National Guard February_2014 : Page 22
A conversation with Maj. Gen. Edward W. Tonini President, Adjutants General Association of the United States POINT Tonini speaks at a recent meeting of the Adjutants General Association of the United States. ‘The Army has been marketing a solution that is unacceptable to the National Guard’ MAJ. GEN. EDWARD W. TONINI OF KENTUCKY presides over the least known of the three associations that represent some portion of the National Guard at the national level. The Adjutants General Association of the United States is also easily much smaller than NGAUS or the Enlisted Association of the National Guard of the United States, with just 54 members, no office and no staff. Yet, as the collection of the ranking Guard officers from each of the 50 states, Guam, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the District of Columbia, AGAUS has clout that belies its numbers and notoriety. National Guard sat down with Tonini, the association’s elected leader, to discuss AGAUS and its perspectives on the way ahead as he finalized plans for his group’s annual winter meeting, set for Feb. 23 to 24 in Washington, D.C. 22 NATIONAL GUARD FEBRUARY 2014 | WWW . NGAUS . ORG
‘The Army has been marketing a solution that is unacceptable to the National Guard’
Maj. Gen. Edward W. Tonini
MAJ. GEN. EDWARD W. TONINI OF KENTUCKY presides over the least known of the three associations that represent some portion of the National Guard at the national level.
The Adjutants General Association of the United States is also easily much smaller than NGAUS or the Enlisted Association of the National Guard of the United States, with just 54 members, no office and no staff.
Yet, as the collection of the ranking Guard officers from each of the 50 states, Guam, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the District of Columbia, AGAUS has clout that belies its numbers and notoriety.
National Guard sat down with Tonini, the association’s elected leader, to discuss AGAUS and its perspectives on the way ahead as he finalized plans for his group’s annual winter meeting, set for Feb. 23 to 24 in Washington, D.C.
AGAUS meets every February and June. Why do you think it’s so important for the adjutants general to get together in person on a regular basis?
The adjutants general come from all over the country, across eight different time zones to be exact. And while we all have basically the same responsibilities at home, we look at things from our own perspectives. It’s just far better to have an opportunity to get together and share our views in person, face to face, than it is using one of the many different technological tools that we have—video teleconferencing, online portals, etc.—and use very frequently. It makes for better candor, much more true dialogue between these individuals who are not only leaders of their states, but of the nation. That’s why the scheduled physical meetings are so important.
AGAUS is sometimes referred to as 54 generals with 54 agendas. How do you and the group reach a consensus on national issues when the priority for each adjutant general is his or her own state or territory?
My philosophies that I explained to the TAGs when I was elected president [in June] was that we need to look out for what’s in the best interest of the nation first— before we get into what might be parochially in the best interest of each of our individual states and territories. And while there have been times during the communications process that we had to remind people of that, the reality of it is that our nation’s interests are their first priority.
I also know that all 54 of us, at our core, fundamentally agree that the National Guard is part of a cost-effective security solution. The Guard can move our nation off a permanent war footing. The Guard retains affordable security for overseas contingencies, state and community support and global partnership building. We all believe America deserves the best military our nation can afford, and the men and women we all lead need to be a major part of that equation.
The fiscal 2015 defense budget request figures to be a major point of discussion at your meeting in Washington, D.C., this month. There seems to be harmony among the components on the Air Force proposal. Not so much on the Army budget request. Both services had to make tough decisions. How did we end up with two very different budget situations?
On the Air Force side, I think it’s really a product of the chronology of events that have occurred between the National Guard with the Air Force over the last two years. We obviously went through a very difficult time [with the Air Force’s fiscal 2013 budget proposal], a time that really tested the relationship between the active component and the National Guard. But we have pretty much worked that out. We’ve also had a change of leadership, a new chief of staff of the Air Force and a new secretary of the Air Force, who without question are much more in sync with the way we feel the role that the National Guard can play as far as the United States Total Air Force is concerned.
How about the Army?
