Representing Guard Enlisted at Conference ‘an Inherent Responsibility,’ Says Whitehead

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Erich Smith,
  • National Guard Bureau

COLUMBUS, Ohio – The National Guard’s senior enlisted leader recently participated in a three-day conference attended mostly by commissioned officers.

For Senior Enlisted Advisor Tony Whitehead, the SEA to Army Gen. Daniel Hokanson, chief of the National Guard Bureau, representing the Guard’s enlisted force at the annual National Guard Association of the United States conference is “an inherent responsibility.”

“I think any senior noncommissioned officer has to start feeling that way,” he added. “I often talk to senior NCOs about building muscle memory before they make chief master sergeant or sergeant major because, at some point, they might be the only enlisted person talking on behalf of other enlisted personnel.”

Whitehead said such conferences are paramount to his success.

In addition to tapping into the pulse of enlisted issues, Whitehead said he can “best advise General Hokanson on how to effectively utilize the Guard’s enlisted corps by listening to the things that are happening amongst the ranks of our officers.”

The Aug. 26-29 conference – hosted by NGAUS – featured keynote addresses from Hokanson and two other members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff: Gen. James McConville, chief of staff of the Army, and Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr., chief of staff of the Air Force.

The senior leaders’ speeches addressing recruiting and retention challenges and how military organizational structure should never hinder mission success resonated  with Whitehead.

He thought it was important to hear the speakers talk about the need for military members “to weigh in on making changes that help execute the things that need to change within our respective organizations – so that we can accomplish the mission.”

During the conference, Whitehead also engaged in breakout sessions that helped him better understand the challenges Guard officers – from all levels up to major general – face when implementing established policies and procedures that affect enlisted personnel.

“This helps me bring it back to General Hokanson and our senior staff,” he said. “Talking to those at the tactical level and finding out if the challenges they have are making it up to the strategic level. If they’re not, then that’s my responsibility to do that.”

The theme of the conference, “In the Heart of It All,” was a fitting tribute to honoring the past and embracing the challenges of today, Whitehead said.

“Any military organization in our nation has its roots in our National Guard,” the SEA said. “The Citizen-Soldier gave birth to that.”

That kind of commitment to service, Whitehead added, is evident in the events of the past couple of years.

“We see what our Soldiers and Airmen are doing today – defending the homeland, [responding] to natural disasters, national emergencies, civil unrest, and protecting our interests abroad and those of our partners,” he said.

Whitehead visited the National Veterans Memorial and Museum in Columbus as part of conference events.

Walking slowly past the exhibits, photos and multimedia presentations and absorbing all the feelings the museum intended to evoke, he met retired Brig. Gen. Charles O. Dillard, one of the first Black generals in the Ohio National Guard.

“I’m always humbled when I meet an African American leader from our past, especially if it was shortly after the integration of our military forces in 1947,” Whitehead said. “You find there’s a level of resilience we can learn from today. There isn’t bitterness, there isn’t regret – just an opportunity to look for ways to do things better and to do them in a more efficient, effective and inclusive manner.”

Whitehead said he gets “energized and empowered” when coming across people like Dillard.

“There’s still more work that I can do not only as an African American, but as a leader,” he said.