One of my most intense grievances concerns the way the second Bush administration led by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld pillaged our National Guard units to conduct its misbegotten invasion of Iraq. I assume it would have been politically unpalatable to ask Congress to fund that mission -- raising and equipping the additional forces required -- so it was much easier to simply call in the National Guard.
In short order, the National Guard was denuded of much of its weaponry, including tanks and aircraft, and thousands of working Americans in the prime of life were snatched away from their jobs and families and sent abroad. One may argue this is exactly what the National Guard is for, but I believe it should be our last ditch defense for national emergencies. In any case, within a couple of years the National Guard was virtually disarmed.
My greatest concern was that this treatment would undermine public support for the National Guard. I feared the middle-aged working men and women would become reluctant to serve, knowing they could be plucked from their homes and jobs any time irresponsible politicians decided to embark upon ill-considered military adventures. We were sending people in their 50s and even 60s into the war zones.
I need not have worried. The National Guard is alive and well and refurbishing its ranks and arsenals. Better yet, Guard is taking creative leadership of cyber defense. The Air National Guard is today fully integrated with the U.S Air Force cyber mission. The Air National Guard's 261st Cyber Operations Squadron is in California and the 262nd is in Washington State, mobilized for six-month rotations with U.S. Cyber Command's Cyber Mission Force.
In 2013, the National Guard piloted 10-person computer network defense teams in all 50 states, plus four territories. The Army National Guard is activating seven new multistate cyber protection teams, adding to three teams already in existence. The Air National Guard is activating four cyber operations squadrons, which join six already in action. With these expansions, the Guard intends to grow its cyber force to about 2,500 cyber warriors -- about 1,100 in the Army Guard and 1,300 in the Air Guard.
There is a tremendous advantage in having this infusion of National Guard talent into the Pentagon's cyber security operation. It is no great secret that people with advanced skills in digital technology are in high demand and are hence well compensated. Such people are reluctant to sign up for full time military service because of the comparatively low pay. But cyber experts in the private sector can keep their lucrative private sector jobs while serving in the National Guard. They bring with them a high level of expertise that the Cyber Mission Force needs. We can only hope that our political leaders appreciate the value of this contribution to our national defense, and resist the temptation to take unwise advantage of it as they did before. It is imperative that we keep the National Guard attractive to those who wish to serve.
Lt. Gen. Clarence E. "Mac" McKnight, Jr., (USA-Ret) is the author of "From Pigeons to Tweets: A General Who Led Dramatic Change in Military Communications," published by The History Publishing Company.