By Rep. Nick J. Rahall
Recently, I had the privilege of attending a celebration on Capitol Hill in honor of the 376th birthday of the National Guard.
The Guard’s origins date back to 1636, when the Massachusetts General Court in Salem raised the first militia in North America for the protection of the colony. Since then, the Guard’s purpose has expanded to a dual mission that includes not only protecting our homeland and responding to emergencies in our backyard, but also waging combat on foreign soil in places like Afghanistan as part of an active-duty military force.
As a member of the National Guard and Reserve Components Caucus, I am dedicated to making certain our West Virginia Air and Army National Guard have the training, equipment, and resources they need to fulfill their missions.
These are very tough and austere budgetary times, and, with the Congress moving aggressively to address our nation’s alarmingly high deficits, I am fighting hard to ensure that any cuts that are imposed would not harm our active-duty and reserve troops, as well as our military retirees and veterans who have already sacrificed so much for our nation.
I am opposed to increases in TRICARE fees and co-payments, and have argued forcefully in favor of federal funds to address the needs of our returning soldiers and their families, especially when it comes diagnosing and treating post-traumatic stress disorder and brain injuries, and helping to cut the red tape and facilitate access to health care and benefits, as well as family support services and advocacy programs our soldiers and their families may need as they transition back to civilian life.
Most recently, with lawmakers in the House and Senate negotiating the defense budget for the remainder of the current fiscal year, I have been urging members of the House and Senate Armed Service Committees to protect the National Guard from cuts to its force structure and manpower, as proposed in the U.S. Air Force budget submission earlier this year, which would result in the loss of 193 Air Guard personnel in West Virginia.
I also believe that our nation’s defense budgeting and planning must be organized and developed with input from the states’ governors and adjutant generals. Last year, I was successful in leading the effort to secure passage in the House of Representatives of the Guardians of Freedom Act, a bill to elevate the chief of the National Guard Bureau to a position on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, placing the chief in a position to influence Department of Defense planning and budgetary deliberations and troop readiness and response.
Having pushed hard to ensure the Guard has a seat at the table on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, so that it could advocate effectively in behalf of the Guard’s budgetary needs, I firmly believe the Guard’s input and its unique dual role at home and abroad must be considered as part of any deficit reduction effort affecting our nation’s military.
Since 9/11, with multiple deployments abroad, our nation has relied upon the men and women of the National Guard, and we must fulfill our obligations to them. I am going to keep fighting hard to protect the needs of our men and women in uniform and fight to ensure they have every resource necessary to fulfill their mission. You can count on that.
(Rahall represents West Virginia’s 3rd District.)