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Friday, February 14, 2003

Lawmakers Tire of N.M. Guard Infighting

By Richard Benke
The Associated Press
    Legislation that would change how National Guard commanders are selected and removed survived a committee hearing Thursday and was forwarded without recommendation but with a warning.
    Lawmakers said they were concerned that two factions of current and former military officers were competing, sometimes heatedly, for legislative attention.
    "We do have a problem with federal law versus state law, and some of us have concerns about the political ramifications," said Rep. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, chairwoman of the House Government and Urban Affairs Committee.
    Rep. Jeannette Wallace, R-Los Alamos, said she did not want to hear the two sides verbally sniping at each other anymore.
    Stewart noted that the committee had already forwarded one Guard reform bill, sponsored by Rep. Roberto "Bobby" Gonzales, D-Taos, to the House Judiciary Committee. The Gonzales bill would open the adjutant's position to former Guard officers, rather than limiting eligibility to currently serving officers.
    The bill under consideration Thursday, introduced by Rep. Henry "Kiki" Saavedra, D-Albuquerque, went through three votes before it was forwarded without recommendation to the Judiciary Committee.
    Saavedra's bill, supported by former Adjutant Gens. Melvin Montano and Edward Baca, would require Senate confirmation for appointment of an adjutant and sets forth criteria for an "efficiency board" that would, at a governor's request, determine whether there was cause for an adjutant's removal.
    Gen. Randy Horn, the current adjutant, has expressed concern that a three-member efficiency board appointed by a governor would introduce politics into a process that should remain military.
    Saavedra amended the bill Thursday so that the efficiency board would have to be appointed by the National Guard Bureau at the request of the governor and would consist of officers equal or superior in rank to the adjutant in question.
    After the hearing Thursday, Horn said: "The legislative process will work. The right outcome will be reached."
    Horn expressed dismay that a much-decorated officer under his command, Col. Jack Jones, had recently questioned the Guard's readiness and accountability, among other criticism. Jones testified before lawmakers last Saturday and again Thursday and said in an interview that the Guard has been mismanaged and that troops were leaving in disillusionment.
    Horn said the decline in Army National Guard membership started in 1989 and continued until he was appointed to a five-year term in December 1999 and has been up and down since.
    Guard spokesman Tom Koch said that 609 Guard troops were recruited last year and that 753 had left the Guard. Since Oct. 1, the start of the fiscal year, he said, 207 have been recruited to date and 177 have left.
    Koch said the readiness of the troops is unquestioned, although the readiness of shorthanded units is of concern. And he said recruiters have been working nonstop.
    Horn and Koch both said allegations by Jones of missing equipment were vastly overstated. They said the Guard has investigated and secured restitution for some of the equipment.
    Jones said that 10 guns had disappeared in Roswell and that a high-tech SINGARS combat communication radio had gone missing, as well. A $30,000 generator also vanished.
    But Horn and Koch insisted Thursday that individuals have been held accountable when investigations found them responsible.