Depending on how the U.S. Department of Defense’s 2015 fiscal budget shakes out later this year, North Dakota could lose almost 9 percent of its National Guard force.
When the Defense Department unveiled its budget last month, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel called for a reduction of about 20,000 soldiers.
Maj. Gen. David Sprynczynatyk, North Dakota adjutant general, said initially the cuts would have reduced the ranks of the North Dakota Guard by 250 to 300 soldiers.
On Wednesday, Sprynczynatyk said that number has been adjusted to about 210 soldiers.
“We have been in a dialogue trying to work through what these cuts might mean, especially in terms of personnel,” Sprynczynatyk said.
North Dakota’s National Guard force now stands at roughly 4,400 soldiers, about 1,000 of whom are in the Air National Guard.
Those units are spread across 18 locations in the state with the largest number of soldiers, 980, based in Bismarck. Fargo has 555 soldiers based there and Camp Grafton has 354.
The Guard has already closed two armories in the state. In December, the armory in Hazen with 24 soldiers attached to it and the armory in Cavalier with 16 soldiers closed.
Those soldiers were rolled into other units, Sprynczynatyk said.
If further reductions are necessary, he said they likely would be done as whole units rather than spreading the cuts across the state.
Sprynczynatyk said specific units, whether engineering units or otherwise, are classified by “force structure,” meaning a specific number of soldiers are needed to perform their assigned duties.
“Each unit is designed to have a certain capability,” he said, based on the number of soldiers.
Jeff Zent, spokesman for Gov. Jack Dalrymple, said the governor, along with all other governors, sent a letter to Hagel in late February protesting the planned cuts.
Under the plan Hagel outlined, the size of the Army National Guard would drop from about 355,000 to 335,000 soldiers by 2017.
If sequestration remains in place during fiscal 2016, the Guard’s numbers would drop to 315,000.
Nationally, the Guard also would lose its AH-64 Apache helicopters, but gain UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters from the active Army, under a five-year spending plan. North Dakota has Black Hawk and Lakota helicopters.
Sprynczynatyk said if specific units were dissolved, equipment such as helicopters would go with the units.
Zent said it’s too early for the governor to comment on the proposed cuts.
“We don’t know yet what the final outcome will be,” Zent said. “But the National Guard has proven its value both domestically and around the world.”
Sprynczynatyk said the situation remains fluid and the Guard is examining how any necessary changes would be implemented.
If cuts do become necessary, Sprynczynatyk said, one option he hopes would be available would be to offer early retirements to qualifying officers and enlisted personnel.
Sprynczynatyk said Camp Grafton near Devils Lake would not be targeted if cuts are made.
The base south of Devils Lake is home to the 164th Regional Training Institute, along with two other units.
The $30 million training unit was opened in 2010 and more than 3,000 soldiers train there each year.
Sprynczynatyk said some consolidation and sharing of resources with Guard units from other states could be a possibility, something that has been done previously in times of flooding.
Since the war on terrorism began, North Dakota has mobilized more than 6,600 soldiers overseas in addition to their duties on the home front.
North Dakotans enlist in the Guard at four times the national average.
“We operate at one-third the cost of an active component,” Sprynczynatyk said. “The Guard has proven itself time and time again.”