The decision to send Montana Soldiers and Airmen anywhere — to the front lines, to a forest fire, or to protect our nation’s borders — is one of the most difficult decisions I make as Governor and as Commander in Chief of the Montana National Guard.
I do not take it lightly and it is never a decision I make without great consideration.
During my time as governor, 1,500 soldiers and airmen have been deployed overseas, answering the call of the president. A total of 1,450 of our National Guardsmen and women have responded to fires, floods and other natural disasters here in Montana. At the request of other governors, we have sent our service members to four states and territories to provide support.
And yes, when called upon, we have assisted in border security. Our pilots and crew members have responded to a request for assistance from a border governor to provide aerial surveillance in support of the Customs and Border Patrol.
I have made each and every one of those decisions in consultation with the Adjutant General of the Montana National Guard and military advisors. Every time, I have insisted on a number of conditions.
I have insisted on predictability. I want to be able to tell our Guardsmen and women, their families and their employers how long they will be away from their loved ones, their jobs and their schools.
I have insisted on safety. Our Guardsmen and women must have the training to perform their mission safely. I want to ensure they are protected on their missions, whether fighting fires or guarding a border.
And I have insisted on purpose. I do not want a call-up to take away from the training and readiness of our Guardsmen and women to respond to emergencies here at home or in this uncertain and complex global state of affairs.
Last week the president, without significant consultation of any of his advisors, announced he would be sending our military down to the Southern border. Later in the day he declared up to 4,000 citizen soldiers and Airmen would fill that role - and that they would stay there “until a wall is built.”
I have many concerns with this approach. I have concerns with indeterminate scope, duration and mission. I have concerns about our Guardsmen and women not being provided support or adequate rules of engagement.
I have concerns with impacts on servicemembers, their families and their employers. I have concerns our Guardsmen and women, who are charged with keeping Montanans and their families safe, would be sent on a mission with no end date, jeopardizing our efforts back at home at a time when we anticipate Spring flooding and Summer wildfires.
And I have concerns soldiers and airmen are being deployed out of impulse and frustration. The president has not been able to convince Congress that building a wall across our Southern border is a necessary or wise expenditure of taxpayer dollars. We expect a great deal of the men and women who serve in our National Guard. I have witnessed their selfless efforts to protect Montanans and our property across the state during a devastating fire season last summer. I have personally visited them on deployment in Afghanistan and Kuwait and seen firsthand their dedication to service and to our country. I have stood next to families and loved ones as they deploy and as they return home.
If and when a fellow governor requests our support, I will give it careful consideration. But before sending Montana’s men and women into harm’s way, I want to be able to look into the eyes of each and every soldier and airman, every child and every spouse, and tell them this mission is absolutely necessary for this state and nation.