As regular Army slims down, Guard and reserves may beef up

July 10, 2011

Everybody knows the Department of Defense budget is going on a diet.

Political insiders predict sweeping cuts on top of a $76 billion slimming plan that’s now underway. But some people in uniform are smiling.

Meet the National Guard: America’s sole military beneficiary of past defense cuts, a state-based service that stands to grow again as its full-time brethren are downsized.

“It’s my belief there will be a shift of force structure to the Guard and reserve,” Air Force Maj. Gen. Mike Edwards, who heads the Colorado National Guard, told a Colorado Springs crowd last week.

Edwards’ theory is based on history. When the military cut its active-duty ranks in the mid-1990s, the Guard and reserve boomed. The shift allowed the Pentagon to keep wartime capabilities in the arsenal while cutting personnel costs by using part-time troops.

“The Guard and reserve will be an affordable answer,” Edwards told a gathering sponsored by the Greater Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce.

Commanders in the Colorado National Guard have envisioned a vastly expanded role for Guard troops, including duty in overseas roles now solely filled with active-duty troops.

“Perhaps we will be called upon to help out in Korea,” said Army Brig. Gen. Dana Capozzella, who heads the Colorado Guard’s ground forces.

Filling out America’s 28,000-troop commitment to South Korea with a rotation of part-time troops, who generally train one weekend per month and two weeks every summer, is a long way off. But with the Guard and reserve being called on less and less for the waning wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it could happen.

“We’re probably going that way,” Capozzella said. “It’s under discussion.”

In the Pikes Peak region, the Guard is gearing up for the future. A deal has been cut to build a $20 million facility on federal land near Air Force Academy.

The Guard also is spending nearly $75 million to upgrade its training facilities at Fort Carson.

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