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Hokanson at BEYA STEM Conference: Become everything you are in the National Guard

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

BALTIMORE – Science, technology, engineering and mathematics will be the foundations for solving today’s and tomorrow’s problems, the National Guard’s top officer told an audience of students, cadets, corporate executives and military leaders Feb. 16.

Army Gen. Daniel Hokanson, the 29th chief of the National Guard Bureau, added that the world is full of complicated problems, and the military needs smart, capable people who are driven to solve them.

“And, if you want to be part of solving the hardest problems — because, let’s face it, those are the only ones left — I wholeheartedly invite you to be part of our team,” Hokanson said.

The National Guard was the featured military organization of the 2024 Black Engineer of the Year Award STEM Stars and Stripes Dinner. The annual BEYA conference, which celebrates the achievements of African American engineers, draws thousands of professionals, students and attendees interested in STEM during the three-day event.

“I am extremely proud to have the BEYA conference back in Baltimore so we can showcase all of the talent in and out of uniform across the great state of Maryland,” said Army Maj. Gen. Janeen Birckhead, the adjutant general of Maryland. “This conference is also very important for young people of all backgrounds to see what STEM job opportunities are out there in the military or as a civilian in these amazing careers.”

Birckhead spoke of the late Cunningham C. Bryant, the first African American federally recognized as a general officer in the National Guard in 1971. He led the District of Columbia Army National Guard from 1974 to 1981 as its first Black commander and retired as a major general.

Bryant was a trailblazer who paved the way for future Black leaders to serve in military leadership positions, Birckhead said.

Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall III said the military relies on and needs the best leaders and technical experts in the world, regardless of race.

“The international environment is now shaped by great power competition, a challenge we haven’t faced in decades,” Kendall said. “Our competition is motivated, well-resourced, strategic, and committed to using technology to enhance their interests and their authoritarian values.”

Kendall said the competition will not end any time soon.

“We need the best leaders we can find serving to their full potential to succeed in this competition,” he said. “We particularly need technical experts and STEM professionals. The leaders we need come from diverse backgrounds with a diversity of experiences.

“This year’s focus on the National Guard reminds us that these leaders may serve in the Guard, Reserve or active duty. The expertise and relationships our Guard and Reserve members bring from the private sector stimulate innovation and strengthen our nation.”

Two such National Guard leaders were among the service members recognized with the BEYA Stars and Stripes award: Chief Warrant Officer 3 Regina Carrell, a senior strategic intelligence analyst at the National Guard Bureau, and Sgt. Maj. Alan Thomas, an operations sergeant major in the Indiana National Guard.

Hokanson introduced both and said each is a pillar of influence in their communities.

“A champion of STEM education, Thomas helped establish the Department of Defense STARBASE at his armory and oversaw the training of more than 5,000 students during the pandemic while achieving a record-breaking graduation rate for warrant officers,” Hokanson said.

STARBASE is a DOD educational program for students to participate in challenging STEM activities. The National Guard operates 58 of the 81 STARBASE locations worldwide. In 2022 alone, the STARBASE program educated almost 100,000 students at varied grade levels.

“This recognition is not just for me but for all who believe in the power of perseverance, excellence and the importance of paving the way for future generations,” Thomas said. “It underscores the belief that our contributions are invaluable and that our unique perspectives enrich the fabric of our professions.

“This recognition goes beyond mere accolades,” he said. “It’s about affirming the value of inclusivity, equality and the strength that comes from a diverse service composition.”

Carrell is a trailblazer in her own right. She is the first warrant officer selected to serve as intelligence briefer to the Army National Guard director and the first warrant officer hired by the National Guard Bureau J-2 Directorate.

She has volunteered in over 50 youth programs as a keynote speaker, panelist, organizer and planner. Hokanson noted her tireless work volunteering with the Growing and Empowering Myself Successfully program for high school girls and the Creative and Striving Hard to Succeed program with the National Association of Black Engineers.

She also co-chartered Minority Achievements in Intelligence and National Security and serves on the alumni board at the National Intelligence University.

Senior Enlisted Advisor Tony Whitehead, the SEA to the chief of the National Guard Bureau, said he was proud of all the honorees.

“Diversity of background and thought are critical to our ability to defend our nation, and we must ensure we are reflective of the American people we serve,” Whitehead said.

Hokanson, who earned a Bachelor of Science in mechanical engineering (aerospace) from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, said service can be a conduit for all to succeed and contribute.

“A career in the Army gave me the most incredible opportunities I’ve had in my life — the closest friends I will ever have, the chance to meet my amazing wife, educational opportunities I only dreamed of and experiences around the globe with some of the greatest people I will ever know,” he said.

“When I joined the National Guard in 1995, those experiences only multiplied,” he said. “Because the National Guard is about doing more, being more — and becoming everything you are.”