On Guard

The latest mission for the Texas National Guard: protecting its budget.

PHILLIP HERR SAYS HE WAS shell-shocked when he got the news that he was being sent overseas. Only a few months ago he was a banker in Houston who trained with the Texas National Guard 39 days a year, but now he works as a debt-management specialist in the finance unit at Eagle Base, the U.S. headquarters in northeast Bosnia—1 of 307 members of the Texas Guard aiding NATO in its peacekeeping mission. In addition to finance, the Guard provides support in areas like communications and logistics; some units operate sophisticated radar equipment that tracks hostile fire. Life in that part of the world can be unpleasant—ten- to twelve-hour shifts, hard-shell tents that offer little warmth, bland food—but Texas soldiers say the chance to take part in the mission is worth the sacrifice.

Back home, however, morale in the Guard is not so high. Recent downsizing by the U.S. Army has increased the likelihood that Guard forces will see more action, yet many states have barely enough funds to keep up their forces, and no state is feeling the pinch more than Texas, which engineered the Bosnia deployment to showcase its capabilities. Although the Texas National Guard is the nation’s third-largest Guard force, with nearly 21,000 soldiers and airmen, it receives the least federal funding per capita of any state: only $250.6 million in fiscal year 1997, with personnel cuts of 1.5 percent in 1998—not nearly enough to maintain equipment and staffing levels and properly train troops to fire artillery rounds, drive tanks, and fly helicopters, insists Lieutenant Colonel Edmond Komandosky, the Texas Guard’s director of public affairs. The reason for the shortfall is that 70 percent of the Texas Guard is a 15,000-soldier armored division, the largest of its kind in the world; the Army says Guard divisions take too long to mobilize and are a low budgetary priority.

Brigadier General Daniel James III, the Adjutant General of Texas, believes that if the Texas Guard is going to contribute—as it has in every major U.S. conflict since the Mexican War in 1846 and in state emergencies like last spring’s Jarrell tornado and Republic of Texas standoff—it needs more money. So he’s proposing that the Army designate one of the armored division’s brigades as an “enhanced” brigade, a smaller, more nimble unit that receives a higher level of funding. “We have the systems to do the job,” James says. “If they give us the resources, we’ll deliver the product.” It won’t be an easy sell, however. All fifteen slots for enhanced brigades are filled. For Texas to get one, another state would have to give one up or have it taken away. Anyway, the Army has never allowed a state to have an enhanced brigade within an armored division.

What does the future hold? Even if James secures more funding, the earliest it could come in the Army’s budgeting process is 2002. So in the short run, he says, Texas will have fewer soldiers like Phillip Herr available to help out at home—and if there is a prolonged conflict abroad, Guard troops may not be sufficiently prepared for battle.

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