LAS VEGAS, Nev. – Focusing on four priorities enables the National Guard to help America’s strategic pivot overseas while continuing to serve our communities at home, the chief of the National Guard Bureau said here Saturday.
“We’ve made a promise to our nation: Always Ready, Always There,” Army Gen. Daniel Hokanson told more than 3,500 attendees at the 143rd National Guard Association of the United States General Conference. “To keep that promise, we must focus our efforts … on what is most important.”
In recent months, the Guard supported overseas combat operations while also responding here at home – to the pandemic, hurricanes, wildfires, civil disturbances, floods, and search and rescue and cyber support missions.
“We demonstrate today, as we have every day since 1636, that ‘Always Ready, Always There’ is more than our motto: It’s our promise,” Hokanson said.
His top priority? People.
“You – and those who came before you – are one of our nation’s greatest treasures,” Hokanson said, giving two examples of initiatives to better support Citizen-Soldiers and -Airmen: Health coverage for every troop and compensation for time spent on mandatory requirements beyond drill weekends and annual training.
“An estimated 14 percent of National Guard members don’t have health coverage,” Hokanson said. “How can they be ready to deploy if they can’t afford to see a doctor? … This is not only the right thing to do for our people – it’s an investment in the readiness of 20 percent of the Joint Force.”
Professional military education is an example of mandatory requirements for Guard members serving part-time. Troops can’t increase military skills or advance through the ranks without PME.
“If it’s a military requirement, we need to make sure our Soldiers and Airmen are compensated for their time away from families and employers,” Hokanson said. “We’re committed to resourcing all of the duty required of our Soldiers and Airmen – and we will facilitate a working group from across the 54 to find the best way forward.”
emphasis on people also supports his second priority: Readiness.
“We’re entering a new phase of warfare, and the National Guard has a role in every aspect, from competition to crisis,” Hokanson said. “The investment our country has made in the National Guard has helped create the best-trained, best-equipped, most professional force we have ever been.”
Sustaining and improving that readiness means taking initiatives such as the Army Guard’s 2020 alignment of existing subordinate elements with its eight division headquarters, which set in motion an increase in the number of Total Army divisions, from 10 to 18.
“By providing eight of the Army’s 18 divisions, we are part of the development and modernization process, which will help ensure our formations are interoperable on the battlefield,” Hokanson said. “Most importantly, our divisions and their [subordinate] units have the opportunity to train and build readiness for large-scale combat operations.”
Consolidating mandatory training requirements and briefings into a single drill weekend is another initiative to support Hokanson’s readiness priority by freeing up time for the part-time force to focus on military skills.
“No matter how much we commit to readiness as a formation, or individual, our ability to fight and win our nation’s wars will always be reliant on our level of modernization,” Hokanson said.
That’s the third priority.
“It is not only equipment – it’s personnel, training, processes and much more,” Hokanson said. “The bottom line is we need to be interoperable with the Joint Force. We cannot be a force multiplier on the battlefield with the weapons of yesterday.”
Initiatives supporting this priority include developing 25-year strategic plans for the National Guard’s major weapons systems.
Long-term strategic plans ensure weapons systems are modernized and remain deployable, sustainable and interoperable with the Joint Force – and with our allies and partners, Hokanson said.
“We are working with the senior leadership of the Army and the Air Force to ensure National Guard force structure and equipment is included in future force design and modernization,” he said.
Questions like “Why do we do it like that?” and “How come they can and we can’t?” have bugged the general through his quarter-century in the Guard, a significant portion of his 35 years in the Army. Hokanson wants Guard members to keep asking those and other questions to advance his fourth priority: Reform.
“We must continue to ask these questions and find the answers,” he told the Army and Air Force officers from the National Guard in the 54 states, territories and District of Columbia. “We need to identify and implement new and better ways to serve our Soldiers, Airmen and families, which will ultimately better serve our nation.”
Two reform initiatives: Transforming 10 percent of National Guard Bureau positions to remote work done in the states and territories, and executing a long-term strategy for the Department of Defense National Guard State Partnership Program.
Hokanson’s 10 percent goal would allow Soldiers and Airmen to perform Title 10 responsibilities during the week while remaining in a formation, completing drill weekends and annual training.
The pandemic emphasized how many positions could be worked remotely without living in the National Capital Region, Hokanson said.
Offering remote opportunities will attract exceptional Guard members who might want to sustain strong family and community ties or who might be discouraged by D.C.’s relatively high cost of living, yet also want to contribute at the national level, he said.
And keeping part of the Title 10 force in the states and territories also would improve the Guard Bureau, he said, because these service members would be keenly attuned to the needs of the 54 and of traditional Guard members. “It allows our Soldiers and Airmen the opportunity to facilitate change without a change of address.”
Ongoing work with the combatant commands and State Department to identify 30 more SPP countries and develop a long-term SPP strategy are also reform initiatives.
“Our [national defense] strategy requires demonstrating to our allies and partners the United States remains the partner of choice, and the National Guard is uniquely equipped to do this through the State Partnership Program,” Hokanson said. “Our 83 strategic partnerships will help our nation retain its competitive edge.”
One initiative encompasses all four priorities: The formation of a Space National Guard.
“We have the personnel, the capabilities, and more than 25 years of experience in the space mission,” Hokanson said. “It makes sense these formations should be aligned with the Space Force as a National Guard component.” In closing, Hokanson said, “These priorities reflect this moment — a time of transformation, the threshold of a new era.”
“We are living in one of those pivotal moments now,” Hokanson said. “For nearly 20 years, we have served and sacrificed in Afghanistan. As the combat reserve of the Army and Air Force, our presence was significant. We performed every mission, served with honor, and never lost sight of our duty as Citizen-Soldiers and Airmen.”
He said the National Guard’s promise of Always Ready, Always There is to our nation and our communities.
And also to each other.