National Guard Gets Joint Chiefs of Staff Slot For No Apparent Reason

Despite the opposition of the SECDEF and Joint Chiefs, the latter expanded yesterday.

In a move that makes no sense whatsover, Air National Guard General Craig McKinley has become a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Army Times (“Top Guard officer joins Joint Chiefs of Staff“):

The National Guard Bureau’s top officer is now a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. A provision in the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, signed into law Dec. 31 by President Obama, adds the Guard leader to the nation’s highest military advisory group.

As of Tuesday, the biography of the current chief of the Guard, Air Force Gen. Craig McKinley, was on the Joint Chiefs website, alongside bios for the other military service chiefs.

The addition of the top Guard officer to the Joint Chiefs of Staff has been hailed by Guard historians as the “most significant development” since the Militia Act of 1903 codified the modern day dual-status structure of the Guard, according to a statement from the Guard Bureau.

“We are grateful for the efforts the executive and legislative bodies have gone to in placing the chief of the National Guard Bureau on the Joint Chiefs of Staff,” McKinley said in a statement. “We look forward to working alongside the other Joint Chiefs to provide our nation’s senior leaders with a fuller picture of the non-federalized National Guard as it serves in support of homeland defense and civil support missions.”

The Joint Chiefs of Staff advises the president on national security matters.

Its members voiced firm opposition during a hearing on Capitol Hill in November as lawmakers pushed to create a seat for the Guard.

Before the authorization act was passed and signed into law, the Joint Chiefs was made up of the four service chiefs — the Army chief of staff, Air Force chief of staff, chief of naval operations and Marine Corps commandant — and a chairman and vice chairman appointed by the president.

During the Nov. 10 hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, the six four-star generals voiced opposition to the proposal, saying it would create needless confusion and reduce their authority.

“There is no compelling military need for this change,” Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, said at the time.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta also opposed the measure, telling reporters in October that membership on the Joint Chiefs should “be reserved for those who have direct command and direct budgets that deal with the military.”

So, the entire Joint Chiefs and the Secretary of Defense opposed this move and yet it was made anyway? Why? The article doesn’t say but, presumably, it’s because the Guard has an enormous amount of clout in Congress and because sympathy for the institution is at an all-time high after a decade of more-or-less continuous deployment.

But the opposition from the rest of the military establishment is perfectly reasonable, not simple turf protection.

Simply put: Either the Guard is a state militia that’s only part of the United States Military when called to national service–in which case it has no business on the Joint Staff–or it’s a part of the Total Force and therefore already represented on the Joint Staff by the Chiefs of Staff of the Army and Air Force. (There is no Navy or Marine Guard.)

The former was the traditional view of the Guard; the latter was pushed after the post-Cold War drawdown necessitated more frequent utilization of the Guard and Reserve for routine missions. As late as Desert Storm, the Guard was widely viewed as a joke by the Active force, at least in the Army. While certain specialty units in the Reserve were called up, only a handful of Guard units were and none was deemed ready to deploy to theater by war’s end.

Over the last twenty years–and certainly since the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq kicked off in 2001 and 2003, respectively–the old norm became obsolete. The operations tempo has simply been too high to sustain with a relatively small active force. Guard and Reserve personnel have been deployed routinely and are more-or-less indistinguishable from their Active counterparts.

In light of this change, I understand the desire to elevate their stature and recognition. Making the Guard chief a 4-star general probably makes sense, for example, and it’s likely time to re-evaluate the promotion and, especially, pension systems. We can’t demand active duty-like commitment and still offer “one weekend a month and two weeks each summer” rewards.

But, again, putting the Guard on the Joint Chiefs just makes no sense. We have four military services under three departments (the Marine Corps is under the Secretary of the Navy but otherwise an autonomous service). Guardsmen are already represented by two service chiefs. For that matter, why the Guard and not the Reserves?

Additionally, I’d note that the inclusion of the Guard would seem to undermine the very Mission of the Joint Staff:

The Joint Staff assists the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in accomplishing his responsibilities for: the unified strategic direction of the combatant forces; their operation under unified command; and for their integration into an efficient team of land, naval, and air forces.

As of yesterday, it’s less unified, less efficient, and less integrated. Amusingly, despite his bio now being on the JCS page, it continues to bolster my argument:

Appointed by the President, he serves as principal adviser to the Secretary of Defense through the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on National Guard matters. He is also the principal adviser to the Secretary and Chief of Staff of the Army, and the Secretary and Chief of Staff of the Air Force on all National Guard issues.