People say with the very difficult, very testy times that we had with the Air Force, that certainly the Army must have learned their lesson. From the second week in August the Army has made the National Guard part of the process. They would say that we’ve had an open dialogue and there’s been a tremendous amount of transparency. All that is true. We have been part of the process, but unfortunately, nothing that we have brought to the table to address the budget challenges has been considered or accepted in any way. They have not moved their stance one iota from that very first meeting back in August. When you are physically at the table but nothing you present is seriously considered, is that really participating in the process?
The Army budget proposal would slash Army Guard end strength from 350,000 to 315,000 personnel to meet automatic budget cuts. NGB proposed a smaller troop reduction and covering the required budget cut from other Army Guard accounts. Army officials profess concern about not having enough personnel in the future. Why do you think they did not go along with the NGB plan?
All talk of numbers is pre-decisional. So if you ask Gen. [Raymond T.] Odierno [the Army chief of staff] about the 315 number, he will say that’s too low. He will say 335 is the number that he thinks is the right number. But the reality of it is that time and time and time again, 315 has been the number that the Army has put on the table and has used in presentations to the Hill.
If 315 for the Army National Guard is the Total Army proposal, we believe it’s unacceptable. It makes no sense, especially when you consider what the National Guard record shows over the last 12 years. More importantly, it takes unnecessary risk and would cause unnecessary and irreversible impact to our force, not only in their ability to contribute overseas but also save lives and protect property at home. That’s why we advocate for the establishment of a floor of 350,000 Army National Guard soldiers.
I think the National Guard’s posture is one of common sense. You know, I’ve got a little elevator speech that I give. It goes like this: If you had a proven commodity that was capable of doing a job and you could either get ‘em for 25 or 30 cents on the dollar or a dollar on the dollar in a confined budget environment, which would you take? Well, what does common sense say to you? It says, obviously, you need to put more of a dependence on the National Guard and less on what everyone agrees is the biggest part of the problem, which is the fully burdened cost of full-time personnel.
We are, frankly, a little perplexed at all they are doing to project the largest number of active-duty soldiers possible. I would never say that we don’t need the active-component Army. We clearly do need them. They have a vital role, an indispensible role. But we disagree on what the exact force mix needs to be moving forward. The Guard is just such a great solution to the nation’s fiscal challenges. There should be no question about that. It’s reality. It’s based on value. And it’s based on 12 years of performance in combat that everybody, almost universally, agrees has been nothing short of terrific.
Another source of consternation among the adjutants general is the Army aviation plan, which would remove all of the Apache helicopters from the Army Guard. Recent comments by Army officials suggest they think Guard Apache units just can’t maintain the readiness required in the years ahead. What do adjutants general think of the plan and the apparent logic behind it?
This aviation plan came up subsequent to the initial budget discussions that I mentioned earlier. Once again, the AC Army leadership announced they needed to have a degree of transparency so they called a meeting with some of the adjutants general to talk about it. When it was presented, we were told that the thinking on the plan really was only several weeks old, that it was brand-new thinking and that it was something that they were just considering. The TAGs responded, Well, if you’re going to have an effect on the United States Army that’s going to last decades, you better put a lot more planning into it. And that’s why we think that almost every element of the plan has great weaknesses and needs to be studied further. In the interim, all Army National Guard combat aviation and force structure moves and retirements should be frozen. We believe the entire DoD rotary-wing aviation enterprise should be part of the study.
You mentioned the Army felt like they needed some transparency. Do you think there was a sincere effort to bring the adjutants general into the process or do you think Army officials were just going through the motions?
I think if you talk to the 10 or 11 people who were part of the meetings with the Army, I don’t think any of us feel like there was any serious consideration given to the way the National Guard felt about things. All of us were disappointed. We had made a pact among one another that if there was any way to do it we wanted to come out of this shoulder to shoulder as one Army. We wanted to work as allies, not as adversaries. Unfortunately, it just hasn’t worked out that way.
Many in the Guard believe Army officials have engaged in an orchestrated campaign over the last several months to denigrate Army Guard training and capabilities. What is your take?
That’s probably the single most disappointing thing. Every time that I’ve gone to Iraq or Afghanistan in my six years as adjutant general, I have been told that my troops specifically, and National Guard troops in general, were the best soldiers on the battlefield, that they did a spectacular job. And that really has been repeated to almost every adjutant general that was in similar circumstances. And now, all of a sudden, we’re not their equal, we’re not “interchangeable.” Quite frankly, every single one of us feels a tremendous amount of disappointment that active-component leadership is basically changing their tune.
