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Defense cuts an opportunity for National Guard, McKinley says

Air Force Gen. Craig McKinley, the chief of the National Guard Bureau, introduces Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta at the National Guard 2011 Joint Senior Leadership Conference in National Harbor, Md., on Nov. 8, 2011. (Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Jim Greenhill) (Released)

Air Force Gen. Craig McKinley, the chief of the National Guard Bureau, introduces Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta at the National Guard 2011 Joint Senior Leadership Conference in National Harbor, Md., on Nov. 8, 2011. (Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Jim Greenhill) (Released)

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- An era of deep defense cuts is an opportunity for the National Guard, the chief of the National Guard Bureau said here Monday.

Operations in Iraq and Afghanistan are drawing down, and the nation and the Defense Department face deep budget cuts, Air Force Gen. Craig McKinley told the National Guard 2011 Joint Senior Leadership Conference.

"These reductions have always included cuts to the reserve component, or an attempt to reorganize the reserve component," he said. "Although we're facing cuts similar to post-Cold War cuts, we are facing a different situation today than we were then."

Unlike the post-Cold War era, McKinley said today the National Guard is faced with an aging force structure, a higher operations tempo and challenges that are closer to home than at any other time.

"We in the National Guard should look at this as an opportunity," he said. "We will evolve the National Guard further by focusing on missions that are well-suited for us and our unique capabilities. We are always proud to be a part of the finest military in the world and contribute what we can to the United States Army and the United States Air Force.

"Most importantly though, we want to have the best National Guard that we can in order to support those who rely on us the most - our citizens in our communities."

The theme of the conference, which continues through Wednesday, is a celebration of the National Guard's 375th birthday Dec. 13.

"We've come a long way in 375 years, and we have a lot to celebrate as we serve our Army and our Air Force proudly and with honor and distinction," McKinley said.

"The National Guard has evolved from three regiments of New Englanders who were protecting their colony. We now have 460,000 Citizen-Warriors who participate in the full spectrum of military operations overseas, as well as being the first military response force for any emergency [in] our homeland.

"We are a part of the everyday fabric of America. We're made up of everyday Americans, residing in communities across the land. Consistent with 1636 - when the colonial militia was made up of every able-bodied man - today's National Guardsmen can be found in and throughout every community.

"When a domestic emergency occurs or the nation calls them to arms, National Guard men and women emerge from the general population and serve as Soldiers and Airmen."

That certainly was the case 10 years ago, when the United States was attacked on Sept. 11, 2001, McKinley said.

"Since that time, over 300,000 National Guard men and women have deployed overseas in support of [Operation Enduring Freedom] and [Operation Iraqi Freedom]," he said. "Just the other day, two of them gave the ultimate sacrifice in support of these missions."