Well-funded citizen soldiers are key to ensuring a safer America 

They didn’t call him “Tricky Dick” for nothing — and Melvin Laird knew it.

The Wisconsin congressman knew what he was getting into when President Richard Nixon tabbed him as secretary of defense. Laird would have to wind down an unpopular war and thread the needle among a paranoid White House, a restive Congress and a powerhouse personality known as Henry Kissinger.

Despite these obstacles, Laird excelled during his tenure at the Pentagon. Few have proved a better steward of our men and women in uniform during difficult conditions.

Laird introduced the idea of the “total force.” Previously, the National Guard and the reserves had been mere afterthoughts in the Pentagon — underfunded, underequipped, and ill-prepared to do much more than gather on weekends for parades and barbecues.



Shortly after taking office, Laird embarked on an initiative to kill the draft and establish an all-volunteer military. He knew that all the military forces would have to be ready to serve the nation when needed.

From now on, he told the services, “a total force concept will be applied to all aspects of programming, planning, manning, equipping and employing National Guard and Reserve forces.” They were to be considered equally vital parts of the armed forces.

Laird’s total force policy has proved itself during the Long War. U.S. troops have been deployed and fighting without quarter since 9/11 — a feat possible only because the Pentagon could rely on the Guard and Reserve.

Today, the military faces an uncertain future. The American economy is sick, and some want to cure it by cutting defense.

But after a decade of war, cutting the Pentagon’s budget now will just leave us a military ill-equipped to meet future challenges.

Nor can we afford to focus on preparing only active-duty troops. If we don’t take care of the Guard and Reserve, we’ll have no “safety net” for the next fight.

Before slashing the Pentagon’s budget, Congress and the White House should read “The Independent Panel Review of Reserve Component Employment in an Era of Persistent Conflict.” Written by three former senior army officers, including former Army Chief of Staff Dennis Reimer, the report makes the case that, in the future, the Reserves will be more important to maintaining military readiness than ever before.

Reserve forces, they argue, must be “consistent and sustained over time instead of the past paradigm of fight-win-demobilize-return to garrison and subsequently mobilize for another conflict — at huge cost in people and money.”

The Reimer report includes many common-sense ideas for maintaining what is arguably the most cost-effective part of the military.

Politicians looking to burnish their cost-cutting credentials should look elsewhere. The way to shrink big government is not to put the nation at greater risk, but to cut programs that enrich a few while doing little to give us greater security or liberty.

Examiner columnist James Jay Carafano is a senior research fellow for national security at the Heritage Foundation (heritage.org).

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