ARLINGTON, Va. – What the National Guard brings to the global stage directly contributes to significant pieces of the 2022 National Defense Strategy, said Army Gen. Daniel Hokanson, chief of the National Guard Bureau.
“Today, we are an integral part of the Joint Force and our nation’s second-largest military organization after the U.S. Army,” said Hokanson, the Guard’s top officer and a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “The Department of Defense cannot implement the National Defense Strategy without the National Guard.”
The recently released, unclassified version of the NDS serves as a strategic guide for the Defense Department, outlining how it aims to meet “top-level defense priorities,” said defense officials.
At the top of those priorities is addressing the “multi-domain threat posed” by the People’s Republic of China and its desire to upend the Indo-Pacific regional order, according to the NDS.
During a visit with Guam National Guard members in May, Senior Enlisted Advisor Tony Whitehead, SEA to the CNGB, told Airmen and Soldiers their work has regional implications.
“Sometimes, the smallest places are huge, strategically,” Whitehead said during his trip to the 210-square-mile island the NDS calls “an essential operating base for U.S. efforts to maintain a free and open Indo-Pacific region.”
Whitehead added Guam and its “people here play a vital role in our National Defense Strategy. You are what makes this place special.”
Part of that all-important role involves joint training with other services.
In September, the Guam Army National Guard’s D Company, 1st Battalion, 224th Aviation Regiment, conducted joint training missions at sea to increase interoperability among other services in the area.
Describing “close partnerships” as one of the nation’s “greatest assets,” the NDS stated the United States could not meet “complex and interconnected challenges alone. Mutually beneficial alliances and partnerships are our greatest global strategic advantage – and the center of gravity for this strategy.”
For that partnership piece, the National Guard executes the Defense Department’s State Partnership Program, or SPP. Celebrating 30 years in 2023, the program pairs Guard elements with a partner nation’s military, security forces, and disaster response organizations in a cooperative, mutually beneficial relationship. Today, SPP has 87 partnerships with 95 nations – nearly half the world’s countries – including 14 NATO-member countries and 13 Indo-Pacific Command countries.
Earlier this year, the Hawaii National Guard participated in an exercise with its SPP partner, Indonesia, and other countries within the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command. Exercise Gema Bhakti 2022 took place in Jakarta and served as an operational staff-level event to enhance command and control proficiency.
The increasingly tense security situation in the region means the exercise has grown in scope and importance since it began in 2013, said Army Maj. Marco Hartanto, with the Hawaii Army National Guard.
“Gema Bhakti has now moved from planning a humanitarian assistance and disaster response mission to the coordination and planning of a mission focused on deterring enemy aggression,” he said.
The SPP’s relevance to global security was evident after Russia, listed as a second priority in the NDS, attacked Ukraine, an SPP partner with the California National Guard.
Retired Army Maj. Gen. David S. Baldwin, the adjutant general of California at the time of the invasion, said Ukrainian leaders came within days of predicting when the Russians would attack.
“But because of that partnership and our ability to have frank discussions about what they needed in the eleventh hour … I [think] it very much helped them prepare and to do so well in the opening hours of the invasion,” Baldwin said.
Support for Ukraine, however, was not limited to the California Guard.
In early August, the New York Army National Guard took over the Joint Multinational Training Group-Ukraine from the Florida Army National Guard, which had to leave Ukraine weeks before the Russian invasion in late February.
Though the location of JMTG-U has since moved to Germany, the mission remains the same: set up Ukraine for total victory.
“Our mission’s success is measured by our ability to increase the proficiency of our Ukrainian partners in their lethality and their survivability as they defend their country against Russian hostilities,” said Army Col. William Murphy, a task force commander with the New York Army National Guard.
In illuminating changes in the global security environment, the National Defense Strategy emphasized that “because the cyber and space domains empower the Joint Force, we will prioritize building resilience in these areas.”
Recently, Florida and California Air National Guard members from two space control squadrons trained with Air Force reservists and Space Force Guardians during Black Skies 22, an exercise to increase readiness by practicing offensive and defensive operations in the electromagnetic spectrum, exercise officials said.
Additionally, the Colorado National Guard’s 100th Missile Defense Brigade operates the ground-based midcourse defense system, an element of America’s ballistic missile defense System, which provides combatant commanders the capability to engage and destroy intermediate and long-range ballistic missile threats in space. The brigade supports the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command missile defense enterprise.
“The National Guard Soldiers assigned to SMDC expertly execute our no-fail mission to defend the nation,” said Army Lt. Gen. Daniel Karbler, commanding general of the SMDC. “We could not accomplish what the American people expect of us without our National Guard team members, particularly the Soldiers of the 100th Missile Defense Brigade.”
The Guard’s space mission is also heavily embedded with the SPP.
“The National Guard’s demonstrated space expertise, paired with the State Partnership Program, offers a readily available capability to strengthen the integration of the space domain into larger deterrence efforts,” said Lt. Col. Nicole David, director of the Strategic Initiatives Group for the National Guard Bureau.
In July, a U.S. Space Command exercise named Global Sentinel highlighted those deterrence efforts. The exercise, which began in 2014, included the New York Air National Guard and space operators from Brazil, New York’s SPP partner. It required participants to support a regional multinational space operations center to detect, monitor and track objects in orbit and respond to scenarios requiring multinational cooperation, according to Space Command officials.
Army Brig. Gen. Jesse Morehouse, deputy director for U.S. Space Command’s policy, plans and strategy directorate, said SPP pairings are indispensable to the space mission.
“We need the Guard’s help to engage globally with our partners, and the relationships forged by the SPP are an advantageous foundation for USSPACECOM’s security cooperation efforts,” said Morehouse.
Some Guard members continuously test their cyber mettle to support the NDS cyber component.
Through the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre, West Virginia and North Carolina National Guard members participated in Locked Shields 2022, a virtual exercise centered on defending national information technology systems and critical infrastructure under real-time attacks.
As the world’s largest international cyber defense exercise, Locked Shields enabled participants such as Staff Sgt. Ian Frist with the 197th Regional Training Institute to showcase what Guard members can bring to the cyber battlefront.
“The National Guard is able to leverage [part-time] Guardsmen like me who work in the civilian cybersecurity industry,” said Frist, who is employed by a manufacturing company. “Living in both worlds gives me a unique perspective on cybersecurity operations that I felt was indispensable during the exercise.”
But exercises are not the only way some Guard members increase their understanding of cyber warfare.
The Washington National Guard recently hosted a cybersecurity conference for countries within the Indo-Pacific Command area of responsibility, including Washington’s SPP partner, Thailand.
The Cybersecurity Capacity Building Program, the first conference of its kind, according to Washington National Guard officials, focused on how developing cyber capabilities is just as important as enhancing partnerships.
“Recognizing our advanced cyber relationship with Thailand, INDOPACOM asked us to host the conference,” said Army Lt. Col. Keith Kosik, director of the Washington Guard’s SPP. “They also want our cyber teamwork with Thailand to serve as a model for their states and partner nations.”
In the end, Hokanson said the Guard remains committed to domestic missions while being the premier Army and Air Force combat reserve – a major operational contributor to the U.S. warfighter.
“We augment the Joint Force across all aspects of National Defense Strategy implementation and directly support our communities in tangible, substantial ways,” Hokanson said.