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Wilson and the Guards

Brass Tacks

By Gerald E. Bunker

Four hundred thousand strong, the Army and Air National Guards are the nation's most important reservoir of military manpower. It is the force the nation would depend on for second-line defense in case of an all-out war. Charlie Wilson's statement branding the National Guard as a "draft-dodging business" and the subsequent roar of protest have oversimplified the problem of reorganizing the Guard and intergrating it into the nation's defense system.

Mr. Wilson's strong remarks before the House Armed Service sub-committee were incited by Pentagon opposition to the six-month active service requirement, brought out earlier this month. This directive, according to Mr. Wilson, was based on two considerations: 1) failure of the six-month active duty Reserve plan that Pentagon master-minds developed last year, and failure of the Guard to "cooperate" in soliciting enlistments.

2) that the Defense Department considered the Guard an inadequate fighting force, since eighty percent of it had had no prior military training.

A third reason, undefined but still apparent, is a feeling in the regular services that National Guardsmen get a soft berth. For instance, Guardsmen receive a full day's pay for each four-hour drill. They also receive many benefits of regular enlistment. Many who joined the Guard before the Korean G.I. Bill expired receive full educational and other benefits from the Bill, and the Army Guard serves its only intensive active duty in an annual two-week encampment.

The real result of Wilson's action--and it's avowed purpose--is to intergrate the National Guard into the regular Reserve program. But there are still important differences which the Pentagon has not been able to attack successfully. For one, a Guard unit can be mobilized in its entirety and only by act of Congress, whereas an individual Reservist can be recalled to the bosom of Uncle Sam any time. For another, a guard division is composed of men from a single community who have worked together for some time; reservists are thrown together arbitrarily.

The reason for such different policies is that the Guard is primarily under state jurisdiction, the Reserves under direct Federal control. Some have suggested that the Defense Department's move is a step in bringing the Guards under Federal control, too. For if enlistments should drop below authorized strength in any single Guard unit, it would lose Federal recognition and would shortly be dissolved.

From the Pentagon's point of view this merger would be a good idea, incorporating all the reserve forces under a centralized control. There is little chance that they will attempt this overtly, though, since the Guard is closely tied in with state politics. Even President Eisenhower has recently pledged himself to the preservation of the National Guard.

The Army National Guard, with no formal training requirement, does seem to be a soft deal. A reasonable tightening of active duty requirements, as the NGA itself says, is in order. The Defense Department now allows high school students to put off active service until graduation, and still maintain the draft exemption granted to men who enlist between the ages of seventeen and eighteen-and-a-half. This allowance is the same granted in the six-month reserve program. But this means that those enlistees who go to college must drop a term, and those beginning careers will also be seriously inconvenienced. The NGA's proposal of a compulsory eleven-week basic training session incorporated into summer vacation would be much more attractive, and according to them, just as effective. The Air National Guard's enlistment demands are like this proposal. They require each enlistee to attend an Air Force technical school, from eight weeks to two years, depending on the length of the course.

On the other side of the ledger, Wilson's adverse comment on the loyalty and capability of the National Guard is not entirely borne out by the facts. Naturally, everyone who joins the National Guard joins because he believes it is the easiest way to meet his military obligation. No one wants to give up six weeks of his year unless he is protected from the longer conventional arm of Uncle Sam. Mr. Wilson stretches words, with some justification, and calls this "draft-dodging."

Neither does the Guard seem to have been, except in some regrettable cases, "sort of a scandal during the Korean War." At the beginning of the conflict, both Air and Army National Guard leaders urged "immediate mobilization." They were told that the war was only a "police action" and it could be handled by the regular services. As it was, though, eighty-four percent of the Air Guard and thirtyseven percent of the Army Guard were mobilized. Two of the eight mobilized divisions saw action in Korea, and well over fifty percent of combat missions were flown by reservists, a good percentage of whom were Air Guard pilots. Said one Continental Army official in the Army Times, "In some phases of the tests, the Guard showed up better than the regular army. The Guard has nothing to be ashamed of."

Wilson's demand for a more intensely trained National Guard and the President's backing him on this point certainly are justifiable and necessary. But by the dramatic expression of his demand and by his general severity Wilson may have brought down Presidential censure on himself with not a little justice.

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