Homeland Security Insider

The Right Fit

THE president, the Senate, several border-state governors and many Americans disagree with me, but I, for one, believe it's a dumb idea to put 6,000 National Guardsmen on the border to stop the flow of illegal aliens. The Constitution established the mission of the Guard to "execute the Laws of the Union, suppress insurrections and repel invasions" and one can certainly argue that 8,000 illegal aliens crossing our border every day is an invasion -- but probably not in the way our founding fathers envisioned.

The president, in his role as commander-in-chief, commands the Army, and Title 10 USC states that the National Guard is "at all times" a part of the Army -- even when in state service. So, I concede that the president has the legal authority to order the Guard to protect our border.

There is no doubt that the National Guard will do a professional and highly credible job. However, the fact that the president has the authority, that it appears to be a popular decision and that the Guard will do a good job, does not mean that it is a good idea. At least I can take comfort in "The Terminator" (Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger) agreeing with me. That makes two of us.

My major objections to the use of the Guard center around three issues. First, the Guard is not a cost-effective solution. Second, the Guard is a military, not a law enforcement organization with other commitments and responsibilities. And third, use of the Guard to augment law enforcement in this way violates the spirit, if not the letter, of the law.

Most supporters of using the Guard along the border may not be aware that while the Guard presence will be long-term, perhaps years, individual soldier deployments will not be. The fact is that Guard deployments are limited to no more than 21 days. Let me say that again, National Guard deployments along the border will not exceed 21 days in duration. Besides the obvious and substantial costs to deploy these forces from their home station, is it reasonable to expect a high degree of expertise from our citizen soldiers during such a short time on the border? I think not. Further, the Border Patrol itself requires all new officers to complete the 19-week Border Patrol Academy in New Mexico.

Why is it that the National Guard can be considered immediately effective during a 21-day deployment along the border, but a new Border Patrol agent must receive nearly five months of training first? Advocates of the policy will argue that the Guard is not there to do law enforcement activities, and it is already trained for the logistics and surveillance activities to be assigned to it. That is true, but civilian contractors who can drive trucks, provide medical care, operate the ground surveillance radars, build roads and fences, and operate unmanned aircraft to assist law enforcement operations can do the same at a fraction of the cost of the National Guard personnel on three-week rotations.

The National Guard has performed superbly in Iraq and Afghanistan and still maintain a robust ability to respond to domestic emergencies. Last year, more than half of the Army's combat brigades in Iraq were from the National Guard, the biggest use of citizen soldiers in an overseas conflict since World War II. Today, about 22,000 Guard troops are in Iraq, down from more than 40,000 earlier this year. Advocates of using the Guard correctly report that only a small portion of the force will be used along the border. It is also true that many National Guard personnel have already been deployed multiple times over the past several years.

Time is the greatest constraint on our citizen soldiers who are already stretched thin, preparing for and executing a wide variety of missions in support of our military strategy. We are gratified, but not surprised that the National Guard continues to answer "can do!" when additional homeland security missions are identified. But I doubt if it is strategically sound to continue to ask the same citizen soldiers to respond to an increasingly broad range of duties, even as we predicate our military planning on their availability.

Simply put, I am not convinced that the National Guard (as currently organized, trained and equipped) can meet the multiple demands of preparing for major theater war, be fully prepared to support our governors in a homeland security role and patrol our Mexico border.

The president has argued that the National Guard will not serve in a law enforcement capacity and that the Guard will not breach that fundamental tenant of American society that the military is not used to enforce civil laws. I believe this to be true because the Guard personnel whom I know and have worked with won't permit it. The Guard as an organization deploys domestically in the role of military support to civil authorities. Here, of course, the operative word is "support." The military never takes command of a domestic situation, but supports the civil authorities in the performance of their duties. However, I do find it disturbing that the National Guard is being used, but not the active duty Army. Presidents have frequently chosen to use the Guard rather than the active Army because the Guard is not subject to the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878, which prohibits the military from acting as a domestic police force. In other words, should the Guard actually be used for law enforcement purposes that would not be a violation of law as it would for active duty soldiers?

We may be asking too much of our National Guard. Let us not be guilty of abusing their patriotism. These are great Americans who continue to step forward whenever asked. We must realize the war on terrorism is going to be a long war, perhaps as long as the Cold War. We must provide the National Guard a more-focused mission, and then ensure that it is properly organized, trained and equipped for that mission.


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