Arkansas National Guard soldiers lose jobs at military training center over federal disagreement

Local and national Guard leaders failed to reach agreement on training arrangement

By: - November 15, 2022 8:30 pm

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*This story was updated at 4 p.m. on Nov. 17, 2022, with comments from the National Guard Bureau.

Roughly 20 members of the Arkansas National Guard stand to lose their jobs this week after state and federal leaders failed to reach an agreement on their continued employment at Camp Robinson and Fort Chaffee.

These temporary but full-time time jobs at the National Guard Professional Education Center will now go to Guardsmen and women from other states.

The Arkansas soldiers worked under a unique agreement between the National Guard Bureau and the Arkansas Guard that allowed them to be “federalized” for up to five years of work at the Professional Education Center.

The National Guard Professional Education Center is the Army National Guard’s national training center and occupies 25 buildings and 75 acres at Camp Robinson in North Little Rock.

It employs more than 400 soldiers and civilian contractors and provides training to more than 20,000 military members annually.

It also hosts conferences for different military groups as well as state and federal agencies.

But state Guard officials have become increasingly concerned about these soldiers’ ability to train and drill with their state units while under federal orders.

The state Guard couldn’t reach an agreement on a new arrangement with the National Guard Bureau, so the temporary arrangement ended Tuesday.

“This is all about readiness to the president and the governor,” Arkansas Guard spokesman Lt. Col. Will Phillips said while negotiations were ongoing. “This is not about penalizing anyone.”

Phillips confirmed Monday that the National Guard Bureau had rejected the state Guard’s proposal.

Kurt Rauschenberg, a National Guard Bureau spokesperson, said Thursday that Guardsmen at the training center will remain under federal control — known as Title 10 Active Duty for Operational Support — and it will be up to state Guard leaders whether to allow their personnel to work there.

“Due to the inherent responsibilities these positions entail at the National Guard Bureau’s Professional Education Center, they will remain Title 10 Active Duty for Operational Support under Title 10 USC 12301d, which are renewable each year,” he said. “Qualifying personnel may apply for these positions appropriately. Adjutants General, across the 54 states, territories, and District of Columbia, have the authority to make decisions regarding the readiness of their respective units, which includes impacts of Soldiers serving on Title 10 active duty orders.”

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The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette first reported on the negotiations between the Arkansas Guard and National Guard Bureau in September.

The Guard

Each state’s National Guard serves a dual mission. Most of the time, the Guard falls under its state’s governor, ready to respond to natural disasters and other state emergencies while still training, drilling and maintaining combat readiness. 

Most state Guardsmen are part-time and still hold full-time civilian jobs.

Components of each state’s Guard can also be federalized, meaning those groups would then fall under the command of the President of the United States. This is utilized primarily for foreign deployments.

However, there is also a small group of Guardsmen who go under federal orders for full-time, state-side jobs, like those at issue at the Professional Education Center.

Drill problem

The problem, Phillips said, is that those soldiers fall under the federal command structure, meaning that the Arkansas Guard can’t force them to attend drill and training. Many of those soldiers have attended drill voluntarily, but some haven’t, Phillips said.

The Arkansas Guard hoped that the National Guard Bureau would formalize an agreement that would allow the soldiers to continue working at the Professional Education Center while staying under state command for drill and training. 

No agreement was reached, so Arkansas National Guard Adjutant General Kendall Penn will no longer grant the annual permissions for those soldiers to work at the Professional Education Center.

This wasn’t the preferable outcome for anyone involved. 

Arkansas soldiers will lose lucrative jobs and active-duty benefits. 

The National Guard Bureau loses experienced employees and will have to find new soldiers to fill the positions.

The Arkansas Guard had hoped to continue having its soldiers staff the center because it provided positive experiences for its soldiers and economic impacts to the state.

The Arkansas Guard is composed of about 6,700 Army Guard members and 1,800 Air Guard members.

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Hunter Field, Arkansas Advocate
Hunter Field, Arkansas Advocate

Hunter Field is a veteran Arkansas journalist whose reporting on the state has carried him from military air strips in northwest Arkansas to soybean fields in the Arkansas delta. He spent the better part of the last decade investigating and reporting on Arkansas government and politics. For three years, he covered education policy, medical marijuana and the Arkansas General Assembly as part of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s Capitol Bureau. Most recently, he was the Democrat-Gazette's projects editor, leading the newspaper's investigative team. Hunter got his start in journalism covering sports for The Commercial Appeal in Memphis. A Memphis native, he enjoys smoking barbecue, kayaking and fishing in his free time.

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