TCS Daily

We Need Two National Guards

By Douglas Kern - September 6, 2005 12:00 AM

So the massive catastrophe has wrecked your house, the power is gone, food and water are running low, savages own the streets, the halt and lame are dying in droves, and escape is difficult or impossible. Although the world around you is degenerating into a seventies zombie movie, you won't worship the Lord of the Flies just yet because you know that the following entity is coming to save you:

        1)     A corrupt police force that couldn't keep the peace even before the 
                Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse showed up in the drive-thru;
        2)     An ineffectual coterie of bewildered federal bureaucrats whose rescue 
                plan consists of hurling bricks of money at unsuspecting passers-by;
        3)     Local and state authorities, whose master plan for dealing with hurricane 
                chaos was to place unlimited faith in option 2);
        4)     Burly military guys, expertly trained to fight looters by blowing up 
                looter tank columns and scrambling the radars of looter aircraft; or
        5)     ...hey, these options suck.

The answer is 5). The only viable option is 4). But, as currently configured, the state National Guards are hardly a perfect solution. In any given year, your friendly-neighborhood National Guardsmen receive at most twelve hours of training in civil defense procedures. That's twelve hours total, for every disaster imaginable: prison revolts, blizzards, riots, floods, alien abductions, everything. Soldiers trained to kill people and break things aren't necessarily prepared to save people and fix things in a crisis.

Yet National Guardsmen possess certain undeniable advantages. They're physically and mentally tough, capable of going into dangerous places and fighting bad guys -- two abilities absolutely necessary when restoring order, and two abilities that bureaucrats can't replicate. Moreover, the military has mastered the skill of creating and maintaining logistics chains -- a skill much overlooked among the many loud-mouthed disaster "experts" clogging the Web with their ill-informed solutions. I have lost count of the number of outraged Internet postings and articles from armchair generals who just can't fathom why trucks and helicopters and superheroes weren't all protecting and rebuilding New Orleans, thirty minutes after the levees broke. Memo to Internet geniuses: amateurs talk strategies, but professionals talk logistics. Who's gonna drive those trucks? How will they be fueled? Where will they be serviced? How will they communicate with each other? Who will protect them against armed looters? Where ought they to go in New Orleans? Given that the bridges are washed out, how will they get into the city? How should they be modified to prevent flooding to the engines? Even obvious strategies require a long, long logistical chain to be effective. The military excels at creating such chains. Befuddled bureaucrats don't.

We need a National Guard trained to handle these disasters. Yet we also need a National Guard to fight our wars and defend our nation's interests against its enemies.

We need two National Guards.

Consider: many current and former National Guardsmen enjoy military service, and take pride in serving their countries and communities. But they don't enjoy long deployments out of the country, away from jobs and families. These soldiers would love to serve in a National Guard that focused upon local problems, rather than international conflicts. This National Guard -- let's call it the Domestic National Guard -- would be composed of genuine, fully trained soldiers, held to the common soldiering standards, but it would train and rehearse for restoring order and public services during crises. Soldiers would serve in a part-time, one-weekend-a-month-and-two-weeks-a-year status, just as National Guardsmen do now. Although available for foreign combat in the worst of emergencies, the Domestic National Guard would ordinarily deploy to domestic locations, and only for the duration of the emergency. Instead of training to slit enemy throats and shoot accurate fire missions, this Guard would master emergency transportation, crowd control, utilities restoration, field communication systems, trauma medicine, and similar skills.

By contrast, the other National Guard -- call it the Foreign National Guard -- would train to be what the current National Guard has become: the active military's temp agency. It would practice traditional soldiering skills, but harder, longer, and to a higher standard. It would drill three times every two months and for at least three weeks out of the year. No more hiding the Colonel's chubby secret in the motor pool -- these soldiers would be tested constantly for fitness and competence. They would train for combat operations exclusively. Every enlistee would recognize the unique obligation of the Foreign National Guard: one year out of every three will be spent in a deployment overseas. These deployments might be shorter, although never longer, but every member would be prepared -- personally, professionally, and financially -- to accept the burden of one yearlong deployment every three years. As compensation for these additional burdens, Foreign National Guardsmen would receive better enlistment bonuses, superior educational benefits, access to the coveted TRICARE military healthcare plan, shorter enlistments (if desired), and preferred access to specialized training and equipment. The Foreign National Guard would be popular with students, the unemployed and underemployed, government workers, and former active duty soldiers who enjoy high-adventure military assignments but want to pursue civilian careers as well.

By dividing the National Guard into these two separate components, we address the problems of military recruiting and domestic protection in a way that benefits everyone. But the clinching argument in favor of such a change is the threat of a WMD attack on an American city. If, God forbid, such weapons are employed against an unsuspecting city, the ensuing horror will make New Orleans look like a low-impact aerobics class by comparison. Tens of thousands of men would be needed to rescue survivors and to implement an orderly evacuation. And while the National Guard response to Hurricane Katrina didn't affect our war effort in Iraq (or vice versa), we might well find ourselves hopelessly short-handed if a major city suffers nuclear devastation. A divided National Guard would allow us to pursue the dual missions of saving civilians and punishing aggressors, with little agonizing over manpower allocation. The responsibility for rescue operations would be clearly established -- and in a crisis, clarity of responsibility is crucial. Katrina taught that lesson well.

It's an ugly but inescapable fact of human nature: when order collapses, you need tough guys with guns to restore it. It's equally true that even tough guys like to come home to their wives and kids at night. This plan incorporates both truths. But any change must incorporate a third truth: the next time will be even worse. Hurricane Katrina is a cruel teacher, but a mushroom cloud will be crueler.

For more coverage of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, and to learn how you can help the victims of this disaster, please visit our special section Tragedy on the Gulf Coast.


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