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By Travis Wright: Former Army National Guard officer and White House liaison

Russia and Ukraine Conflict

What is happening between Ukraine and Russia has all the hallmarks of an invasion waiting to happen. 100,000 Russian troops have been staged along the border, and they’ve been moving equipment and materiel in for months. Trainloads of Russian troops are reportedly entering Russian-ally Belarus – which borders Ukraine to the north – with joint military exercises on the near horizon. Despite negotiators indicating they want to keep the dialogue going, movement on the most salient topics seems to have stalled. The U.S. Dept. of State has announced evacuation orders for the families of US diplomats in Ukraine and non-essential U.S. government personnel in-country.[1] And as of Wednesday, the 26th, the Dept. of State also suggested that intelligence shows "every indication" Russia will use military force in Ukraine by mid-February.[2]

Russia carried out military drills in December as the West fears the country will invade Ukraine

Russia carried out military drills in December as the West fears the country will invade Ukraine

It may not be a foregone conclusion yet, but an invasion appears not to be a matter of “if,” but a matter of “when” and “what will it look like.” Of course, clearer geopolitical skies could open, a breakthrough may occur, and all stakeholders might edge back from the precipice. Only time will tell. But regardless of what may transpire, what is happening between Ukraine and Russia – and by extension the US and NATO allies in Europe – is a stark wakeup call on a number of fronts.

First, it highlights the need to be constantly prepared, anticipatory in our outlook, and to think (and often times act) creatively about our geopolitical imperatives and interests; we need to lead from the front on the global stage. Second, it is a tough lesson about the value of deterrence – and both the consequences of weak deterrence and of not seriously backing our stances and words with credible force. And finally, as the Dept. of Defense prepares to roll out the new National Defense Strategy (NDS), and as the FY23 defense budget is being finalized for Congress, the Ukraine situation illuminates the need to build and maintain a cost-effective and realistic force structure across the services.

US Army, Army Reserve & Army National Guard

Drilling down, the force structure issue is especially important for the active Army, the Army Reserve and Army National Guard. This is particularly since the Ukraine crisis serves as a reminder of what a conflict with major ground combat forces actually requires; troops on the ground, their feeding and care, medical support, and unbroken supply lines, among other things. Of course, requirements and resource needs are magnified exponentially if operations must be sustained over time.

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U.S. soldiers take part in a joint military combat exercise with Estonian soldiers in 2017 near Tapa, Estonia. The U.S. is readying 8,500 troops to possibly deploy to Eastern Europe 

U.S. soldiers take part in a joint military combat exercise with Estonian soldiers in 2017 near Tapa, Estonia. The U.S. is readying 8,500 troops to possibly deploy to Eastern Europe 

Moving into early 2022, as the Pentagon sets forth its vision for how our military is to be organized, and how the services are to be structured to effectively protect the nation and advance our global interests, the value of the National Guard rises high. With the ability to quickly bring forth trained and multi-mission capable forces on short notice, our Guard and Reserve units serve as a major combat-multiplier without the deep and enduring costs of the active service. In essence, Guard and Reserve forces thread the needle between ready capability and cost control. In situations where the security dynamics are fast-moving and fluid, having a force structure that seriously considers the contributions of Guard and Reserve units gives political decision makers and commanders a great degree of flexibility.

Our national defense posture must consider Guard and Reserve units as part of the total combat-ready force. Suggesting we can meet our combat end strength needs without our Guard and Reserve units – full funded, fully equipped – simply ignores the reality of budgets and numbers. With so many security concerns brewing around the world, and so many regions susceptible to miscalculation and violence – as the Ukraine crisis seems to be – leaders in Congress, DOD and the White House cannot afford to discount the wide range of viable options and approaches to ensure that our joint force is maximally capable, resource efficient and cost effective.

Travis Wright is a former Army National Guard officer and White House liaison.

[1] https://www.foxnews.com/world/state-department-orders-evacuation-of-diplomats-families-from-ukraine-embassy

[2] https://www.foxnews.com/world/ukraine-invasion-russia-military-force-february-state-dept