So, he’s both an advisor to and a peer of two other Chiefs? Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, over?

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. RWB says:

    So, does this mean that state governors can have the national guard pick up and detain indefinitely American citizens on American soil?

  2. Lomax says:

    This is further example of how incompetent Congress is. They can’t even manage their own affairs effectively, let alone the military. A really bad precedent. Scary to think that these are the people running the country. Who was the bright person who thought this one up? Maybe we can appoint them the next ambassador to Outer Mongolia or Timbuktu..

  3. ddennis says:

    What’s scarier is the closer tie of the National Guard to the active duty military which may make eaisier the mobilization of military forces against the citizenry in “times of crisis.” I know — I’m sort of conspiracy theorist.

  4. Peter says:

    I understand, and share, your bemusement.

    I can, however, find a rational argument. If members of the national guard are asked to go and get killed overseas (because there aren’t enough federal forces I suppose), isn’t it natural that one of its senior officers be on the Joint Chiefs of Staff?

  5. James Joyner says:

    @Peter: Don’t see why. When they’re deployed, they’re Soldiers and Airmen and thus represented. Otherwise, how far down the chain do you take it? Shouldn’t there be a Special Operations rep? A women’s rep?

  6. As late as Desert Storm, the Guard was widely viewed as a joke by the Active force, at least in the Army.

    And you wonder why the guard doesn’t want their interests represented by the Army Chief of Staff?

  7. James Joyner says:

    @Stormy Dragon: I get why they’d want it, sure. But I think the old attitude has largely changed; Guard and Reserve soldiers are viewed as “soldiers” now because they’re battle tested and held to Real Army standards.

  8. ponce says:

    So, the entire Joint Chiefs and the Secretary of Defense opposed this move and yet it was made anyway? Why? The article doesn’t say…

    When they testified before the Senate about this change, the Joint Chiefs squealed that it would “reduce their authority.”

  9. Peter says:

    @James Joyner:
    “Don’t see why. When they’re deployed, they’re Soldiers and Airmen and thus represented”

    They are integrated in the Army and Air Force, which doesn’t mean they are represented.

    I am not familiar with the history of the national guard, but It seems to me those who enlisted did it under the tacit agreement that they were to serve in the US or, if deployed abroad, in a support capacity. Not to fill in the numbers of overstretched combat troops as has been the case i n Iraq.

    That is where my question stems from. Although integrated in the armed forces, their specific status is not represented.

  10. libfreak48 says:

    I suppose you feel the National Guard and Air National Guard merit neither approval nor recognition as actual soldiers of the United States.

  11. Doorgunner says:

    Mr. Joyner, we’ll never get the commensurate rewards until we have that seat at the table. And until that happens, I’m perfectly content to let you call the active Army to fish the bodies out of New Orleans before they head off to Iraq.

    We have a unique domestic and overseas role that is not represented by the active components. It merits unique representation, not.table sraps.

  12. ParatrooperJJ says:

    It’s to represent the states’ interests at the JCS meetings.

  13. J. Bulla says:

    Divide and Conquer

  14. Mike says:

    @James Joyner:

    I am a Guardsman and it has been the prevailing sentiment for a long, long time that the Guard is, in fact, not represented well by the JCS. While the Guard has steadily enhanced its capabilities and contribution to the total force, old attitudes and stereotypes are hard to break. Many active duty folks hate that the guard is relied upon so much, but the fact is that the guard can fulfill a mission at a quarter of the cost of active duty and over time will probably be relied upon more not less. A JCS slot is a good thing and will help, not hinder good decision making at the highest level.

  15. campernick says:

    Easy–just mix-in this with SOPA and a little NDAA and you’ll find your answer.

  16. Mike says:

    I can’t speak to the Army Guard, but the Air Guard in large part is already completely integrated with the AD force…at my base there is an AD C-17 airlift squadron that has an associate squadron in the local Guard Wing; AD owns the iron but AD and Guardsmen fly together in mixed crews on a daily basis. There is also a Guard C-130 airlift squadron that has an associate AD squadron with the AD Wing here; Guard owns the iron but again, AD and Guardsmen fly together in mixed crews on a daily basis (or at least will once the AD squadron gets fully stood up.) The Guard (in conjunction with the Reserves, of course) provides a large part of our airlift and refueling capability, not to mention the bulk of the air sovereignty mission, and they do it as a fully integrated part of the AD force, both deployed and home station. From the Air Guard side of things this is pointless duplication.

