The chief of the National Guard said Thursday he deserves full membership in the Joint Chiefs of Staff despite opposition from the current chairman and the service chiefs.
Testifying before a deeply divided Senate Armed Services Committee, Gen. Craig McKinley said expansion of the Joint Chiefs should include the individual who represents 465,000 members of the Army and Air National Guard, especially in a post-Sept. 11 world where the role of the National Guard has changed dramatically. Significant numbers of guardsmen and reservists have seen combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.
McKinley also said the National Guard chief is best equipped to discuss homeland defense and other issues critical to the states.
"Only full Joint Chiefs of Staff membership for the chief of the National Guard Bureau will ensure that the responsibilities and capabilities of the non-federalized National Guard are considered in a planned and deliberate manner that is not based upon ad hoc or personal relationships, but is instead firmly rooted in the law and the national strategy," McKinley told the committee.
McKinley sat at a long table, side by side with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey; the vice chairman, Adm. James Winnefeld; and the four service chiefs. Pentagon general counsel Jeh Johnson also discussed the legal implications.
The service chiefs all argued against changing the law to expand the Joint Chiefs, saying there was no compelling reason to alter the status quo. Dempsey argued that it could create the impression of inequity because while each service has a reserve component, only the Army and Air Force have a National Guard.
Dempsey also pointed out that each chief is subject to civilian oversight with a service secretary. The National Guard does not have a similar arrangement.
"It's uncertain to me what problem we're trying to solve," Dempsey said.
Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos put it more bluntly, "the Guard is not a service."
At a Pentagon news conference, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta deferred to the service chiefs' argument and said membership should be limited to those who have direct command.
Still, the change has strong congressional support, with 66 members of the Senate backing legislation to expand the Joint Chiefs. On the Senate Armed Services Committee, Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., and the top Republican, John McCain of Arizona, are not eager to add the National Guard chief to the Joint Chiefs, but several committee members are pushing for it.
They cited 2008 campaign comments from President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden favoring the change.
"You're going to get a seat at the table," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.
The change could end up as an amendment to the defense bill later this month.