National Guard training will largely stop next month without reimbursement from Congress for Capitol mission
National Guard units across the United States will stop training next month without a nearly $521 million reimbursement from Congress for the funds the Guard spent to bolster U.S. Capitol security for months after the Jan. 6 riot, Guard officials said Friday.
Units will have to ground aircraft, cancel long-planned summer training operations and weekend drills, and the Guard’s 54th Security Force Assistance Brigade could miss a rotation to a major combat training center without the funding by Aug. 1, top Guard officials from several states said in a news briefing.
Congress must pass legislation to reimburse the money that the Guard moved early from its 2021 operations and maintenance coffers to ensure the more than 25,000 troops deployed to the Capitol grounds between January and May were immediately paid.
“Time is running out,” said Air Force Maj. Gen. Rich Neely, the Illinois National Guard’s top officer. “The loss of these funds will have a major impact on our readiness for federal missions and for state emergencies here in the state of Illinois.”
Lawmakers have almost universally backed reimbursing the Guard for its role in securing the Capital grounds in the days and weeks after thousands of supporters of former President Donald Trump smashed into the building aiming to stop Congress from formally certifying President Joe Biden’s election victory in November. The House in May passed a bill that would repay the Guard, but the Senate has yet to do so.
Top Pentagon leaders have warned for weeks of the drastic impacts the failure to repay the National Guard would have on a force that has been used more heavily during the past 18 months than at any other time in its history. Last year was the busiest year on record for Guard troops, the Pentagon has said. In addition to their traditional duties to respond to home-state emergencies including hurricanes, wildfires and floods, National Guard troops were mobilized in 2020 for high-profile missions including civil unrest response, support to law enforcement at the U.S. southern border and support to coronavirus-related activities.
Neely pointed to his own Illinois National Guard force as an example. Three separate times between January and May, Illinois Guard troops deployed to the Capitol. Meanwhile, he said, 3,000 troops worked coronavirus-relate missions and another 1,000 deployed overseas to support contingency operations.
Now those same troops face losing their National Guard pay for two months, until funding resets at the beginning of the new fiscal year on Oct. 1.
“I feel horrible as a leader, having to go back and tell my soldiers and my airman that I may not be able to pay them for August and September drill,” Neely said Friday. “And those are checks that they count on to support their families, to feed their families, and to go to college and all those sorts of things.”
He warned shutting down National Guard training not only would impact combat and emergency response readiness, but it would almost certainly cut morale among Guard troops and potentially lead some members to leave the service early.
The issues could take months, even years to fix, Neely and others warned.
Brig. Gen. Dale Lyles, the top officer for the Indiana National Guard, said he worried training cuts in August and September would mean some of his forces would have to deploy without proper preparations.
The National Guard’s 54th Security Forces Assistance Brigade is headquartered within the Indiana Guard but also has battalions within the Guards in Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Texas. The entire brigade is preparing for an upcoming overseas deployment and is scheduled to train in August at the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, La., Lyles said. Without repayment for the Capitol mission, that critical training could be scrapped, he said, but the brigade would still need to deploy.
“So, we will potentially place our soldiers and our airmen in harm's way and not being trained at a level of proficiency that I would deem necessary to deploy,” Lyles said. He did not say where the unit was slated to deploy.
Lyles also said he feared the lack of funds could delay a planned southern border mission this fall for Indiana National Guard military police and aviation companies whose training scheduled for August and September would be required before they could deploy. The troops are expected to deploy in October and November, he said.
Despite lawmakers’ agreement that the National Guard should be reimbursed, the funding has been held up over arguments about the legislation in which the repayment would be included. The money is included in funding proposals aimed at repaying the Guard and other efforts to improve Capitol security, the scope of which Democrats and Republicans have tangled over for weeks.
The roughly $1.9 billion Capitol security bill passed in May by the House includes repayment for the Guard, overtime pay and other cost reimbursements for the U.S. Capitol deployments and other funds to create a quick response security force for the Capitol.
This week, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, unveiled a $3.7 billion bill that includes Guard and Capitol police funding and more funds for the Pentagon’s coronavirus response. Republicans immediately balked at the bill. The Senate Appropriations Committee’s top Republican, Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, introduced a $633 million bill that would repay the National Guard and provide some funds to the Capitol police.
With August a couple of weeks away, National Guard leaders have spent hours every day on the phone with lawmakers describing the problems that the funding gap could cause the military, Neely said. Their confidence has waned that they will receive the needed cash.
“We wouldn’t be having this teleconference today if we had a high confidence that we would get the funding in time,” Neely told reporters.