National Guard Commanders Show Concern Over Policies

The nation's laws and policies aren't changing fast enough to reflect the increasing demands on citizen soldiers, top commanders of the National Guard and reserves told an independent commission Wednesday.

"I think we're not changing and shaping our forces for the threats that are out there today," said Vice Admiral John Cotton, chief of the Navy Reserve.

The 13-member Commission on the National Guard and Reserves was formed by Congress to investigate how well the units are equipped and organized. It began a yearlong review in March to address needs for future roles and missions.

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Lt. Gen. Craig McKinley, director of the Air National Guard, raised the possibility of a draft if needs are not met.

"What is the cost if we don't support our Guard and Reserve?" McKinley said during discussions about funding. "I believe it would be a debate over conscription."

McKinley, however, said his force of 106,800 is being funded at adequate levels to remain operational.

"I'm not saying the sky is falling," he said. "I'm saying the system works. ... We want that to continue."

Commission Chairman Arnold L. Punaro, a retired Marine Corps major general, said information technology systems need to be improved to prevent problems such as citizen soldiers not always getting their paychecks right away when they are put on active duty.

Enlisted personnel told the panel that the benefits afforded reservists are key in decisions to re-enlist.

Army Reserve Sgt. Allison Kitzerow said help with school loans is important to her. But she and others said reservists would like to know more in advance about possible deployments and their length.

"My main concern is being uninformed," Kitzerow, who spent a year in Iraq as a prison guard, said after the hearing. "You don't learn what's going on."

About 69,000 members of the Air and Army National Guards are deployed overseas in the war on terrorism, Lt. Gen. H. Steven Blum, chief of the National Guard Bureau, said last week. More are posted within the United States, and President Bush wants as many as 6,000 Guard troops assisting along the Mexico border to free up officers there to stop illegal immigration.

Wednesday's hearing was the commission's first outside Washington, D.C. Another is planned this fall in San Diego.