Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Monday ordered his top department leaders to conduct a broad review to determine whether the military, National Guard and Reserve can adequately deal with domestic disasters and whether they have the training and equipment to defend the homeland.
The 41-page memo signaled an acknowledgment that the military must better recognize the critical role of the National Guard and Reserves in homeland defense, but stopped short of requiring many specific policy changes.
His memo comes in the wake of a stinging 400-page independent commission report that concluded the military isn't ready for a catastrophic attack on the country, and that National Guard forces don't have the equipment or training they need for the job.
That report, released early this year by the Commission on the National Guard and Reserves, said the Pentagon must use the nation's citizen soldiers to create an operational force that would be fully trained, equipped and ready to defend the nation, respond to crises and supplement the active duty troops in combat.
In response, Gates said that indeed the Guard and Reserves are an integral part of the force and have assumed a greater role in military operations. And he pressed his top leaders to review the training that active duty and reserve troops receive for homeland defense and civil support missions, as opposed to the warfighting now consuming them.
He gave them 25 days to submit their proposed changes, along with any budget impact they might have, in connection with 53 separate recommendations. He said another 29 recommendations are under way or finished.
The commission's report included 95 recommendations. But Gates did not order many of those changes urged by the commission to give National Guard and Reserve troops better access to promotions, military training and education programs and other benefits. Instead, in most cases he ordered leaders in the Defense Department and the military services to review their programs to determine whether changes are needed.
His overall tone, however, pressed officials to better integrate reservists into the modern day military and consider treating them on a more equal basis to the active duty troops. Separately, he asked for more detailed proposals to better develop funding for Guard and Reserve programs and equipment.
Arnold L. Punaro, who was chairman of the commission, welcomed Gates' recommendations Monday, saying that improving the military's role in homeland defense and enhancing the clout of the reserves "represent a historic break with the past."
"Make no mistake, his decisions are aimed at landmark changes, changes that are essential if the Guard and Reserves are to remain fully capable of meeting current and future threats," said Punaro.