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Concerns on budget cuts for the Tennessee National Guard strike home

an editorial by Johnathon Schleicher

 

Major financial cuts were proposed by the Secretary of Defense earlier this year for the fiscal budget 2015 in an effort to decrease military spending.

 

The fiscal budget proposal has sparked many concerns throughout the state of Tennessee and in the armed services due to the drastic budget cuts and restraints it will demand from the military.

 

According to a press release, the proposed budget, which calls for a total of $791 billion in new spending, has called for cuts that will cause the active duty component of the Army to eliminate the Kiowa Warrior helicopters.  The Kiowa helicopters are currently in service by the National Guard, and have been utilized throughout Afghanistan, Iraq and were even called into service during the Tennessee Floods. For the Tennessee Army National Guard, that means the 30 Kiowa helicopters in service are going to be sent to the proverbial chopping block.

 

The effects of these cuts may potentially cause two of Tennessee’s three flight installations, located in Jackson, Louisville and Smyrna, to close. The budget cuts and loss of these facilities are estimated to cost 692 Soldiers their jobs, which includes another 113 full-time civilian positions to be cut.  Units like the TNG 1-230th Aviation will be directly affected. The unit is currently on active duty orders preparing for deployment, which means if support is not delivered from the budget limitations, the 1-230th will deploy, serve their country and then return home and potentially be forced to give up their aviation assets.

 

Losing Soldiers and jobs are not the only losses the TNG is facing. According to the fiscal state budget of 2015, the TNG is scheduled to lose $248,000 in tuition assistance. This will directly affect the Soldiers in the TNG who want to pursue a college education.

 

To put that sting into perspective, one Hellfire missile costs roughly $70,000 to produce. If you stop the production of eight Hellfire missiles, you save $280,000, which is much more than the amount of tuition assistance scheduled to be lost.

 

 

Larry McKnight, Executive Director of the National Guard Association of Tennessee, commented that while the majority of our politicians can agree that cuts need to be made, the budget proposal is making cuts in the wrong areas, and the National Guard has been a critical part of mission success in multiple theaters.

 

“We all agree that there has to be cuts, but those doing the cutting need to understand that the National Guard is not a ‘complimentary force’ as we have been portrayed by our active duty counterparts,” McKnight said. “We are an ‘integral’ part of this nation’s defense at the national and state level.”

 

When asked if he believes that Congress or active duty thinks the NG is just a supplementary force, McKnight put the National Guard’s service into perspective.

 

“Actually, the senior leadership on the active side have made the comment that the National Guard is a ‘complementary’ force for the Army,” McKnight said. “I have to ask the question, who would they have deployed in the place of the National Guard? If it weren’t for the Guard, what would the active duty do? That is an interesting thought process. How can we ‘compliment’ the Army when we are an integral force?”

 

McKnight went on to add that the NG has become a big part of the total force concept, and that the TNG was “the best kept secret in the United States.”

 

To supplement the idea that the NG is not a complimentary force: According to Brigadier General DeLuca, the Army National Guard and the U.S. Army Reserve comprise more than 80 percent of the Engineer Regiment. That is not “complimentary.”

 

McKnight is not the only authoritative figure who thinks the Army needs to readdress their priorities. Congressman Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) 7th District addressed the senate earlier this month and specifically called attention to the budget proposal, the TNG and the effect that the loss of the Kiowa helicopter will have on it.

 

“It is going to increase spending by $791 billion. That’s right, billion with a ‘b,’ Blackburn said. “You would think we had all this money to spend. When you look a little deeper, you see that the priorities are all askew in this budget.”

 

In order to mitigate the damage done to the TNG by the fiscal budget proposal, a bill titled “H.R.3930, “The National Commission on the Structure of the Army Act” has been proposed to the senate. According to a press release, the piece of legislation was devised to halt the Kiowa Warrior’s retirement, leaving the 30 that the TNG own in their current service, until a review of the Army’s force structure has been completed.

 

Freezing the plan to remove the 30 helicopters in the TNG is only one of H.R. 3930’s functions. It is also designed to maintain the NG’s current reported end strength number of 350,000 until February 2016. It is important to note that retention and unit strength have been paramount this year. Some units, like the 190th, have even gone so far as to set a standard to accumulate 8 recruits a year for those in leadership.

 

The defense budget has been a controversial topic for the last few years, and they have cast a grim light on the TNG fiscal budget for 2015. As of now, Congressman Stephen Fincher (R-TN) 8th District, Congressman Diane Black (R-TN) 6th District and Blackburn have signed to support H.R. 3930.

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