The 2016 National Defense Authorization Act passed by Congress and expected to be approved by the president this week will require the Wisconsin Army National Guard to inactivate three units and result in the loss of 36 full-time positions over the next year and 274 traditional Guard positions statewide over two years.
The force structure changes implemented Army-wide will impact units across Wisconsin and result in inactivating the Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin-based 724th Engineer Battalion headquarters and the 949th Engineer Detachment (Survey and Design), as well as the Hayward, Wisconsin-based 724th Engineer Battalion Forward Support Company.
The National Guard Bureau recently notified the Wisconsin Army National Guard that the changes would affect the named units, as part of congressionally mandated reductions throughout the Department of Defense, which will reduce the Army National Guard’s end strength from 350,200 to 342,000 by the end of the 2016 fiscal year. The Army plans for further reductions in 2017 to bring the Army National Guard’s end strength to 335,000. The 2017 target reductions are dependent on further congressional approval.
The cuts to force structure and personnel were originally recommended by the Department of Defense due to Budget Control Act ceiling limits on the base budget. The reductions are proceeding despite the recent Bipartisan Budget Act agreement between Congress and the president that lifted that ceiling.
Wisconsin National Guard Commander-in-Chief Gov. Scott Walker has been briefed on the reductions and continues to work with other governors through the National Governor’s Association to communicate their concerns.
The Wisconsin Army National Guard expects its end strength to be reduced by a maximum of 3.6 percent. This figure includes a decrease of 151 Soldiers (2 percent) in 2016 and possibly an additional 123 (1.6 percent) in 2017 for a total of 274 positions statewide. The majority of the positions will come from the inactivation of the 724th Engineer Battalion headquarters, the 949th Engineer Detachment and the 724th’s Forward Support Company. The remaining force reductions will be spread across units statewide to mitigate impact. Soldiers in the three units slated for inactivation will be afforded the opportunity to serve in other units around the state.
In addition to the overall end strength reductions, Congress has also mandated cuts in full-time Active Guard and Reserve (AGR), and federal technician positions for the National Guard. AGR and federal technician personnel manage the day-to-day operations and administration of the Wisconsin National Guard, which drives the organization’s overall readiness. Wisconsin will lose approximately three percent of those positions in 2016, which amounts to 36 full-time positions. These changes will have an impact on the Wisconsin National Guard’s overall readiness, but the Guard will remain ready and committed to serving the people of Wisconsin and the nation.
The traditional part-time Wisconsin Army National Guard force reductions will be accomplished through normal attrition rates and planned retirements. The full-time personnel force reductions will also come through natural attrition, but Soldiers currently serving in temporary federal technician positions are unlikely to be extended past the end of their current terms and some current vacancies will not be filled immediately.
The affected units will not inactivate until 2017, according to the National Guard Bureau.
All Wisconsin Army National Guard Soldiers are valued, and these changes will not impact any currently serving Guard members’ ability to continue their service. Soldiers in the affected units will be given opportunities to transfer to similar duty positions in other units or retrain for different positions.
“The inactivation of our Wisconsin Army National Guard units will not be easy,” Maj. Gen. Don Dunbar, Wisconsin’s adjutant general, said. “I am committed to ensuring that all Soldiers affected by any force structure changes are accommodated with opportunities to re-classify or retrain to meet new duty position requirements for vacant positions at other units, but this transition will not occur immediately.”
A new command structure for the units that currently fall under the 724th Engineer Battalion headquarters remains under development, and while force structure may be changed, the Wisconsin National Guard intends to maintain a presence at each of its current facilities.
The engineer community will remain a critical component of the Wisconsin Army National Guard’s overall capabilities. The Wisconsin National Guard will adjust to any force structure changes that occur and remain ready to serve the citizens of Wisconsin here at home or when called to federal active duty service.