WASHINGTON – The National Guard would get a seat on the Joint Chiefs of Staff under legislation expected to clear the Senate this week.

WASHINGTON – The National Guard would get a seat on the Joint Chiefs of Staff under legislation expected to clear the Senate this week.

The elevation of the Army and Air National Guard to the Pentagon’s top advisory body would bring them increased status at a time when the military faces shrinking resources.

“We would consider it to be a great benefit to have the head of the National Guard on the Joint Chiefs of Staff,” said Kenneth Moix, executive director of the National Guard Association of Arkansas.

The Senate on Monday evening amended, by voice vote, a defense authorization bill to place the chief of the National Guard Bureau on the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The House has already voted in favor of elevating the National Guard, making it more likely that the measure will be included in a final version of the bill.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who offered the amendment, said Monday evening that elevating the National Guard was a decade overdue given its increased role in the post-9/11 world.

“Today’s National Guard is a superb 21st-century force trapped inside the 20th-century Pentagon bureaucracy,” Leahy said. Raising the Guard’s profile is needed to insure “their voices, their interests, and their concerns” are heard during this period of flatlining or declining Pentagon budgets, Leahy said. Moix agreed. “They for sure don’t want to get left behind in decision making,” he said.

Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe has expressed concerns that the 188th Fighter Wing in Fort Smith could face deep budget cuts after a special Congressional panel failed last week to agree on a plan to reduce the deficit by at least $1.2 trillion over the next decade. That failure has triggered automatic cuts starting in 2013 – including $60 billion a year from the military.

The 188th, deployed to Afghanistan in March 2010, is slated for another Air Expeditionary Forces rotation to Afghanistan next year. Leahy’s amendment had widespread support in the Senate where 70 members, including Sens. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., and John Boozman, R-Ark., had co-sponsored similar legislation.

The current members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, however, unanimously oppose the measure.

“There is no compelling military need to make this historic change,” said Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said during a recent Senate hearing.

In arguing against the proposal, the military leaders said that they have tremendous respect for the chief of the National Guard Bureau, who is invited to their meetings. However, they said, the Guard chief does not oversee a separate service and elevating the officer to their level could muddy lines of command.

Gen. Craig McKinley, chief of the National Guard Bureau, testified at the hearing that it would be “in the best interest of the American people” if he were a member given the non-traditional military threats facing the nation. “The domestic mission of the National Guard must be taken into account,” McKinley said.