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SEA Whitehead to Enlisted Guardsmen: ‘Thank you’

  • Published
  • By Sgt. 1st Class Zach Sheely,
  • National Guard Bureau

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Over the past two years, National Guardsmen were activated at historic levels for missions overseas and at home. Today, there are more than 50,000 National Guard members supporting operations around the world and domestically.

Senior Enlisted Advisor Tony Whitehead, the SEA to the chief, National Guard Bureau, shared his gratitude with enlisted Guard members meeting here Monday.

“Thank you for all you’ve done and continue to do,” Whitehead said to the more than 950 service members attending the 51st annual Enlisted Association of the National Guard of the United States conference. “We are the greatest National Guard on the planet because of you, our people.”

Thousands of Guard members were mobilized to support the 59th presidential inauguration, civil unrest, and overseas missions. Many more were activated to support local authorities’ response during COVID and other domestic operations like wildfires, hurricanes, and floods. Most of whom also balance jobs in the civilian sector with their National Guard service.

The Guard’s ability to respond to disasters at home directly results from its combat readiness, Whitehead said.

“We are everywhere you need us to be,” said Whitehead, citing a recent trip to Kentucky to visit Guard members from Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia who helped rescue nearly 1,000 Eastern Kentuckians during catastrophic flooding there.

“I am proud to stand up here as the senior enlisted advisor to share the CNGB’s priorities of people, readiness, modernization, and reform,” he said. “For our enlisted men and women, when it comes to people and readiness, that is us; that is our business.”

Business as usual for the National Guard, Whitehead added.

“I will tell you right now; it’s what we do in the National Guard,” he said. “We are always ready and always there to help our communities, our states, our nation and our international partners through the Department of Defense National Guard State Partnership Program.”

He encouraged enlisted Guard members to get involved with their state’s partnership program, which pairs a state’s National Guard with a partner nation to build security capacity. There are now partnerships between the National Guard of every state and territory and 93 nations around the globe, with more potential partnerships in the works. Many nations are working to develop their enlisted corps, side-by-side with their National Guard counterparts.

“The State Partnership Program is an unbelievable asset to our national strategy and a top focus item of the office of the CNGB,” he added.

Whitehead serves as Army Gen. Daniel Hokanson’s principal military advisor on all enlisted matters affecting training, utilization, the health of the force, and enlisted professional development. As the highest enlisted level of leadership, he provides direction for the enlisted force and represents their interests.

The National Guard enlisted corps—made up of enlisted Guardsmen and noncommissioned officers—represents about 85% of the 450,000-member strong National Guard force.

As part of Gen. Hokanson’s priorities, Whitehead said enlisted Guard members must be educated and empowered at all levels so they can execute their respective missions – his “3-E” initiative. He said the National Guard will continue to invest in enlisted and NCO development to grow the leaders of the future.

Whitehead hosted a senior enlisted leader training forum concurrent with the EANGUS conference in which junior enlisted members and NCOs received direct mentorship from senior enlisted leaders representing every state, territory, and the District of Columbia.

“When you leave here, you’re going to believe that it is an inherent responsibility to learn as much as possible to make sure you’re ready to take on higher levels of leadership and responsibility,” he said.

Whitehead acknowledged that the National Guard, as with any large organization, has its challenges. Ultimately, he said that the National Guard is a treasure for the people of the United States and a resource around the world, specifically via the SPP.

“When I had an opportunity to go to Croatia for an SPP engagement last year, we had enlisted leaders talking to their counterparts from other countries and they were talking about things outside of military strategy,” he said. “They asked questions like; ‘How are your kids?’, ‘How is your wife or husband?’, ‘How are your grandkids?’.

“That’s the connective tissue the National Guard has around the world.”