The American people in many cases do not recognize the incredible value of one of the crown jewels of the nation: the National Guard. Most people have only a vague idea of what it is and what it means to America. And yet as important as its role is, the National Guard is facing significant cuts that would hurt domestic readiness.

The National Guard is the oldest military force in U.S. history, tracing back to the Minutemen at Lexington and Concord. It has the federal mission of acting as the strategic reserve for the active duty forces, being called up by the President when the need is the greatest. This has occurred when the threat is huge (World Wars I and II) or the burden is long-term and repetitive (Iraq and Afghanistan). In both scenarios, the National Guard has proven itself ready and has served with distinction.

The National Guard also serves other purposes every day. There are Army and Air Guard personnel serving in state-level intelligence fusion centers in virtually every state, assisting law enforcement agencies with analysis and intel production to help with countering drugs and terrorism. Air National Guard aircraft are a vital part of the nation’s logistical capability, moving cargo and troops all around the world, and Army Guard helicopters are regularly called to help with rescues (lost personnel, floods, mass accidents). On 9/11, the first American aircraft that arrived to defend the Pentagon from any further attack was a lone Air National Guard fighter that took his post with no ordnance on board. He was determined to put himself between the people on the ground and any further harm, no matter the cost.

The National Guard is also the most frequently used military force in any domestic events. It patrols New York City’s Grand Central and Union Stations, provides traffic control at huge civic events, and even plows snow when cities’ resources are overwhelmed. When individual governors call, the National Guard assets of that state serve the people. The Guard is an asset that cannot be overlooked or downplayed. Today, it is under threat.

The pending $500 million in cuts that would be mandated by the sequestration process unwisely put in place by the congressional budget deal will inordinately affect the National Guard. Army leadership has already targeted the National Guard for half of the personnel cuts it will be forced to make under sequestration. The Air Force has likewise named several Air Guard units that today fly numerous missions for both the country and their states for closure.

The bipartisan efforts of the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) to fight these cuts to the defense budget deserve support. They passed out of committee a plan to mitigate sequestration while still saving money. Led by Representative Randy Forbes (R–VA), the HASC team has conducted huge town hall meetings in Chesapeake, VA, and San Diego to publicize their efforts and to solicit input from local leaders and citizens of all sorts. They want to ensure the people truly understand the crippling effects the cuts will have on the readiness of America. There will be another town hall in the Pensacola, Florida, area on May 24.

Before any critics say that this is an effort to mobilize only those areas with ties to the federal military structure, it must be pointed out that the cuts to the Army and Air National Guard will hurt every state in the union. Every governor will have fewer assets to call on in a disaster. Every state public safety or Homeland Security administrator will have less capability at his disposal when a crisis strikes. America will be less ready to respond—not just overseas, but in its own backyard.

This threat must be addressed. The readiness of the nation is at stake here, and every citizen will be affected.