By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
FORWARD OPERATING BASE SHARANA, Afghanistan - The Defense Department is taking a look at the roles of the National Guard and reserve components, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said Monday.
Gates spoke to the men and women of Task Force Currahee, a unit built around the 101st Airborne Division's 4th Brigade, and based in Paktika province.
The secretary thanked the soldiers for their service during a town hall meeting and took questions. One soldier asked about the future of the Army Reserve components.
Gates said he has been concerned about the Guard and reserves since he took office in 2006.
"One of my concerns when I took the job was my concern that after 9/11, we pulled a kind of bait and switch on the National Guard," he said.
Since World War II, the National Guard always had been a strategic reserve, and those signing up for service generally trained one weekend a month and two weeks in the summer. They understood they would be called up for national disasters or great national crises.
Instead, they "found themselves ultimately being deployed for 15 months in the field," the secretary said.
Since then, of course, the reality is that everyone who has joined the Guard and Reserve has known they were going in to the fight, he said.
But this is an issue for reservists. The department is asking what are the right roles for the Guard and reserve going forward, Gates said.
One suggestion is that the Guard be divided into a strategic reserve and an operational reserve, with each group trained, paid and equipped differently, the secretary said.
Another suggestion calls for moving more of the Army's heavy infantry brigade combat teams into the National Guard.
"These are questions we are looking at, but we need to do some hard thinking," he said, "because we could not have done what we did in Iraq and do what we're doing here in Afghanistan without the operational engagement of the Guard."
Whatever happens, the Guard is going to continue to have an operational role, Gates said.
"How much of the Guard that involves, and how we situate the Guard and reserves going forward is still a question everybody is looking at," he said.