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February 13, 2003

Panel Passes Measure Aimed at Selecting, Removing Guard Commanders

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 the committee had already forwarded one Guard reform bill, sponsored by Rep. 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 colonel under his command, Jack Jones, had recently questioned the Guard's readiness its 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 609 Guard troops were recruited last year, and 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 are of concern. And he said recruiters have been working nonstop to improve their numbers.
    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 and the investigation is continuing into other materials.
    Jones said 10 guns had disappeared in Roswell and a high-tech SINGARS combat communication radio had gone missing, as well. A $30,000 generator also vanished, Horn has acknowledged.
    But Horn and Koch insisted Thursday that individuals have been held accountable where investigation found them responsible.
    "In some cases people have had to pay money. We are real strict about that sort of thing," Koch said.
    Jones compared the equipment losses to the inventory-control scandals at Los Alamos National Laboratory.
    "We are not as big as Los Alamos," he said, "but we are as bad as Los Alamos."
    Horn said Jones musters out of the Guard in August unless Gov. Bill Richardson fires Horn and appoints Jones, who served recently as chief of staff to the regular Army's 10th Mountain Division in Kosovo.
    Jones said bills like Saavedra's and Gonzales' are needed to hold the Guard   —   and Horn   —   accountable.
    But former Adjutant Gen. Melvin Montano, who worked with lawmakers to draft the Saavedra bill, said his initiative was never aimed at Horn.
    "I actually thought about this when I was the adjutant," Montano said after the hearing.