Army Secretary-Appointment Expresses Concerns About National Guard’s ‘Unreasonable Demands’

President Joe Biden’s nominee to be the next secretary of the Army believes that the National Guard may be overstretched and approaching breaking point, given a year of uninterrupted activations for the force.

“I am concerned about the possibility of unreasonable demands [on] the guard. I would like to take a close look at how this tension plays out,” Christine Wormuth told senators during her confirmation hearing on Thursday.

Wormuth, who would be the first woman to hold the position, pointed to the delicate balance guardsmen must maintain between full-time civilian jobs and their military careers. The Guard saw an unprecedented volume of deployments over the past year while serving overseas.

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“I think we have to be aware that they balance military service with civilian careers and, on the one hand, recruitment and from a retention perspective, if we tax them too much, it can be damaging,” she added.

Currently, there are 32,000 guards supporting pandemic relief efforts and just over 2,300 civil unrest missions, including the US Capitol Security Mission in Washington, D.C. About 20,000 troops are deployed to the in places like Iraq, Afghanistan and the Horn of Africa, according to the National Guard Bureau.

Wormuth’s concerns mirror comments made last week by Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville when he told lawmakers that a combination of two decades of war and activations at the house could be too much.

“Our force has been heavily engaged over the past 20 years in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and around the world,” McConville told lawmakers during a House Appropriations Committee hearing on the service’s budget. “My concern is that we want to make sure that we reduce the operational tempo of our troops, including the National Guard who have been heavily employed, whether at home or abroad.”

Wormuth also noted the benefit gap between the National Guard and active duty troops, pointing to a confusing bureaucratic maze of different types of orders that can mean very different things in terms of Pay and benefits.

For example, state active duty orders provide no health care benefits or housing allowances for troops, which could be worth thousands of dollars a month. On these orders, guards also do not accrue federal benefits such as IG invoice or become eligible to use the Department of Veterans Affairs so hurt. And they are not legally protected from discrimination by civilian employers, meaning there is little recourse for soldiers who can be fired for being deployed.

However, Title 32 orders, which are also used for domestic missions, entitle guardsmen to all legal benefits and rights associated with active duty. Title 32 and state orders are used for the same missions, but Title 32 uses federal funding.

If confirmed, Wormuth said she would “review the status of benefits.”

Congress has increasingly sought to bring guard pay and benefits closer to parity with active duty, primarily through proposed bills to make it easier to get GI Bill benefits for guards.

Gen. Daniel Hokanson, head of the National Guard, told lawmakers last week that the lack of a free, premium healthcare service for troops is a key issue, which Congress may need to address.

“What happens if they get sick or injured when they leave orders? he said during a House Appropriations Committee hearing on the Guard’s budget. “One of my most pressing concerns is free premium health care for every guard who serves in uniform.”

— Steve Beynon can be contacted at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @StevenBeynon.

Related: National Guard needs a break and health care, Top Brass Tell Congress

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