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Colorado National Guard boss decries rift with regular Army

March 15, 2015 Updated: March 15, 2015 at 8:46 am
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Colorado's National Guard boss, Maj. Gen. H. Michael Edwards, describes the relationship between state Guard leaders and Army brass as broken, saying the two entities are giving each other the silent treatment over budget battles.

"The relationship is not good and it is sad," said Edwards, an Air Force officer who reports to Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper rather than the Pentagon.

Tensions are high over Army proposals to strip the Guard of attack helicopters and shave the Army Guard's ranks by 8,000 troops to save cash.

Army leaders were a no-show at a gathering of top National Guard commanders in Washington this month, Edwards said in remarks to the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance.

"It has gotten very difficult for either one to talk to each other," Edwards said.

Because they report to governors rather than the Pentagon, Guard commanders are empowered to speak for their states when it comes to budget issues and force structure. In the regular military, a two-star could be fired for speaking out against Pentagon brass.

Edwards suggested a change at the top of the Army to replace chief of staff Gen. Ray Odierno could be what it takes to get Guard leaders and Army brass back in the same room.

"Sometimes it takes changes in leadership to move forward with the ball," Edwards said.

Odierno, who is expected to retire from the Army's top post in September, has proposed cutting Guard ranks by 8,000 soldiers and continues pushing the plan to pull AH-64 Apache attack helicopters from National Guard fleets to beef up the active-duty's aviation arsenal.

That has made enemies in states and in Congress, as the National Guard fired up its powerful 50-state lobbying efforts to defeat the cuts. While the helicopter move was proposed last year, political roadblocks have stymied its implementation.

Meanwhile, Edwards said, the Army has ceased speaking to the National Guard.

"Even when you are not getting along, you have got to talk," Edwards said.

At the center of the silence are Pentagon budget cuts ordered in the 2011 sequestration plan approved by Congress. With the military cutting spending by up to $50 billion a year, service leaders have worked to fight the cuts and to influence how the cuts are handled.

Guard advocates are pushing for the Army to handle downsizing with a time-tested method - giving more troops, equipment and responsibility to the Guard. They argue that Guard troops have proved their worth in Iraq and Afghanistan and are cheaper to keep in the ranks than active duty troops. The Army, though, is wary of leaning on Guard troops for combat duty, because Guard units generally require at least 90 days of training to be considered battle-ready.

Edwards, though, says most wars start slowly, giving time for the Guard to get ready.

"There is no situation where they would need the entire active duty that quickly."

The Guard's relationship with the rest of the Pentagon is less frosty.

Edwards said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh is cordial with Guard generals, and Air Force budget plans would boost the Guard and the Reserve as active-duty airmen are cut.

"We have a total Air Force today and we work extremely well together," Edwards said.

Relations with the Army may be sour at the Pentagon, But Edwards said he gets along with Army brass in Colorado.

The Army and the Guard worked side by side to deal with the Waldo Canyon and Black Forest fires and flooding that struck the Front Range in 2013.

The Colorado Guard's most-prized new asset is on Fort Carson.

This month, Guard leaders cut the ribbon on their Regional Training Institute near Butts Army Airfield on the post. The $55 million training center is designed to educate more than 2,000 Guard soldiers per year on military skills.

"They can fight battles in Washington D.C., but in Colorado, the relationship is forged," Edwards said.

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Contact Tom Roeder: 636-0240

Twitter: @xroederx

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