National Guard operations are about two weeks from grinding to a halt as a $520 million tab to reimburse the force for protecting lawmakers during its months-long Capitol Hill mission remains in limbo amid partisan bickering.
If Congress fails to act quickly, the National Guard will shut down most training through Oct. 1, the start of fiscal 2022, Gen. Daniel Hokanson, the head of the National Guard, warned Congress in May.
That would include August and September drills, annual training events and critical pre-deployment training. It would also affect 2,000 Guard-run schools, including noncommissioned officer development courses, such as the Basic Leader Course, needed for promotion, a National Guard spokesperson said.
Even worse, Guard leaders say, troops will miss out on two months of pay, which could devastate families and make it hard for troops to cover Tricare insurance costs. For a specialist, the Army's most common rank, missing out on two months of drill will cost them around $700. If they also were scheduled for annual training, they'll miss out on at least $1,200 of pay.
"I feel horrible as a leader, to tell my soldiers and airmen that I may not be able to pay them for August and September drill,” Maj. Gen. Roger Lyles, adjutant general of the Indiana National Guard, said at a news conference Friday. “Those [are] checks that them and their families count on."
He was accompanied by Maj. Gen. Richard Neely, Illinois' adjutant general, and Brig. Gen. John Driscoll, Massachusetts' land component commander. The three shared concerns that the Guard will be in disarray if funding shortfalls aren't solved soon.
Most states operate several schools that junior enlisted and non-commissioned officers must attend to qualify for their next rank. This includes the Basic Leader Course for promotion to sergeant and the Advanced Leader Course for promotion to staff sergeant.
"[Guardsmen] will not be able to prepare for wartime capability deployments, or attend formal schools, training or certification programs," a National Guard spokesperson told Military.com.
John Goheen, a spokesman for the National Guard Association of the United States, warned that shutting schools down even for two months could have a long-lasting impact on careers. For many service members, rescheduling these courses might not be easy.
"Getting those soldiers to school is tough; some wait a long time," Goheen told Military.com. "They have to calculate everything -- college, kids, family. This is a big problem."
Promotion schools take weeks or months to complete and usually require a soldier to be away from home for the duration. The National Guard does not provide services for troops such as child or pet care, making attending a school a potentially huge logistical hurdle to overcome.
Meanwhile, troops also will miss out on pre-deployment training, and Lyles is alarmed over the possibility of untrained troops being sent on missions at home and abroad. For example, the 54th Security Assistance Brigade's planned rotation to the Joint Readiness Training Center, or JRTC, at Fort Polk, Louisiana, ahead of an overseas deployment will be scrapped if funding isn't met in two weeks.
"That training exercise is at risk because it may have to be canceled, so our federal mission will be at risk," Lyles said, referencing the JRTC training event. "We also have companies about to be trained for a border mission. Those missions are also at risk because of the inability to train. This will potentially place our soldiers and airmen in harm's way without the proper training."
Leaders have touted the pandemic response as "the year of the Guard," after a long string of domestic missions. Given the Guard's training schedule of one weekend per month, Lyles warned that axing two months would hinder governors' ability to wield troops effectively if a crisis occurs.
"Our governor's ability to deploy us domestically is also degraded for any man-made or natural disaster because we would not have the opportunity to train our reactionary forces," he said.
The reimbursement issue stems from a battle in the Senate over a U.S. Capitol security spending bill. Republicans and Democrats are arguing over the size and scope of the legislation.
On Monday, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, unveiled a $3.7 billion plan that dwarfs the $1.9 billion bill passed by the House in May. The House bill provides extra money to federal law enforcement and additional Capitol security measures. In addition to reimbursing the Guard for its mission costs, Leahy's bill would give extra money to Capitol police, boost support for Afghanistan refugees and add resources to combat the pandemic.
"We did not budget for an insurrection," Leahy said in a statement. "I am glad that my Republican colleagues have joined the negotiating table on this urgent matter, but their proposal falls far short of the needs of the moment."
Leahy's Republican counterpart on the committee, Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., introduced a much slimmer $632.9 million bill on Monday that would fund the National Guard and cover additional costs the Capitol Police accrued related to the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.
"We all agree we must provide desperately-needed funding for the Capitol Police and National Guard," Shelby said in a Monday press release. "My bill answers these needs. I urge my Democrat colleagues to join me in passing this bill without further delay. Funding for the Capitol Police and National Guard must not be held hostage because the Democrats insist on billions more in spending that lacks full support at this time."
The Guard leaders urged Congress not to delay passing legislation, saying they need funding ahead of the deadline to avoid the most severe cuts to training and operations.
"What's the chance the funding is going to occur? We wouldn't be having this conference if we had high confidence," Neely said of the funding crisis.
-- Steve Beynon can be reached at Steve.Beynon@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @StevenBeynon.