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U.S. Mulls National Guard Role as Budget Cuts Near, Gates Says

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U.S. Mulls Changing National Guard Role
U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates meets with troops on June 6, 2011 at Combat Outpost Andar in Ghazni Province, Afghanistan. Photographer: Jason Reed/Pool/Getty Images

June 6 (Bloomberg) -- The Pentagon is considering changing the role of the National Guard and reserve forces as it contemplates budget cuts, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said.

Defense Department officials are discussing “what is the right role of the Guard and reserve force going forward,” Gates told soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division at Forward Operating Base Sharana in eastern Afghanistan today.

Options include dividing them into a strategic reserve and an operational reserve with different pay, training and equipment, Gates said. Another possibility might be moving heavy or infantry brigades into the Guard, he said.

“Those are all questions we’re looking into,” he told the soldiers, who are with the division’s 506th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team. “I think we need to do some hard thinking because we could not have done what we did in Iraq or what we are doing here in Afghanistan without operational engagement of the Guard.”

The U.S. military has drawn more than ever from National Guard and reserve forces to supply the troops needed to prosecute two major wars simultaneously. President Barack Obama is seeking $400 billion in defense spending cuts in the next 12 years to help reduce the U.S. budget deficit.

The changes are being examined for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1 and for the following 12 months, Gates said.

Gates said last month that reductions in the number of troops and their pay and benefits may be needed to protect major weapons programs, such as Lockheed Martin Corp.’s F-35 fighter jet.

To contact the reporter on this story: Viola Gienger in eastern Afghanistan, via vgienger@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva in Washington at msilva34@bloomberg.net

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