Governor Terry Branstad. (file photo)

Governor Terry Branstad. (file photo)

The governors of Iowa and Minnesota testified today before the National Commission on the Future of the Army.

“Our hope is that what the Commission on the Future of the Air Force accomplished a couple of years ago, this commission can do with the Army and that is convince the leadership at the Pentago that the National Guard needs to be a full partner and we need to be involved early on in the decision-making on budget items,” Governor Terry Branstad told Radio Iowa in an interview shortly after his testimony concluded.

Branstad said billions of dollars have spent in the past decade to ensure guard units are capable of carrying out military missions around the globe. And the governor argues that money would be wasted if the military’s top brass decides to revert to a pre-9/11 mindset and restrict the guard to mostly to missions in the U.S.

“The National Guard can basically do for about one-third of the cost what it costs to have the regular Army,” Branstad said. “With constraints in the budget, it just makes more sense to keep more strength in the guard because it’s more economical.”

In addition, Branstad made a specific pitch about Apache helicopters.

“Instead of taking all of those away from the National Guard and only having Apache helicopters in the regular Army, the national governors have come out strongly against that proposal,” Branstad said, “and we think the Pentagon, the Army in particular, has failed to listen to the concerns expressed by adjutant generals from the states and the governors about the importance of maintaining this as a strategic part of our combat-ready defense.”

The Iowa National Guard does not have Apache helicopters, but seven state guard units have Apache battalions on which guard soldiers from other states serve as pilots, crews and maintenance workers. The states of Mississippi and Texas have a joint Apache unit.

Branstad testified this morning before the National Commission on the Future of the Army during a hearing in Arlington, Virginia. Branstad is co-chairman of the Council of Governors that advises the Pentagon on Guard-related issues. Branstad said one of the generals on the commission served with the unit of Iowa and Minnesota National Guard soldiers who spent 22 months in Iraq.

“He was very complimentary of how they were an important part of the total force and was proud to serve with them,” Branstad said.

Branstad and Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton fielded questions from nearly ever member of the commission. The panel expects to make its final recommendations in February.

In the past 13 years, more than 17,000 Iowa National Guard soldiers have been deployed outside the country. Nearly half of current Iowa Guard soldiers have combat experience.

The governor’s full testimony, as prepared for delivery, is as follows:

Chairman Ham, Vice Chairman Lamont and distinguished members of the Commission, I am Governor Terry Branstad from Iowa and co-chair of the Council of Governors. I am pleased to join Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton to testify on behalf of the National Governors Association, or NGA, and the Council of Governors, or Council.

We have submitted joint written remarks that we ask you to include in the formal record of today’s proceedings. In the interest of time, Governor Dayton and I will each make a brief statement to provide you with additional state perspective.

I would like to thank the Commission for this opportunity to provide governors’ views on the future of the Army.  We appreciate the Commission’s efforts to seek governors’ thoughts during your examination of the Army’s force structure and aviation restructuring proposals. Governors particularly appreciated the participation of Vice Chairman Lamont and Commissioner Stultz during the NGA Summer Meeting in July.

Through NGA and the Council of Governors, we have made progress working with the Department of Defense to improve coordination and understanding of military issues between states and the federal government.  Since the beginning of the Council of Governors, we have worked with our federal partners to address issues affecting the security of our states and the nation. 

As Co-Chair of the Council of Governors since 2011, I have seen firsthand the challenges and struggles that our federal partners have in handling major budget decisions. Governors also face difficult budget decisions.  

The need for more robust dialogue led to the 2013 National Commission on the Structure of the Air Force.  I was pleased to see that through a collaborative process, 42 total force recommendations were submitted for consideration.  And the Air Force leadership embraced all but two recommendations.

I’m optimistic that through this Commission’s efforts there will be as much progress bringing Army components together as we saw within the Air Force following the Air Force Commission. I encourage you to consider the Army National Guard’s capabilities, value, and strategic importance for our states and the nation’s security.  As Iowa’s Commander-in-Chief, I want to ensure that our National Guard continues to remain an operational force as part of the Total Army, while delivering on the state mission.