  17. Stormy says:


    Reasonable concern. If the chief guard officer reports to the president, then does that create a conflict with their relationship with the governor? This does not “smell” right. If the guard reports to the president, can he then deploy them in-country in violation of Posse Comitatus that prohibits the use of military personnel or assets in domestic law enforcement? This has disaster written all over it.

  18. Lawrence says:

    As a retired “Guard” officer, I kinda like this. During my tenure in “the Guard” the federal leadershp generally gave Guard forces the dirty end of the stick for the most part, until we werre called up to help them fulfill their missions. Even then getting the snob treatment, when they active forces had to rely on us part-timers.

    Yeah, maybe as far as organizations go the federal force structure loses. However, the individual Guard soldier wins.

    Oh, and the Reserves are part of the Federal forces, they are not a separate group unto themselves like the National Guard.

  19. David Zaduk says:

    I think this means that the national guard is now directly under the president and therefore he can call on them to oppose Americans on our home soil without violating posse comitatus.

  20. Hening says:

    If your real enemy are the citizens of the country that you are trying to subjugate and you are the Commander In Chief, the National Guard is your first line of offense. No-fly zones are not just to advance Sharia in the Middle East, they also work great on clamping down areas of national unrest.

    When does Bill Ayers become Czar of Home Defense?

  21. Sean says:

    @Stormy: No the Chief of the National Guard only has direct responsibility for / command over federalized guard troops. However, he is responsible for helping DoD work and negotiate with State governors over the federalization and deployment process. Also, since the NG is in-part funded and supplied by the Army and Air Force he is partly responsible for the management of these funding and supply links between the states and federal gov.

  22. OIF Vet says:

    In Iraq, I saw the National Guard BNs broken up and assigned to active units. The HQ Company was not mobilized. They were treated very poorly. When the policy was “365 days boots on the ground” policy was enacted, active duty troops were released to attend career enhancing schools while National Guard troops were not. During demobilization and REFRAD, many wounded and injured National Guard Soldiers were released from active duty with the words “the VA will take care of your injuries” while active duty soldiers remained on active duty until they were healed.
    National Guard troops are federal troops, paid to train with federal dollars. They can be activated by either the Governor or the President. When activated by the President, they are paid with federal dollars and must adhere to the same laws as the active duty troops, ie Posse Comitatus Act. They can be activated by the governor and paid with state funds.
    The Posse Comitatus Act is the United States federal law (18 U.S.C. § 1385) that was passed on June 18, 1878, after the end of Reconstruction. Its intent (in concert with the Insurrection Act of 1807) was to limit the powers of local governments and law enforcement agencies from using federal military personnel to enforce the laws of the land. Contrary to popular belief, the Act does not prohibit members of the Army from exercising state law enforcement, police, or peace officer powers that maintain “law and order”; it simply requires that any orders to do so must originate with the United States Constitution or Act of Congress.
    It would be helpful that people who are commenting on this issue understood the circumstances before they make judgment. That includes the author.

  23. Eric says:

    I spent 27 years in the AF and Air National Guard, and during an active duty stint at the National Guard Bureau back during the early to mid 90s I remember this being bandied about. Given the clout the Guard has with Congress, I’m surprised it took this long.

  24. ddennis says:

    @OIF Vet:

    OIF, I didn’t know that. We’ve had Guard troops working with us on the border and they were explicitly forbidden from performing any enforcement activities. They provided only logistical-type support. Still, I think the days of our “great experiment” in democracy may be coming to a change in which we will see more militarization of police enforcement and a heavier boot on the citizenry.

  25. Tina Ferrer says:

    I trust that President Obama doesn’t do anything domestically foolish but as to trust, I trust Obama about as far as I can throw Crawford, Texas. People, just be prepared for any possible contingency and I know you are.

  26. Alo Konsen says:

    But, again, putting the Guard on the Joint Chiefs just makes no sense. We have four military services under three departments (the Marine Corps is under the Secretary of the Navy but otherwise an autonomous service).

    Correction: we have five military services, according to 10 USC § 101(a)(4), and the National Guard ain’t one of ’em. The Coast Guard has a better claim to a slot on the JCS than the National Guard does, and I doubt anyone — including this retired Coastie — thinks the USCG belongs there.

