The Florida National Guard is speaking out against a plan they say the U.S. Army is floating that would slash the state’s Guard personnel by 10 percent.
The plan would cut the entire National Guard from 350,000 soldiers to 315,000, according to Lt. Col. James Evans, director of public affairs for the Florida National Guard.
The cuts would mean a reduction in force for the Florida arm of the Guard from roughly 10,000 to 9,000 soldiers, as well as a loss of helicopters often used for rescue missions.
The Florida National Guard and Army Reserve perform roles both abroad and at home. In Florida, that especially means disaster relief.
“We are the most disaster-prone state,” Col. Glenn Sutphin, legislative director for the Florida Department of Military Affairs, said. “It doesn’t make sense in my opinion.”
Florida’s Guard is already small compared to other states.
With a force of 10,000 and a population of over 19 million, the state of Florida ranks 53rd out of 54 (50 states, three territories and the District of Columbia) in Guardsman-to-civilian ratio.
“The importance of a ready National Guard was demonstrated just this week in the Atlanta area [snowstorm],” Evans said. “If you’re cutting a tenth of the force out in the third largest state, that’s not helping us out when we have our own natural disasters.”
Also not helping would be the loss of four of the Guard’s Black Hawk helicopters.
The aviation portion of the plan would give all of the National Guard’s Apache attack helicopters to the active arm of the U.S. Army. Though Florida doesn’t have any Apaches, the plan would take four of Florida’s Black Hawks stationed at Cecil Field and give them to the states that lost Apaches due to budget cutbacks.
“Losing four aircraft will have an impact for sure,” Evans said. “The keys are our Chinooks and Black Hawks that ferry water and food back and forth.
“We have vulnerable areas like the Florida Keys where helicopters are the only way to get things in and out.”
Black Hawks are a mainstay in Guard units across the country to rescue victims from fires, floods and those lost or stranded in the wilderness.
Evans noted the plan is “pre-decisional,” but serious nonetheless.
The recent budget passed by Congress merely staves off the effects of sequestration for two years, Evans said. In 2016, the full effect will again be felt by the nation’s military.
“Once it went into effect, there has to be a law to repeal sequestration,” Evans said. “So it’s in effect for its full 10 years and the two-year budget authorization that was passed only lessens the effect.”
All branches of the military are dealing with downsizing and cuts after nearly a decade of war is winding down. However, the National Guard wants to see a study completed to illustrate why these specific cuts are necessary.
“I’m sure the Army has its reasons and I’m sure they’re good reasons,” Sutphin said. “But like Ronald Reagan said, ‘Trust, but verify.’ ”
Though it wouldn’t repeal sequestration, one House bill introduced Monday by Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) and cosponsored by 20 Republicans and six Democrats would require the study. In addition, it would impose a minimum manpower level on the National Guard of 350,000 Guardsmen — effectively pre-empting the cuts.
“The National Guard is an essential part of our Army and defense structure in Florida, across the nation, and around the globe,” Rep. Ander Crenshaw (R-Fla.), a member of the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, said. “We cannot afford to risk our national security to a dip in Guard personnel levels.
“That’s why I stand behind legislation to maintain Guard end-strength levels at 350,000 and further examine the Army’s force structure as a whole.”
National Guard and Army Reserve units are often seen as a deal for the military. Soldiers only draw about 40 days of pay per year and don’t draw full benefits.
“An Army Reserve/National Guard soldier costs less than a third of an active component soldier to sustain,” Evans said.