Guard’s support of DHS adds no military value

Gen. Daniel Hokanson, the National Guard Bureau chief, says sending troops to the border detracts the Guard from building its warfighting readiness.

The National Guard’s ongoing support of the Department of Homeland Security’s missions on the southern U.S. border takes away from the Guard’s ability to improve its warfighting readiness, the National Guard’s top official told lawmakers Tuesday.

National Guard Bureau Chief Gen. Daniel Hokanson, who is retiring in September, said sending Guardsmen to the U.S.-Mexico border does little to contribute to their military training, adds stress to their families and impacts the Defense Department’s long-term goals of building the “combat capable National Guard.”

“As I’ve expressed within the building as well, there is no military training value for what we do. This is a law enforcement mission under the Department of Homeland Security,” Hokanson said during the Senate Appropriations Committee budget hearing.

“I know that we’re providing additional support along there. But for our Guardsmen there, they might as well be deployed to Kuwait or somewhere overseas, because they’re away from their families. They’re doing mission sets that are not directly applicable to their military skill set and so it increases their personal operational tempo. And that time, I think, would be better utilized building readiness to deter our adversaries.” he said.

The National Guard  has been providing logistical support to DHS for the last seven years. Hokanson said there are currently 2,500 troops deployed at the Southwest border under Title 10, but the number of Guardsmen stationed there has gone up and down during the last seven years.

Lawmakers and some DoD officials have long expressed concerns over the Department of Homeland Security’s continuing reliance on the Defense Department to support its border-related operations, which is not part of the DoD’s mission set.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who approved the DHS’s request to extend the Pentagon’s border mission through September 2024 last year, said the Defense Department uses its operating budget to fund the deployment of National Guard troops to the border to support DHS’s operations.

“Of course that means that there’s something else that we’re not doing because of that support,” Austin said during a Senate Defense Appropriations budget hearing in May.

“The price tag spent is about $4 billion. But we are supporting the agency, and DHS is a lead agency — it’s important to our country and we’re going to do that.”

Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), who has criticized the White House’s border policies, pressed Defense Secretary Austin about DoD’s ongoing support of border operations and whether the administration should at all rely on the military to secure the border.

“I agree, [we should not]. But if we’re required to assist, certainly we will continue to do so,” Austin told lawmakers.

Despite the challenges the National Guard faces, including potential budget cuts in 2025, Hokanson said the Guard is still focused on operational readiness and building a force that is “manned, trained and equipped.”

“These are not insurmountable challenges, but they represent risks and vulnerabilities,” said Hokanson. “If we fail to modernize our equipment and force design adequately, we increase the risk of sending America’s sons and daughters into large-scale combat operations with equipment and formations that may not be fully interoperable with the active duty forces we serve alongside.”

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