US National Guard

Protecting at home and abroad

The United States National Guard serves as a state-federal reserve component of the U.S. Armed Forces. Its 450,000 soldiers and airmen serve as “citizen soldiers” – deploying both overseas and domestically, while maintaining full-time civilian professions. With experience in a wide range of operational environments, from Afghanistan and Iraq to post-Hurricane Katrina disaster response, the National Guard has proven instrumental in achieving objectives set both by state and federal authorities.

Joint tactical air controllers from the 169th Air Support Operations Sqn (Peoria), participate in Operation ­Northern Strike 2014, a joint multi-national combined arms training exercise conducted in ­Michigan. 

State Partnership Program
One of the signature initiatives in the National Guard is the State Partnership Program (SPP), which originated in the years after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. Many of the USSR’s former republics in Eastern Europe underwent dramatic security re-orientations, seeking to strengthen ties with NATO and the West. The U.S. military was asked to advise and assist these countries in transforming their respective armed forces for the new geopolitical environment, while ­preventing instability and encouraging democratic development.

The National Guard began the first such tasking in 1992, and the first state partnerships in 1993: Maryland and Estonia; Michigan and Latvia; and Pennsylvania and Lithuania. By the end of that year, the program had been expanded to most Eastern European countries. Today, the SPP has branched out to include 68 partnerships worldwide, and now includes Latin America, Africa, Central Asia, and South-East Asia.

With a more clearly-defined mission to provide training and support for domestic operations, such as disaster management and natural resource protection, the National Guard was selected on the basis of two main arguments: 1) the Department of Defense (DoD) insisted that National Guard personnel play a larger role in fostering a reserve-centric defence establishment; and 2) National Guard personnel were perceived to be less threatening to the Russian leadership, who was wary of U.S. expansion into Eastern Europe following the Cold War.

The mandate of the National Guard as “citizen soldiers,” enables the transfer of a broader spectrum of skills, beyond the scope of traditional military contexts, such as business, medicine, law, agriculture, and philanthropy, among others. This unique capability is enhanced further, in that National Guard personnel often stay in the same unit for their entire military careers, which serves to develop lasting personal and professional ties.

U.S. Army National Guard Soliders participate in Base Defense Operations and Entry Control Point training on Jan. 4 in preparation for a scheduled deployment to Iraq.

Foreign participants are selected to become part of the SPP initiative through requests submitted to U.S. embassies by that specific country. The embassy then submits the request to the relevant Geographic Combatant Command (GCC). If this request aligns with the GCC commander’s security cooperation goals, it is sent to the Chief of the National Guard Bureau and the Office of the Secretary of Defense. Once a country becomes a member of the SPP, it is assigned a state partner that will work alongside it, in coordination with the GCC and local embassy in question, in order to develop a program of activities.

In most SPP partner countries, a National Guard Bilateral Affairs Officer (BAO) is assigned to the local embassy to manage program execution and coordinate with both U.S. and partner country representatives on a daily basis.

The program is implemented on a case-by-case basis, with the intent of aligning with the goals of both the ambassadorial and GCC in that partner country. While the concurrence of the Secretary of State is needed prior to establishing an SPP partnership, it is a DoD policy that the relevant Chief of Mission (ambassador) must approve specific SPP activities before execution.

While the SPP is aimed to establish long-term relationships to help foster global security, program activities are not deployments, but are rather Temporary Duty assignments, typically consisting of 3-5 National Guard personnel for 5-7 days. These soldiers and airmen help mentor, advise, and share best practices with their partners within the program.

Its two interwoven lines of effort – to foster the professional development of National Guard soldiers and airmen, as well as support GCC strategic security cooperation goals – generate benefits on multiple levels. The program can include a wide range of possible security cooperation activities, such as:

  • Emergency management;
  • Disaster response;
  • Public health;
  • Critical infrastructure protection;
  • Cyber defence;
  • Natural resource protection;
  • Leadership development; and
  • Peacekeeping operations.

While by no means exhaustive, the above list serves to capture the wide breadth of activities within the SPP mandate, so long as such activities align with National Guard capabilities and the priorities of the GCC and U.S. Chief of Mission within that partner country. The enduring and long-term relationships established through the program, and the interagency and international cooperation on which it depends, enable universal benefits for both the U.S. and its partner countries. Through these activities, the program contributes directly to an improved security environment for the GCC in question, but also helps foster increased cooperation, interoperability, and mutual understanding between participants, as well as within the National Guard.

Aug 2013 – Soldiers from the 1st Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, perform life saving procedures on training mannequins during Exercise Vibrant Response, a major incident exercise conducted by U.S. Northern Command.

Considering the amount of financial and material input into the program, the SPP has proven very effective at all levels. Supported by members of Congress, Combatant Commanders, and other DoD senior personnel, the civil-military mandate of the National Guard, and the unique capabilities that stem from it, have enabled the program to be a powerful resource for building long-term relationships and contributing to international security cooperation.

In fiscal year 2013, a total of 739 SPP activities were conducted across 65 SPP partnerships. Expenditures of the program in fiscal year 2011 were only $13.2 million USD, from which $7.1 million came from respective GCCs and $6.1 million from the National Guard Bureau. In terms of GCC, the largest expenditure for the program is that of U.S. European Command (USEUCOM) at $4.46 million. The short-length of SPP assignments and the few personnel required to oversee and implement its activities enable a relatively low cost for the program, while achieving strategic objectives and reaching four continents.

