Brig. Gen. Linda Singh, Army commander for the Maryland National Guard.

Drills for soldiers in the Maryland National Guard and other units across the country have come to a screeching halt due to an unforeseen budget deficit.

Officials at the National Guard Bureau have identified a $101 million shortfall of federal funds, and they say, if Congress does not find a way to close the gap, training schedules will be disrupted.

Brig. Gen. Linda Singh, Army commander for the Maryland National Guard, said the Bureau started off at a financial disadvantage.

“The challenge is we started—like most government agencies in general—with a shortfall because of sequestration,” she said.

Then, she added, there was a “miscalculation,” at the national level, of the number of soldiers who were deployed versus those who were on drilling status. A higher number of recruits than anticipated also tipped the scales.

“Fewer mobilizations, shortened deployments, and higher training attendance, have all contributed to higher-than-normal expenditure rates across the Army National Guard,” said Lt. Col. Robert L. Ditchey II, a spokesman for the Army National Guard, in a statement.

In Maryland, training for about 3,700 out of about 4,700 soldiers will be shelved in September to bridge a $1.5 million budget gap, Gen. Singh said. Those who are preparing for deployment or have just returned from a tour—like the 150 members of the 1229th Transportation Company, who returned from their nearly yearlong deployment to Afghanistan over the weekend—will not be affected.

But the decision has ramifications at the individual and institutional level, Singh said.

“There are soldiers who depend on these drills for their monthly pay,” the commander said.

More broadly, interruptions to guardsmen’s training is problematic given the scope of state and federal responsibilities in their purview. For example, Singh said, Maryland National Guard members are currently deployed to far-flung places in Africa, the Middle East and elsewhere, while those at home have to be prepared for potential disasters during the current hurricane season and the approaching winter, among other duties.

“There’s a lot of things we do to ensure that we’re prepared to handle anything,” she said. “Every month we work on requirements to maintain our readiness level having to cut short our training year means requirements will go unfulfilled.”

Ditchey said Bureau officials are taking other steps to recoup the missing funds, including asking Congress to reallocate unused funds from other programs, which could allow drills to be rescheduled.

“We are in the process of requesting approval to reprogram available year-end funds to pay for the shortfall,” Ditchey said. He added, “We have also asked States to return unobligated funds in order to consolidate all available funds.”

Zenitha Prince

Special to the AFRO