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National Guard Leaders Visit Troops Deployed in Middle East

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

KUWAIT - The National Guard’s most senior officer and enlisted leader visited Guardsmen deployed across the Middle East in support of Operations Inherent Resolve and Spartan Shield March 14-17.

Thousands of Guard members are dispersed in multiple locations to support these operations to maintain stability in the region and eradicate Islamic State terrorist groups.

“I have an immense amount of pride in our Guardsmen and what they do for our nation,” said Army Gen. Daniel Hokanson, chief, National Guard Bureau. “They answer every call. We see this at home every single day, and we saw the exact same thing visiting with Guardsmen deployed to the Middle East.”

Hokanson and Senior Enlisted Advisor Tony Whitehead, SEA to the CNGB, made eight stops in four countries — some in isolated, austere locations — to talk with Guardsmen and underscore the Guard’s critical role in global operations.

“Our No. 1 primary mission is to fight and win our nation’s wars,” Hokanson reminded every Guardsman he spoke with. “We are the combat reserve of the Army and Air Force. We are 20% of the Joint Force. This is where you live up to that.”

The U.S. Central Command’s area of responsibility spans over 4 million square miles, populated by more than 560 million people from 25 ethnic groups, speaking 20 languages with hundreds of dialects and multiple religions across national borders.

Earlier this month, Army Gen. Michael Kurilla, Centcom’s commanding general, testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee that the central region faces its most volatile security situation in the past half-century.

“The convergence of crisis and competition make [the Centcom area of responsibility] the most likely region to produce threats against the U.S. homeland, trigger a regional conflict, and derail the National Defense Strategy,” he said.

Hokanson emphasized to Guardsmen that the nation’s defense strategy cannot succeed without them.

“You are helping to shape operations across the region in a time of critical importance,” he said.

The CNGB and SEA visited two Army National Guard division headquarters, a field artillery brigade and battalion, an engineer battalion, an Air Guard wing, two infantry battalions and other Guard support elements. They’re distributed across the Middle East to conduct base defense operations, air defense, force protection, sustainment and support, fires and infantry capabilities, humanitarian assistance, partner-nation collaboration, and air support.

Hokanson outlined the precarious global environment from his perspective as a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

“I’m from a logging town,” he said. “Right now, it feels like we’re standing on top of kindling and people are throwing matches. This is why the work you’re doing here, and the work the Guard is doing worldwide, is so critically important.”

Hokanson and Whitehead also seized the opportunity when meeting with scores of Soldiers and Airmen to listen to their questions and outline some of the things the Guard Bureau is working on back in Washington.

No-fee health care for all Guardsmen, duty-status reform and overhauling the federal technician program top the list of the chief’s priorities to ensure Guardsmen are taken care of.

“I’ve been working on these issues during my tenure as chief and will continue to work on them until the day I am done in this position,” Hokanson said. “Because we ask so much of you and you always answer the call.”

Whitehead heaped praise on every Guardsman he interacted with.

“Thank you for what you’re doing for our nation,” he said. “You ensure our National Guard stays Always Ready, Always There.”