More importantly, the Army has been marketing a solution that is unacceptable to the National Guard and takes unnecessary risk with national security. Given our concern, we have a professional obligation to offer our best military advice to elected officials, who ultimately will make the final decision.
What do you think the impact of “changing their tune” has been on Army National Guard soldiers across the country?
Well, I think that my disappointment is shared certainly across the ranks and most particularly by the soldiers that were on the battlefield shoulder to shoulder with their active-duty counterparts. To think that somehow we’re not the equal of the active component is something that they certainly won’t accept and are disappointed that leadership has characterized it that way.
You know, there’s an interesting banner quotation from Lt. Gen. Bradley Heithold, the vice commander of U.S. Special Operations, in the final report of National Commission on the Structure of the Air Force. He said, “You can’t surge trust.” That’s especially striking to me as it applies to these negotiations. I believe right now there’s not a lot of trust in the Army, in their approach and in the way they have interacted with us.
There are a few pro-Army voices on Capitol Hill saying the Guard shouldn’t be so upset with the Army budget, that the active component is actually taking the largest portion of personnel and aircraft cuts. What is your response to that?
We have to put everything in the context of the realities we face as a nation. One of these is the Budget Control Act. We worked with the National Guard Bureau on multiple alternatives that satisfy the Army National Guard’s proportional share of reductions required by the Budget Control Act. Our basic proposal sustains Army National Guard force structure and assumes minimal readiness risk. In other words, we can pay our share without taking such a large personnel cut. But that proposal was rejected. This is what upsets us.
In addition, we, the National Guard, offer solutions to maintain defense capabilities. We cost 25 cents on the dollar. And I just don’t believe that that’s being given serious enough consideration. I mean we don’t just buy this capability on an international basis for foreign wars, we also have the ability that’s important to the governors. That is to be able to respond to state and local emergencies like the hundreds of Guardsmen who are deployed this very day in Atlanta for the ice storms.
The White House seems to be asking for a flexible, adaptable, deployable combat force that can surge to meet the ever-changing needs of our nation. This force already exists. It’s called the National Guard. We are not fighting to protect our institution, we’re fighting for what’s best for America.
The battle over the fiscal 2015 Army budget has many parallels to the fiscal 2013 Air Force budget proposal. In response to the fight two years ago, Congress created the National Commission on the Structure of the Air Force, which reported its findings in late January. How could a similar commission help with structuring the Army of the future?
I was fortunate enough to be at the meeting during the release of the National Commission on the Structure of the Air Force last month. The report itself is 127 pages. Bottom line up front—I would call it 127 pages of common sense. It says things that we’ve all known, that we all feel instinctively. Chairman [Dennis M.] McCarthy introduced the report by quoting retired Gen. Ron Fogleman [a former Air Force chief of staff]. He said, “So we find ourselves at the end of another extended period of combat operations, a new military strategy. I think it’s time for us to take a hard look.” Wouldn’t the same quote apply to the Army? Of course it would, and what would common sense tell anybody?
That’s really what the commission is about, just trying to apply common sense to a very complex situation. And I think the Air Force has kind of got it right. And I think that while the nature of the Army is different than the Air Force, a lot of that same common sense will apply if we actually get an independent look.
The seat at the table has given the adjutants general a historic voice at the top of the Pentagon, but the Guard still seems to need more presence in the budget-development apparatus within the Army and the Air Force. What can be done about that?
We believe that the current budget battle is a watershed moment to rebalance our force. And we just hope that the past 12 years of combat-tested service to our nation provides our leadership with sufficient ammunition to take a really hard look at the total military structure for both active and reserve components and come up with that which is in the best interest of our nation’s security. We believe that, in fact, that in large part will indicate a heavy dependence on the National Guard.
What other issues will top the AGAUS national agenda in 2014?
I think that these issues with the Army are the 500-pound gorilla in the room. We need to get past this first. I sincerely want to try and rebuild the faith and the trust among the components, which I think has really taken a blow over the last few months.