Plan to cut guard, reserves gives Pentagon political trouble Md. mobilizes to save its units

May 27, 1991|By Richard H. P. Sia | Richard H. P. Sia,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- Maryland Army National Guard officials have launched a major offensive to avert congressional approval of a sweeping plan by Defense Secretary Dick Cheney to cut the military reserves over the next five years, even though only two small local units have been targeted for deactivation.

"We would argue that the cuts he's proposing would decimate the Guard and dramatically undercut our ability to do our state mission," said Lt. Col. Howard Freedlander, a Maryland Guard spokesman.

The guardsmen are mobilizing civic leaders and families to write or call their lawmakers in Washington, he said. American Legion posts and local officials have also been enlisted to help.

When Mr. Cheney unveiled the 1992 defense budget in February, he proposed cutting the National Guard and reserves by 270,000 jobs through fiscal 1995 in an effort to streamline U.S. military forces now that the Soviet threat of a "global war" has collapsed. He said the military should be restructured to conform to a new defense strategy stressing a rapid response by active forces to sudden regional crises and more of a reinforcement and support role for the reserves.

In Maryland, two Army Guard units have been targeted: the 1729th Maintenance Company, based in Havre de Grace, and the 1229th Transportation Company, a Crisfield unit that just returned from wartime missions in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Iraq. They have a combined authorized strength of only 330 troops, not including 17 full-time employees.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer already has weighed in to decry the possible loss of Pentagon subsidies, which account for about 95 percent of the Guard's budget. Last month, Mr. Schaefer warned Maryland's congressional delegation that deactivation of the units would cost Havre de Grace $3.97 million and Crisfield and Salisbury $1.25 million.

"It is inconceivable to me that the Army would eliminate a unit that has performed so well in the Persian Gulf," he wrote lawmakers in a plea for help. "The proposed elimination of the 1229th seems a shoddy way of thanking these soldiers for their service."

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