COLUMBUS, Ohio – The physical and mental readiness of each Guard member enables the National Guard to keep its promise to America to stand Always Ready, Always There, the component’s most senior general officer said Sunday.
“Your health and resilience – both physical and mental – is vital to readiness,” the chief of the National Guard Bureau told Guard leaders in remarks that also provided a road map for the way ahead. “It’s not just about the miles you run or the ways you manage stress, although both are very important.
“It’s about being ready to step into your formation and do your job whenever the call comes.”
Peak individual readiness is why members of the Kentucky National Guard’s 123rd Special Tactics Squadron could show up and prepare their gear within an hour of news of a July 28 deadly flash flood – assembling before even tasked.
Orders in hand, the team was out the door in two hours. By truck, boat and helicopter, they rescued 19 people, contributed to the rescue of 40 others, and recovered four flood victims, helping give families closure.
“You can make a difference by committing to your individual readiness – from maintaining physical and medical fitness, to your military occupation and education, to making sure your family is prepared when you have to respond on little to no warning,” Army Gen. Daniel Hokanson told Army and Air National Guardsmen gathered for the 144th General Conference of the National Guard Association of the United States.
Individual readiness is also why Montana National Guardsmen could save 87 people after this summer’s 500-year-flood devastated areas around Yellowstone National Park.
“You can make a difference by investing in your relationships every day – with your family, your employer, your fellow Soldiers and Airmen, and by developing your relationships with your partners at every level, from local first responders to your state partner counterparts,” Hokanson said.
“And you can make a difference by looking out for each other,” he said. “None of us serve alone – and together we have shown we can accomplish almost anything.”
The readiness of the entire force is also part of why those Kentucky and Montana Guardsmen could spring into action minutes after the no-notice call came.
“The skills we have honed to fight our nation’s wars also provide an invaluable service to our communities,” Hokanson said.
Glancing in the rearview mirror of the National Guard’s contributions around the world and right here at home over the last couple of years, Hokanson mostly focused his remarks on the road ahead.
A member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the general took the Guard’s senior role in the summer of 2020, during the National Guard’s largest mobilization since World War II.
Guardsmen were still in Afghanistan and responding to hurricanes, wildfires and civil unrest at home, and there was no COVID vaccine.
“On any given day, over 60,000 Guardsmen were serving our communities and nation, around the globe,” Hokanson said.
Today, Guardsmen are training members of Ukraine’s armed forces in Germany and providing materiel support. They continue to respond to persistent, record-breaking natural disasters. They helped evacuate and resettle Afghan refugees, saved lives in fires and floods, and vaccinated millions of Americans.
“We still meet every mission,” he said. “We still meet every deployment. We still uphold our promise to America. I’m inspired by the difference we’re making all around the world.”
The National Guard Bureau, which Hokanson heads, exists to maximize performance and accountability through its support to “the 54” – the states, territories and District of Columbia – which ensures Guard formations remain integral to America’s defense and the Joint Force.
Among initiatives Hokanson outlined:
About 60,000 members of the 453,000-strong Army and Air National Guards do not have health insurance.
“This means many do not get the health care they need when they’re not in a duty status,” Hokanson said. “The National Guard is 20% of the Joint Force, and our nation cannot deter or fight and win our wars without the National Guard. And lost readiness costs more than the price of health care.”
Calling health care a strategic and moral imperative essential to readiness and vital to recruiting and retention, Hokanson said: “Our National Guardsmen need health care, regardless of duty status. We fight the same wars as our active-duty counterparts. We spend weeks, months, even years away from our families, like our active-duty counterparts.
“We must provide health care for every single person who serves in uniform,” he added, “so they are always ready to fulfill our promise to America.”
The Army National Guard is piloting a drill weekend childcare program across six states starting in October.
“No one in uniform serves alone,” Hokanson said, “and when we prioritize people, that includes prioritizing our strongest supporters and our greatest advocates: our families.”
Guardsmen are required to complete the same mandatory training and briefings as active-duty troops, such as cyber, sexual harassment and assault prevention and suicide awareness. For the traditional status members who comprise most of the force – troops who balance civilian careers with their military duties – increasing requirements compete for the critical time needed to sustain Soldier and Airmen skills.
The NGB has worked with the 54 and the parent services – the Army and Air Force – to prioritize and consolidate mandatory training requirements into a single drill weekend, freeing up the rest of the year to maintain and sharpen military professional skills, boosting component readiness.
Army: Eliminated 16 requirements. Reduced 38 administrative tasks. Army Guard now can complete all mandatory training in two days.
Air Force: Gone are 15 requirements. Consolidated 16 courses. Evaluating mandatory tasks. Exploring initiatives to allow Airmen to “test out” of some.
“We’re making real progress,” Hokanson said, “and that … translates to readiness.
“Readiness begins with the individual,” he said, “but modernization begins as an enterprise.”
“We work in a system of systems,” the CNGB said. “Our states, our parent services, the Joint Force, and our partnerships at every level. All of these elements affect modernization – personnel, equipment, training, processes, and more.”
The Army and Air National Guard and the Air Guard’s space missions are now included in their services’ modernization programs. A road map is created to modernize all major weapons systems. Congressional funding – in the form of National Guard and Reserve Equipment Appropriations, or NGREA – is now linked to America’s National Defense Strategy, service and combatant command priorities, and domestic operations requirements.
“We must remain relentless in pursuing our goal of deployable, sustainable and interoperable equipment and force structure,” Hokanson said. “That will always be a vital priority.
“We’ve proven the National Guard is an operational force – but that’s not enough,” he continued. “We must be an operational force that is modernized so we are fully interoperable with the Joint Force and our partners and allies.”
Where it makes sense, Hokanson has spearheaded a 10% telework initiative, allowing some of the NGB workforce to remain in home states and work remotely.
The general cited improved state/NGB communication; retention of high-skill, high-talent team members; improved staff competitiveness for higher positions; an increase in the inclination of the 54 to share their best talent; family stability; and readiness gains as benefits.
“Most of all, it brings us closer to being the agile, adaptable, integrated force we need to be,” he said.
State Partnership Program
The Department of Defense National Guard State Partnership Program, or SPP, began in the Baltics in 1993. This security cooperation program aligned with combatant command priorities celebrates its 30th anniversary next year and now includes 45 percent of the world’s nations.
“The 2022 National Defense Strategy is clear,” Hokanson said. “Mutually beneficial alliances and partnerships are an enduring strength. They are critical for achieving our objectives – and we have been doing it for almost 30 years.”
The SPP is, he said, “one of the best, most valuable security cooperation programs in the world.”
The NGB will issue country recommendations this summer to add 30 more countries to the 93-nation SPP over the next 10 to 15 years.
“People, readiness, modernization and reform – they aren’t top-down priorities: they belong to all of us,” Hokanson said.
You can find Guardsmen in the heart of almost every American community, he observed. And in the heart of the Joint Force, world events, and the human experience.
“I am proud to share our stories and represent our Guardsmen,” Hokanson said. “Together, we have shown we can accomplish almost anything.”