    This is a dumb, dumb move. Watch for more pointless and counterproductive bloat among the GOFO ranks.

  27. anjin-san says:

    I trust that President Obama doesn’t do anything domestically foolish

    How are you still posting? The master plan called for ACORN shock troopers to take you to a secret FEMA camp a year ago.

  28. F all freemasons says:

    Joint Chiefs of Treason

  29. MFL says:

    No apparent reason? The National Guard is meant to be a state-oriented entity which can be called up to do duty overseas during a national emergency. But during Iraq and Afghanistan, it has been used repeatedly, almost as if it were regular Army, with multiple deployments for the same Guard units. This has hurt the Guard’s ability to respond to state-level emergencies. The Iowa National Guard has a great medical unit, which was badly needed during the floods in eastern Iowa in the spring of 2007. Unfortunately, that unit was deployed to Iraq at the time.

  30. Pauly says:

    @ddennis: Move up to a conpriracy factualist.

  31. Belden Erhart says:

    Makes sense with FEMA camps, Defense bill INDEFINITE DENTENTION clause, impending illegal war with Iran; which will result in $10 gal gas, then martial law,
    registered weapons confiscation. Hello Orwell.

  32. WhoDatMan says:

    @Lawrence: When you put quotes around the word Guard like that, is that some sort of gay code? I’m just asking because it seems really gay.

  33. James Joyner says:

    @MFL: That ship sailed a long time ago, frankly. In the early 1990s reorganization, we moved almost all the combat arms power in the Reserve Component to the Guard and moved almost all of the service and service support elements to the Reserves. (At least in the Army; I don’t know the Air Force all that well.) The natural result of that was that any sustained war would require the Guard to participate.

    Additionally, it’s not like the Guard chief represents the state governors. He’s an active duty officer.

  34. OIF Vet has it exactly right. Things have improved for the moment… but really only after some of the atrocious things the active component was doing to Guard troops came to light in 2003-2005. Leaving Guard wounded in temporary barracks holding areas hundreds of miles from home station, for one thing… or discharging wounded prematurely so they could fight to get an appointment in the VA system on their own… freezing Guard troop promotions while mobilized (I couldn’t even get a deserving pfc promoted to E-4 during the deployment in 2003, because the active component was not processing Guard promotions. The active component also couldn’t process an allotment… meaning a married soldier couldn’t have the Army pay his wife part of his salary while deployed. The active component also committed light infantry to combat while refusing to equip them with the modern flak jackets for MONTHS. I know, because that was my battalion. And yes, Guard battalions were broken up, their companies bitched out to active duty units. When the 3rd ID rotated home in 2003, the Guard battalion attached to them didn’t get to rotate home with them. Nope, you Guard guys stay put. Active duty officers were rotated home for career schools, as OIFVet says… Guard officers weren’t eligible. I’m very happy to see the Guard represented at the four star level, finally. Hell, the Guard officer on the JCS may be the only one among them who’s ever held a real job!!!!

    From a more practical point of view, a big part of the drawdown is going to be the migration of missions from the active to more cost-efficient reserve components. Having a reserve component representative on the JCS will help manage that migration, ensuring that Guard units are employed within their capabilities, and that they are resourced with manning, equipment and training/school budgets to take on these new missions. Otherwise, Guard units will get stuck with much longer task lists without regard to how much crap you can fit on a training schedule in two days.

  35. Pete 11Z5M says:

    @OIF Vet: I couldn’t have said it better.

    During OIF my Infantry Co was chopped into platoons, and my Soldiers detailed out to an Active Duty Brigade. My Soldiers served in theatre longer than their AD counter parts and as you stated were not allowed to rotate out to attend schools, NCOES, etc. Additionally because we were on an “deployment” MTOE (organization structure) promotions were pretty much frozen for E5s and up.

    I think having more representation of the Guard is great idea and will hopefully lead to more an better training opportunities, leading to a better prepared Guard. The author states that Guard units were no ready for Storm. Much of this is because Active Duty did not allocate the training funds or training space to the Guard. I saw this happen over and over again in the ’90’s with III Corp and the Texas Army National Guard.

    As far as “Real Army,” there is only one set of standards for the Army, period. It is up to leadership to enforce it.

    To me this is a rather slanted, biased article than needs just a little more research.

    Blackdeath 7, OUT!