Sen. John McCain cites his knowledge of and experience in national security matters as one of the main reasons to vote for him. However, throughout his congressional career Sen. McCain has demonstrated little interest in the existence, much less the welfare, of the National Guard and those serving in it. As Pennsylvania prepares to deploy more than 5,000 of its sons and daughters to Iraq and Afghanistan over the next two years, the people of Pennsylvania should consider Sen. McCain's National Guard record carefully.
Since September 11, 2001, the men and women across the United States serving in the National Guard have given more for their country than they -- and their leaders -- ever imagined would be asked of them. To date, 563 members of the National Guard have lost their lives in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. National Guards across the country are consistently deploying at levels not seen since World War II. One half of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have served in the National Guard and Reserves. Gone are the days of the "weekend warrior." Today's National Guard, for better or worse, has become an integral part of the Pentagon's operational plans.
Sen. McCain's record in the Senate demonstrates little recognition of the central role that the National Guard has been given in the Global War on Terrorism. He has repeatedly rejected the Guard's constitutional role as the people's voice on the common defense and thrown his support behind the defense establishment's efforts to suppress that voice. Sen. McCain has also been a consistent supporter of efforts by the regular Army and the Department of Defense to abolish the National Guard's Divisions, including Pennsylvania's own 28th "Keystone" Division, if not by getting rid of them outright then by starving them of resources so that they wither on the vine.
He has used his self-appointed appropriation policing powers to label monies inserted on behalf of the National Guard into defense appropriations bills as "pork." What Sen. McCain does not mention is that these efforts are often due to the Pentagon's unwillingness to provide funding equal to the tasks asked of the Guard. Since 9/11 much of this "pork barrel" spending on equipment and other resources has proved invaluable to the readiness of our deployed forces. In fact, it is highly probable the Pennsylvania Air National Guard would not have any aircraft to fly if it wasn't for "pork" supported by Pennsylvania's congressional delegation.
Speaking before the 130th General Conference of the National Guard Association of the United States this past September, Sen. McCain said, "I pledge to you my unyielding fidelity to the cause of protecting America and to a National Guard that will always be ready and always be there."
Having served in the National Guard for many years and witnessed firsthand Sen. McCain's attitudes towards the Guard, I can say that his comments are contradicted by his record. I believe that how our state and national leaders treat our National Guard is a strong indication of the depth of their understanding of our Constitution and the sacrifices that those serving in the Guard make on behalf of their country. I hope that all citizens will use measures such as these come November 4th.
Brig. Gen. Dave McGinnis (ret.) served in the New York National Guard and is a former Senior Fellow of the National Guard Association of the United States.