Activities of the SPP are monitored on an ongoing basis, culminating in a DoD-wide annual report to Congress. Recommendations are made by National Guard personnel, U.S. embassy and GCC staff, as well as the respective partner country. Individual partnership programs are managed primarily by an SPP coordinator – a full time National Guardsman at the state level – as well as a BAO.

Areas of interest for improving the SPP include the broadening and deepening of relationships forged as a result of the program, while also improving the ability to monitor and assess its achievements.

A 2012 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that while the SPP is responsible for multidimensional improvements in security cooperation and interoperability, the lack of comprehensive oversight and accountability framework limits the ability for DoD and Congress to accurately assess which activities within the program are an effective use of resources. In order to improve the management of the program, the GAO issued four executive recommendations:

  • Improve the management of the SPP in using goals, objectives, and metrics;
  • Enable oversight and improve the completeness and consistency of data needed to manage the SPP;
  • Address concerns for funding to be used to include civilian participation in the SPP;
  • Improve SPP implementation and develop additional training for program coordinators and bilateral affairs officers on the appropriate use of funds for supporting the SPP, specifically in regard to including civilians in program events.

The SPP highlights many of the benefits to the civil-military dynamic of the U.S. National Guard and the capabilities of its personnel. Its short-term, low-cost taskings enable high levels of international cooperation, transfer of best practices, and the professional development of its members, as well as the militaries of the partner countries with which they train, advise, and support. While originally implemented in response to the shifting security environment of early 1990s Eastern Europe, the program has diversified to include a wide variety of countries across four continents. Through working alongside GCC commanders and local U.S. embassy staff, the State Partnership Program continues to be an effective investment in contributing to greater international security cooperation.

Operation Jump Start and Operation Strong Safety
From 2006 to 2008, Operation Jump Start saw the deployment of more than 29,000 NG troops from all 54 U.S. states and territories over the course of its execution. Its purpose was to increase security and vigilance along the U.S.-Mexico border through interagency cooperation with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

With an original deployment of 6,000 National Guard personnel to California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas, the operation consisted of assisting Border Patrol by executing logistical and administrative support, operating detection systems, providing mobile communications, augmenting border-related “observe and report” intelligence efforts, and supporting border security infrastructure, thereby allowing the return of Border Patrol agents to explicitly law-enforcement efforts.

Operation Jump Start resulted in 176,000 assisted alien apprehensions, 1,160 assisted vehicle seizures, the seizure of 321,000 lbs of marijuana and cocaine worth nearly USD $900,000,000, and 101 illegal alien rescue assists. Air National Guard personnel logged more than 28,000 hours of flight time for aviation assistance missions. The operation’s total cost was USD $1.2 billion, throughout 2006 to 2008.

While Operation Jump Start officially ended on 15 July 2008, it was by no means the start of this interagency partnership, nor the end. The National Guard has provided engineering and counter-drug mission support to CBP for more than 20 years. Its mandate as a civil-military organization enables the same skills transfer and sharing of best practices, as captured in its State Partnership Program initiative.

In the wake of the developing crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border throughout late spring and early summer 2014, Texas Governor Rick Perry announced on 21 July that he would deploy up to 1,000 Texas National Guard troops to boost security efforts fighting illegal immigration, saying that criminal activity has taken advantage of the recent influx of unaccompanied child migrants from Central America.

Whereas Operation Jump Start was the product of extensive collaboration between then-President Bush, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and the governors of the four U.S. border states, Governor Perry’s unilateral Operation Strong Safety has resulted in concern in both Washington and Mexico, with commentators and White House officials dismissing the US$1.3 million-a-week operation as a political stunt, rather than a multidimensional strategy targetting explicit security concerns.

Members of the New Jersey Air National Guard's transfer a simulated injured hiker onto a medical litter to be evacuated via hoist during the National Guard PATRIOT 2014 exercise at Volk Field.

In what is both a humanitarian and political crisis, a day after Governor Perry’s announcement, President Obama dispatched a team comprised of DoD and DHS officials to assess the need for National Guard personnel to assist the CBP. Critics of the current Texas deployment, while citing the success of the comprehensive Operation Jump Start, have voiced their opposition to the potential damages of uncoordinated strategies between agencies at an already contentious site.

Governor Perry’s office has said that the National Guard troops, rather than being deployed to address the child-migrant crisis, will be lending support to CBP in an effort to combat criminal activity along the border. As was the case in the 2006 federally initiated Jump Start, military personnel are precluded from enforcing immigration policy and can only make arrests in rare cases. Therefore, National Guard taskings are limited to logistical and administrative support roles.

In the case of child-migrants entering the U.S. border, it remains to be seen whether the deployment of National Guard troops will prove an effective countermeasure, as well as deterrent, in securing the border. Many of these children are not infiltrating the border at isolated sites, but are turning themselves in to CBP personnel, in an effort to be admitted into the U.S. This lack of fear in being caught by law enforcement personnel – or the expectation of being put into custody – has created new complexities that were not present in 2006, and may serve to cast doubt on a renewed National Guard deployment as the appropriate response.

While President Obama’s policy calls for comprehensive immigration policy reform, over a short-term military deployment, this latest National Guard operation serves to highlight an increasing possibility of militarizing border sites, especially those afflicted by criminal activity or humanitarian crises that can potentially overwhelm civilian law enforcement agencies. This issue will continue to be one increasingly addressed throughout the U.S., Canada, and their allies. 

Casey Brunelle is a student at the University of Ottawa and a member of the Canadian Army Primary Reserves.
© FrontLine Security 2014