Bill Would Restrict Federal Deployment of Md. National Guard

By Christian Davenport
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 23, 2009

The bill, its sponsor admits, has little chance of passing, and could be on uncertain legal ground if adopted. But Maryland Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr.'s intent wasn't so much to create a law as to spark a debate on how the National Guard should be used in time of war.

Madaleno's bill would allow the governor to prohibit the federal deployment of the Maryland Guard unless Congress authorizes the use of military force or passes a declaration of war. It declares that the authorization of force that Congress passed in 2002 for the Iraq invasion is no longer valid because "Iraq does not pose a continuing threat to the national security of the United States."

Madaleno (D-Montgomery) said the Maryland Guard's repeated deployments in the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts have exhausted its resources and worn out equipment that is needed on the home front in case of an emergency, such as a hurricane or tornado.

The overseas tours have also "raised a bigger question about the use of our National Guard in foreign deployments," he said.

"The ongoing use of the National Guard puts a huge strain on emergency services in every state," he said. "And if we're going to have these long deployments in open-ended conflicts, we have to figure out what their role is."

The legislation is part of a broader movement called "Bring the Guard Home," in which a collection of peace organizations have promoted similar legislation, none successful, in other states. And it follows attempts by other states to limit the amount the Guard can be called to federal duty. In 2005, for example, Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer asked the Pentagon to return his state's citizen-soldiers from Iraq so that they could help combat wildfires. The request was denied.

The Guard, whose soldiers train one weekend a month and two weeks a year, report to state governors in times of domestic crisis and the president during federal emergencies. With wars raging in Iraq and Afghanistan and a series of domestic emergencies such as Hurricane Katrina, the Guard has been called up in numbers not seen since World War II.

The stresses have been evident. Lt. Gen. H Steven Blum, the former head of the National Guard Bureau, told Congress in 2007 that the Guard needed $40 billion to get back to full strength and said, "We are not a fully ready force."

As to whether the citizen-soldiers are a federal force organized to fight alongside regular active-duty troops or a homeland security force, Guard officials said the answer is simple: They are both.

"The Guard is a shared resource," said John Goheen, spokesman for the National Guard Association. "Guard units can be mobilized and deployed overseas. The states have rights to deploy individual Guard units when the governor deems it necessary for state emergencies."

The Guard, which dates to 1636, is descended from the Colonial Militia. It has fought in virtually every conflict since the Revolutionary War and has a long history of going overseas to fight. Guardsmen played a key role in World War I and World War II. And members of the Maryland Guard were among the first wave of soldiers who stormed the beaches of Normandy.

During the Vietnam War, President Lyndon B. Johnson refused to mobilize the Guard in large numbers for political reasons, historians have written. That is why many people started to view the Guard strictly as a domestic force, Goheen said, until it began to be called up for duty after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

"We went through an entire period where you didn't see the Guard leaving Main Street and their armories to go to war," Goheen said. "I think people for a long time saw the Guard and thought, 'Those are the guys who fill sandbags.' "

Maryland Guard units have been called up for Iraq and Afghanistan, in some cases for multiple deployments. Without commenting on Madaleno's bill, Lt. Col. Charles Kohler, the Maryland National Guard's spokesman, said that the state's Guard has "a unique capability" to serve abroad and at home and that "we've always met every obligation."

Members of Bring the Guard Home contend that although states cannot declare war or end war, they should have a say in how their citizen-soldiers are deployed.

"The states do have power to determine if an order for troops is based on a still-valid act of Congress," said Benson Scotch, a Vermont lawyer who acts as general counsel for the group. The act of Congress that authorized troops to invade Iraq is no longer valid, he said.

Madaleno said he does not think the bill has much of a shot at passing and could run into legal trouble if approved because of the federal government's ability to call on the Guard in times of national emergency. But he said he hoped that it would at least cause legislators, and the public, to rethink the role that citizen-soldiers play.

"As legislators, the best thing we can to do to start the discussion is put something on the table and move forward with that," he said.

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