Delegate Patrick McGeehan (R-Hancock) has once again introduced the Defend the Guard Act (HB 2732) legislation in Charleston. The bill requires an official declaration of war before any members of the West Virginia National Guard can be assigned to active duty combat.

McGeehan has credibility on military issues. He is an Air Force veteran and served his country in Afghanistan. It is worth paying attention to McGeehan when he speaks on such matters.

For example, McGeehan’s bill accurately points out that the United States Congress has essentially abdicated its responsibility for declaring war and instead ceded that authority to the President. “Although the United States Congress has not declared war in over 70 years, the nation has since gone to war repeatedly at the whim of the executive branch.”

McGeehan’s Constitutional reasoning, as well as his heart, are in the right place. However, as a practical matter, the bill—which is getting serious consideration in the House—is problematic.

First, there is a legal matter.  The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1990 that state Governors do not have the right to prevent the call-up of state National Guard units for overseas deployments.

The Guard has a unique dual mission that consists of state and federal roles.  When necessary, the President is empowered to activate the Guard for federal missions, which may be in other parts of the world.

Second, and perhaps more important, the state and the National Guard benefit significantly from the Guard’s federal roles in federal allocations and civilian jobs here.  If West Virginia were able to withdraw from its federal role (except in the case of a declared war), it would lose millions of federal dollars, civilian jobs and critical military training and support.

For example:

–The 167th Airlift Wing in Martinsburg provides transportation of cargo and personnel around the globe. That mission is supported by $85 million in federal funding and 500 full-time jobs.

–The 130th Airlift Wing out of Charleston has similar responsibilities, as well as providing support for NATO missions, Special Operations and humanitarian missions. The 440 full-time jobs associated with the 130th are paid for with $56 million in federal funding.

–The Army National Guard in Wheeling last year received 10 of the Army’s newest Blackhawk helicopters. These copters and their pilots are vital not only for missions overseas, but also emergency situations in West Virginia such as search and rescue and emergency medical evacuations.

The West Virginia National Guard Adjutant General Major General James Hoyer estimates that if the Defend the Guard Act were to become law, West Virginia would lose $140 million in federal dollars and almost 1,000 jobs.

“A proposal of this nature does more to disadvantage our National Guard than help it,” Hoyer said.  “I believe it would result in a significant reduction of military members in West Virginia.”

West Virginia has a long history of proud and effective service by our National Guard. These citizen soldiers have responded professionally to the call at home and abroad.  All the while the Guard has become better equipped and established a more significant footprint in our state.

The supporters of the bill want to protect the guard from overseas entanglements, and that’s a noble idea. A better approach would be to take those concerns to lawmakers in Washington, D.C.

The bill now before West Virginia’s Legislature would undermine the strength and effectiveness of our National Guard.

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