Top reservist commanders warn lawmakers about budget, readiness issues
WASHINGTON — The top military reservists told lawmakers Wednesday that they’re ready to “fight tonight,” if Congress steps up to fully fund their efforts.
The commanding generals from each reservist component gathered for an appropriations subcommittee hearing before the Senate to discuss the state of readiness and programs as their mobilizations and use in continuous combat operations during the last 15 years have stretched capabilities of part-time troops more than any point in modern history.
All five commanders were synchronized in their opening statements to oppose the use of a stopgap budget measure to fund military operations, with each using similar phrases to describe the need for consistent and steady funding for a combined force of more than 800,000 guardsmen and reservist across the military, according to service data.
Air Force Gen. Joseph Lengyel, the chief of the National Guard Bureau, said emerging threats such as the Islamic State and ramped up Russian aggression in Europe highlight the need for “stable, predictable funding” to meet the challenge of integrating with active-duty missions and modernized equipment and training.
Lengyel’s Army Reserve counterpart Lt. Gen. Charles Luckey echoed the sentiment in his written testimony. While the military has focused on counterterror and counterinsurgency missions, he said, adversary militaries have modernized and studied U.S. war plans to duplicate its strength.
“Russia has clearly demonstrated its prowess as a global competitor, and its propensity to unilaterally use military force to achieve its perceived security objectives,” Luckey said in written testimony, with similar warnings on rising Chinese and North Korean military capabilities.
Luckey needs at least 30,000 soldiers available to mobilize and deploy in less than 90 days if required, with much of them ready to deploy in less than 30 days, he said. Stopgap funding measures, Luckey said, reduce that ability.
The stopgap bills, called continuing resolutions, have been used frequently during the last eight years. Continuing resolutions lock the Pentagon’s budget in at last year’s spending level, which bars military services from starting new programs or ending old ones.
Air Force Lt. Gen. Maryanne Miller said the continuing resolution would degrade readiness by gutting training and maintenance funds, leaving fewer aircraft in a state of readiness for mobilization. The Air Guard and Reserve is short 445 pilots, she said, with flying squadrons at 72 percent capacity.
“A downward trend in our pilot manning could continue if we don’t take measures to recruit and retain pilots through bonuses and other quality-of-life programs,” Miller said in written testimony.
The reservist chiefs also addressed personnel and morale issues, including shortfalls in benefits between active-duty troops and reservists.
Lengyel said there was a need for parity that troops and advocates have called for in recent months. He specifically mentioned the need to address deployment code Title 10, 12304b, which restricts accumulation of GI Bill education benefits for reservists who mobilize under the authorization.
Stars and Stripes was the first to report in November that the Pentagon used the authorization for nearly 5,000 orders from 2014 to late 2016 across all components, mustering reservists for missions across the globe while withholding education benefits that they would normally receive while on active duty under other deployment orders.
Lengyel also cautioned against plans to convert at least 20 percent of National Guard technicians into federal civilian employees, telling lawmakers that it would create deficiencies within states to respond to local missions like disaster relief and create training shortfalls in the service.
He was also pressed on recent reports of deep salary cuts for employees at guard and reservist family support centers, which provide mental health and redeployment assistance to troops and family members. The sharp reductions in salary following a new vendor’s contract have led to resignations and reduced capacity, according to a Monday story in the Washington Post.
Lengyel sidestepped questions on any direct action he is taking, telling lawmakers he is aware and studying the issue.
Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Rex McMillian addressed concerns of how the service is handling the fallout from the Marines United scandal, which involved several online groups circulating nude photos of fellow Marines and civilians.
One reservist Marine is under legal review and 19 are under administrative review for their participation in those groups, McMillian said.
He said his commanders have instructed Marines to terminate the behavior “or they’re going to find another place to work.”