I have witnessed many times the critical role that the National Guard plays for our nation.  In the last 13 years, we have mobilized more than 17,000 Iowa National Guardsmen and women for combat and combat support duties in Iraq and Afghanistan, peacekeeping duties in the Balkans and on the Sinai Peninsula, and for other operational missions around the globe.  Approximately 4,000 currently-serving Iowa National Guard Soldiers and Airmen are combat veterans, more than 45 percent of our force, the highest percentage in modern history.  And our men and women have operated in more than 35 different nations since 9/11.

In 2006-2007, during the Iraq surge, one of Iowa’s infantry battalions was mobilized for over 22 months, making it one of the longest deployments for an Army unit during the Iraq war.  In 2010-2011, Iowa’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team deployed in its entirety to Afghanistan, supporting the 101st Airborne Division’s mission by conducting full-spectrum operations along the eastern border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. 

Last January, one of Iowa’s medical units was alerted to deploy in support of the West Africa Ebola mission, before it was cancelled due to changing demands managing the disease. Since the beginning of Operation Noble Eagle, Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom, the Iowa National Guard has met every required operational assignment for deployment and has performed superbly. 

While I understand the Army is facing difficult budget challenges, I believe that recent efforts to cut Army Guard force structure and remove the Guard’s Apache helicopters is a step backwards and would make lasting, irreversible changes to the Guard.  It would undo years of progress by returning the Army Guard to a pre-9/11 role and fail to leverage its cost-effectiveness in retaining mission capability at home and overseas.

Specifically, the Army’s Aviation Restructuring Initiative undermines the Guard’s ability to augment the Army as its combat reserve and fails to leverage the National Guard’s cost-effectiveness to retain additional manpower, expertise, and attack aircraft at a reduced cost to taxpayers.  I would agree that Apache aircraft have limited application for the homeland mission; however, I value and recognize the broader, long-term importance that strategic depth for the total force provides to states and the nation.

The Army also proposed reducing Army Guard end strength to its lowest level since the Korean War.  National Guard personnel, equipment and capabilities are key resources built into our states’ emergency response plans and the federal National Response Framework.  The National Guard also has the unique ability to perform law enforcement functions that have proven valuable in the response to natural disasters, episodes of civil unrest and other national special security events.  These capabilities are enhanced by well-developed relationships with state and county emergency managers and local law enforcement agencies.

The turbulence created by force structure and personnel cuts affects people, readiness, training, equipment and facilities.  This all comes with a cost to implement, which the National Guard Bureau estimates would be about $179 million in its first year.  Funding to cover these costs was not included in the Army’s fiscal year 2016 budget.  The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the cuts to Army Guard personnel would save the Army $170 million in its first year – $9 million less than the unfunded implementation costs. When these costs and long-term effects are considered, governors believe it simply does not make sense to implement the Army’s proposals.  While some reductions to Army Guard force structure may ultimately be necessary, they should be done through a collaborative approach that considers future needs, limits turbulence, and maintains Guard readiness.

I would like to recommend that the following principles guide your work:

The National Guard must continue to serve as an operational force and the combat reserve for the Total Force;

The National Guard is a highly trained, battle tested asset that should continue to be properly resourced and equipped to meet the needs of both the federal government and states; and

The National Guard’s cost-effectiveness should be leveraged to the fullest extent to meet the fiscal and operational challenges confronting the Total Army.

As the Army is forced to evolve in the wake of declining budgets and continuing global instability, I hope this Commission will help bring the Total Army together to address these challenges in partnership.

Governors urge this Commission to consider recommendations that will preserve the Army Guard’s role as the combat reserve of the Army, resource and equip the Army Guard to meet both federal and state needs, and leverage the Guard’s cost-effectiveness and operational capability as part of a Total Army solution for the future.  To do otherwise would risk wasting billions of dollars invested over the past decade in making the Guard an experienced, globally deployable and combat-ready force.

I will continue to advocate for a strong Guard that is “Always Ready – Always There.”  The Commission is an important voice in this endeavor.  On behalf of the State of Iowa, and my fellow governors, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today. 

I look forward to hearing Governor Dayton’s perspective and answering any questions you may have.