The Veterans Affairs and Homeland Security Committee of the West Virginia House of Delegates Tuesday voted 15-to-7 to approve House Bill 2732 — the “Defend the Guard Act” sponsored by Del. Pat McGeehan, R-Chester, a U.S. Air Force Academy graduate and Afghanistan veteran – which would require that the state’s National Guard troops cannot be deployed to combat duty in foreign countries unless Congress has first fulfilled its prescribed duty under the U.S. Constitution to declare war.
The committee action followed McGeehan’s motion on the House floor last week to have HB 2732 brought up for immediate consideration by the full House, which followed the bill’s having been originally scheduled for a committee hearing last week, but then removed from the agenda without explanation. McGeehan’s motion failed on a 50-50 tie vote, though it led to half an hour of debate on the House floor and the committee chairman’s promise to put it back on the agenda for consideration this week, after which is was approved.
McGeehan Tuesday said the committee’s approval “is extremely encouraging, but just the first step in the legislative process.”
“I appreciate the support of my colleagues of both parties for their support of the men and women of the West Virginia National Guard,” McGeehan said. “There is no purer way to support our troops than to ensure that they are no longer sent to fight and possibly die in an endless war on foreign battlefields, when our own Congress hasn’t had the courage and integrity to follow the U.S. Constitution before putting them in harm’s way.”
Former Idaho National Guard Sgt. Dan McKnight, founder and chairman of BringOurTroopsHome.US, a national group of Afghanistan and Iraq war veterans, praised McGeehan’s efforts to bolster President Trump’s call in a tweet last year to “end these ridiculous endless wars, some of them tribal, and bring our soldiers home,” a sentiment Trump repeated in his recent State of the Union address.
“As veterans, we strongly support the President taking strong, quick military action when necessary to defend American lives and interests, but National Guard troops aren’t used for rapid response,” McKnight said. “When deploying West Virginia’s men and women in uniform to combat in someone else’s civil war is involved, as we’ve been doing for nearly two decades, we salute and thank Del. McGeehan for working effectively to ensure it’s done only as the Constitution provides.”
McKnight praised McGeehan’s legislation and said it would simply “force Congress to do its job, before asking America’s military to do our job, and force politicians in Washington to at least have the courage to put their names on the line, before they order West Virginia troops to put boots on the ground.”
McKnight last year founded BringOurTroopsHome.US to press state and federal lawmakers to support Trump’s efforts. He said as President Trump’s recent drone strike on a high-ranking Iranian terrorist proved, “the American people and our soldiers themselves know that we don’t need National Guard troops on the ground to take out the bad guys, anywhere in the world.”
“But after losing over 3,000 dead Americans and $8 trillion over the last eighteen years,” McKnight said, “our nation and our military will be stronger if we follow President Trump’s desire to end what he called these ridiculous endless wars, bring our troops home, and don’t send National Guard troops back into combat unless the justification and willingness of the American people is so strong that Congress has exercised its Constitutional responsibility to declare war.”
McKnight and McGeehan in November organized a bipartisan conference in Washington, D.C. of lawmakers planning to introduce legislation modeled after McGeehan’s bill in multiple state legislatures.
Using McGeehan’s bill as a model, legislators of both parties have already introduced the bill in Hawaii, Iowa, Michigan, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Wyoming as well, hoping to exercise the power of state governments under the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to serve as a check and balance against the federal government’s arbitrary deployment of National Guard troops to long-term combat duty.
McKnight said McGeehan’s legislation is in step with multiple public opinion polls over the last year indicating that the American public, particularly Republicans, and including U.S. troops and veterans themselves, support President Trump’s efforts to stop endless deployments and bring U.S. troops home.
* A current online poll in the Huntington (W.V.) Herald Dispatch which, though unscientific, shows 64 percent of respondents “agree that troops with the West Virginia National Guard should not be deployed overseas without an official declaration of war from Congress.”
* A YouGov poll last month found that nearly 70 percent of Americans said they support withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan and Iraq.
* An Economist/YouGov poll in October 2019 found that 57 percent of Republicans support President Trump’s withdrawal of some U.S. troops from Syria.
* A Pew Research Center poll in July found that 64 percent of veterans say Iraq was not worth fighting, with roughly 60 percent agreeing in regards to Afghanistan.
* A Concerned Veterans for America poll in April 2019 found that 60 percent of veterans and military families support removing troops from Afghanistan.
* A Politico poll in January 2019 found that 81 percent of Trump voters supported withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, and 76 percent supported withdrawal from Syria.
* A Smithsonian magazine poll on over the Veterans Day weekend in 2018 found that 84 percent of U.S. troops and veterans believed our occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq have “been going on too long.”
McKnight said he also hopes “Defend the Guard” legislation in West Virginia and other states will help draw attention to recent disclosures in a Washington Post report in December dubbed the “Afghanistan Papers” – based on findings of the Office of the Special Inspector General on Afghanistan Reconstruction’s interviews with hundreds of high-ranking military personnel and others within the Department of Defense, State Department, and the White House over multiple administrations — which found, in the words of SIGAR director John Sopko, that “the American people have constantly been lied to” about the war in Afghanistan.
McKnight said his group is particularly outraged over SIGAR’s findings that resulted in a lawsuit in December by over a hundred Gold Star families who lost family members in Afghanistan, upset by reports that American defense contractors, paid by the U.S. government, violated the federal Anti-Terrorism Act to protect their operations in Afghanistan by secretly making “protection” payments to enemy Taliban forces. One of the contractors defended itself by saying in a public statement that its actions “followed the directives of the U.S. government agencies that we served.”
“This time, the consequences should roll uphill, and heads along with it,” McKnight said. “Government bureaucrats and politicians who allowed this waste of thousands of American lives and trillions of tax dollars to occur should be dragged into the public spotlight and held accountable.”
“We urge members of Congress to demand Congressional hearings to uncover the truth, and until then, hope no more National Guard personnel from West Virginia or any other state will be deployed to combat overseas until the American people are assured our federal government is not giving American tax dollars to military contractors, who then funnel that money to enemy Taliban forces to finance killing American soldiers,” McKnight said.
He noted that state Republican Party organizations in two extremely conservative states — Idaho and Texas — have formally adopted policies calling on their state legislatures to adopt “Defend the Guard” legislation, while the liberal West Virginia branch of the ACLU has also endorsed the legislation.
The 2018 Texas Republican Party platform states: “The Texas National Guard and the Texas Air National Guard should only be deployed to overseas combat zones under authorization of Congress through a declaration of war.”
The Idaho Republican Party state central committee last month adopted a resolution urging GOP legislators to introduce legislation “requiring that the Idaho National Guard shall not be mobilized for deployment to foreign war zones, combat duty, or support of combat operations except under a formal declaration of war by Congress, as provided by the Constitution.”