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Hokanson: Names in bronze one of the reasons the National Guard keeps our promise to be Always Ready, Always There

  • Published
  • By Army Master Sgt. Jim Greenhill,
  • National Guard Bureau

NEW YORK – As Army Gen. Daniel Hokanson ran his fingers over the letters spelling out one of the names cut into the 9/11 Memorial here Wednesday, he pondered the consequences of the terrorist attacks of two decades ago.

Personal consequences because, like so many Americans, the chief of the National Guard Bureau knew people killed on Sept. 11, 2001. The name he paused at now, placing a small American flag, was that of a U.S. Military Academy classmate, Douglas Gurian.

A major on 9/11, Hokanson now leads the National Guard Bureau, which institutionally transformed from a strategic to an operational reserve because of what happened in New York, at the Pentagon and near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, 20 years ago.

“Our world was transformed by the attacks of 9/11, and our mission with it,” Hokanson said. “In our collective shock and grief, we grew stronger.  We vowed never to forget, and we have kept that promise.” 

The Guard’s transformation included creating Joint Force Headquarters in each of the 50 states, three territories and the District of Columbia, to provide centralized command and control of Soldiers and Airmen to improve communication, collaboration and coordination.

The Guard increased fivefold the number of civil support teams, which respond to chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear incidents within 90 minutes. The Guard also added 19 teams to assess critical infrastructure and key resources around the country, and 55 quick reaction forces of specially trained troops who provide rapid security enforcement support.

Joint Operations Centers – 55 of them around the nation – were also created after 9/11, to give decision-makers up-to-date information during domestic emergencies to ensure rapid, coordinated responses.

And the chief of the National Guard Bureau was elevated to a four-star position and added to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in part because of the National Guard’s unique perspective, its significant capabilities as the combat reserve of the Army and Air Force, and to represent the non-federalized reserve components of the Department of Defense.  

“The investment America has made in the National Guard since 9/11 has greatly improved our combat readiness and paid dividends in our homeland response,” Hokanson said.

Combat support to the Army and the Air Force is the National Guard’s primary mission. The training and equipment for that mission enables the Guard to respond when we are needed to disasters in our communities.

“Before 9/11, we were a strategic reserve,” Hokanson said. “After 9/11, the National Guard became a critical element of the entire joint force.” 

The Army National Guard provides 39 percent of the Army’s operational force, while the Air National Guard provides about 30 percent of the Air Force’s operational force. National Guard Citizen-Soldiers and -Airmen have deployed overseas more than 1 million times since the 9/11 attacks.  In 2005, half of all the maneuver brigades in Iraq were Army National Guard units.

In addition to fighting America’s wars and securing the homeland, the National Guard also prioritizes sustaining enduring partnerships with local, state and federal agencies, and with America’s allies and partners overseas through the State Partnership Program.

Since 9/11, 44 nations joined the Department of Defense National Guard State Partnership Program, boosting our nation’s partnership capacity, one of our key national security priorities. 

Guardsmen were among those killed on 9/11, some serving in their military capacity at the Pentagon, others working in careers at the World Trade Center.

And Guardsmen raced to respond immediately after the attacks, joining first responders at all three locations, many instinctively showing up without being asked, taking the initiative in the absence of orders. More than 8,000 were on duty that day.

For months, Guardsmen supported the New York Police Department and Fire Department of New York at Ground Zero. They were present nationwide, augmenting law enforcement at major airports, guarding critical infrastructure and completing other missions. And they were frequently in the air, responding to potential threats to air sovereignty.

The New York National Guard stood up Joint Task Force Empire Shield after 9/11, which secures critical facilities and augments law enforcement.  The task force continues its around-the-clock operations to this day.

In advance of the 20th anniversary, Hokanson visited with troops and first responders who were present and responded to the World Trade Center and Flight 93 near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.  He visited them at the memorial and museum in New York and at the memorial near Shanksville.     

Army Col. Keith Graham, Pennsylvania National Guard, was a lieutenant with the 104th Aviation Regiment on 9/11. Returning from a run, he saw television coverage of the planes hitting the World Trade Center towers. Once the second plane hit, it was clear the collisions were no accident. Graham headed to his flight facility. By the time he reached the gate, word was spreading about the crash of Flight 93 near Shanksville.

Graham spent the rest of the day flying the governor, state police commissioner, and other state leadership and FBI teams to the crash site. “The whole day was a sad day,” he said. “Anger. Frustration. Trying to figure out what’s going on. What’s not going on. It was a stressful day.”

The ensuing days saw Graham piloting his CH-47 Chinook helicopter loaded with medical supplies and meals ready to eat from a National Guard base to Ground Zero for the first responders at work there.

Graham was just one of the Soldiers, Airmen and first responders Hokanson spent time with at the memorials.

In domestic responses, the National Guard supports civil authorities, as it did on 9/11. Hokanson talked with NYPD, FDNY and Port Authority Police Department leaders in New York, and with fire chiefs, a state trooper and an emergency dispatcher in Pennsylvania, all of whom were part of the 9/11 response.

“As we remember, honor and mourn those we lost, we must also never forget the heroism and courage so many demonstrated that day,” he said. 

Doug Gurian, the general’s West Point classmate, was at Windows on the World in the North Tower when Flight 11 struck. Gurian left behind a wife and two children, who were 7- and 4-years-old.
Gurian’s name is among almost 3,000 engraved in bronze at the 9/11 Memorial. Seven National Guard members are also among the names.  Hokanson stood in the Inner Chamber Memorial Exhibition below ground as their names were projected on the wall, reading about them, and hearing the recorded recollections of their loved ones.

“It was an attack on our nation, and deeply personal to so many of us,” Hokanson said. “The names in bronze are one of the reasons the National Guard keeps our promise to be Always Ready, Always There.”