reserve-component troops.
“The Army’s getting smaller,” said Lt. Gen. William Ingram, director of the Army Guard. “The Guard, the [active- and reserve-component] mix, and the number of soldiers that would remain in the National Guard is a concern.”
The Guard continues to work with the Army on finding the right balance, Ingram said.
“We’re not on the same sheet of music quite yet,” he said.
The Army Guard was authorized an end strength of 358,200 on Sept. 30, the end of fiscal 2013, Ingram said. That authorization will decrease by 4,000 in fiscal 2014 and by another 4,000 in fiscal 2015, bringing the end strength to 350,200, he said.
The active Army is already set to go from a wartime high of 570,000 soldiers to 490,000 by 2017, and senior leaders have warned that sequestration could force deeper cuts.
“The deal is how many and what kind of structure do we need for the total Army, and where does that structure need to be?” said Ingram, who declined to say what types of end strength numbers are being discussed with the Army. “That’s always been the case at the end of any conflict.”
The Guard must maintain its readiness not only for federal and overseas missions but for its work at home, too, Ingram said.
In 2013, the Guard conducted 132 domestic missions, including responding to Hurricane Sandy and tornadoes in Oklahoma. In all, Guard soldiers served 387,794 man-days last fiscal year; one person on duty for a day is counted as one man-day.
“We need to have the soldiers that are in the states stay in the states,” Ingram said. “Each state has their own structure ... and they grow leaders from inside that structure. We also try to keep a balance in that state to do the domestic operations. There, it’s really about capabilities like command and control, aviation, engineers, [military police], transportation and chemical, and that’s the other side of the Guard.”
Despite the uncertainty and potential cuts, Ingram is adamant that his soldiers remain trained and ready.
This past year, because of the budget, the Guard was taken off of a number of missions it has traditionally taken on, including the mission in the Sinai.
“We’re essentially out of Kosovo, working our way out of Kuwait, working our way out of the Sinai mission, [and] we’re working our way out of Afghanistan,” Ingram said.
There are about 19,000 Guard soldiers mobilized, deployed or demobilizing, and Ingram expects that number will be smaller in fiscal 2014.
“We hope to get the Kosovo and [Multinational Force of Observers in the Sinai] missions back,” he said. “Bottom line is there will be fewer training and overseas deployment opportunities.”
These missions aren’t huge, nor do they involve a lot of soldiers, but “it gives the units selected to do those missions a great training focus and something to prepare for,” Ingram said. “It energizes the whole system and keeps those processes we do, that were not in good shape on 9/11, warm.”
One way the Guard is seeking to overcome budget limitations is by using the eXportable Combat Training Capability, a training program that uses live, virtual and constructive training environments to provide brigade-size training in a 21-day time frame.
The XCTC is flexible, scalable and tailorable, and it provides units with mission-focused training at their home station and certifies soldiers at the platoon or company levels before they enter the “available” year of the Army Force Generation cycle.
“You take that to a training location, rather than take the soldiers and all their equipment to a [combat training center],” Ingram said. “It’s really quite good.”
So far, the Guard has conducted 20 XCTC rotations at 14 locations; more than 41,100 soldiers and 365 companies have been trained.
For larger formations, such as a brigade combat team, the Guard is incorporating active-duty units into its XCTC training.
The Guard used XCTC as the culminating training event for the 48th BCT from Georgia, which is preparing to be regionally aligned with Southern Command.
The increased use of the XCTC comes as the Guard — along with the active Army — sees reductions in combat training center rotations for its BCTs because of funding constraints. The Guard’s two CTC rotations in fiscal 2013 and two of the three scheduled for 2014 have been canceled, officials said.
The Guard continues to look for opportunities to train, Ingram said, and plans to look for training opportunities for enabler units.
“We’re not the force that we were prior to 9/11,” he said. “There’s a lot of talk about going back to [being a] strategic reserve. Even if we’re not used as much as we were in the past, we’re not a strategic reserve.”