Paramilitary: Owning the National Guard


September 10, 2005

In the United States, who owns the National Guard's assets? A number of states are suing to stop the Pentagon from transferring and retiring Air National Guard fighter jets. According to the logic being floated by the states, the federal government cannot close or realign National Guard bases without the consent of the governors. 

On Friday, August 26th, a federal district judge in Philadelphia ruled that the Defense Department did not have the authority to dissolve a Pennsylvania Air National Guard unit (ANG) without the governor's approval. The states of Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, and Missouri have filed similar suits to try to keep Air Guard bases targeted by the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission (BRAC) open. 

The U.S. Justice Department said, in a memo issued before the Philadelphia ruling, that the base closings law passed by Congress took precedence over other federal statutes governing National Guard units. The BRAC commission tweaked the wording, in its final motion, to simply strip the Pennsylvania ANG unit of its A-10 attack jets, an action which may trigger another lawsuit to prevent the planes from being permanently relocated or retired.

According to some, the lawsuits underline the blurry lines of authority of the Guard between the federal government and the governors. The federal government has the authority to activate Guard units in federal service, such as for the war in Iraq, but governors control the Guard when units are not in federal service. Some extend that argument to mean that the governors control all of the physical assets, including weapons and vehicles, when the Guard isn't in federal service. Of course, this begs the question of how far a state could go in operating "their own" planes and vehicles if it had to foot the all of bills for fuel, repair, and maintenance. 

It's not the first time that there's been a conflict between what the governors and the federal government want. In the mid-80s, President Reagan called up guard units and sent them down to Honduras for training exercises. Many governors opposed the U.S. government's policy in Central America at the time, with California and Main refusing to send their guard members to Honduras for duty in 1985. In 1986, Congress enacted the Montgomery Amendment, stripping governors of their right to stop the deployment of state guard units outside of the country. 

Under the latest round of BRAC recommendations, there are 54 ANG bases targeted for realignment or closure. As the latest F/A-22s and F-35 jets move into service, the Air Force will not be replacing older jets on a one-to-one basis. Fewer planes mean fewer bases -- and fewer jobs. Doug Mohney




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