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Hokanson: Nation’s Investment in National Guard Comes at Pivotal Moment

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

WASHINGTON – The National Guard is a dynamic operational force integral to the National Defense Strategy, the Guard’s most senior officer told lawmakers April 30, emphasizing that sustained mission readiness requires continued and deeper investment in the Guard.
In his annual testimony to the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, Army Gen. Daniel Hokanson, 29th chief of the National Guard Bureau and a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, stressed the need to reform Guard and reserve duty statuses, modernize the federal military technician program, revisit the cap on Active Guard Reserve positions, and overhaul the health care program available to Reserve component service members serving on part-time orders — about 80% of the National Guard. 

“Our nation’s investment in the National Guard comes at a pivotal moment,” Hokanson said. “Our strategic competitors are seeking advantages in every domain: land, sea, air, space and cyber.

“Meanwhile, longstanding adversaries are adopting destructive new methods,” he said. “The Tower 22 drone strike, which killed three service members and injured 41 National Guard Soldiers, is just one example of the emerging character of war.

“If we are to compete and deter successfully — and if necessary, prevail in combat — we must invest in our people.”

The National Guard is the primary combat reserve of the Army and the Air Force, delivering 20% of the Joint Force manning structure. 

About 430,000 Citizen-Soldiers and -Airmen comprise the National Guard. On any given day, about 25,000 are on duty across every overseas combatant command, with another 20,000 typically supporting domestic and steady-state operations. 

“Our people — our Soldiers, Airmen and the families who support them — are the ones who carry out these missions,” Hokanson said. “They stand watch in the turbulent corners of the world, they monitor our airspace, they train with our allies and partners, and they respond to communities in crisis.” 

“It is our people who make the difference — they make us lethal, resilient and responsive,” he said.

It’s why Hokanson, in his final few months of a four-year assignment as the Guard Bureau’s chief, is acutely focused on addressing pay, benefits and quality of life for the Guardsmen he represents at the highest levels of the government.

The CNGB also expressed the need to preserve all 25 Air Guard fighter squadrons to keep pace with global demands, deter adversaries, and — if necessary —prevail in conflict.

“Our people — our pilots, maintainers, and support personnel working in our Air National Guard fighter squadrons — have experience, capability and capacity we must retain at a time when the global demand for fighters grows ever louder,” he said. 

“In an Air Force with significant fighter pilot and maintainer shortages, we believe through temporary cross-component aircraft transfers, we can retain the critical fighter capability our Joint Force needs until aircraft procurement efforts can replenish these units with more modernized aircraft,” he said. “In so doing, these squadrons maintain a vital capability for the Total Force — namely pilots and maintainers — that cannot be rapidly replaced or regenerated.”

Hokanson testified alongside Reserve component chiefs at the U.S. Capitol and fielded questions about the Guardsmen performing space missions, and a recent letter to the secretary of defense signed by 53 governors asking him to withdraw an Air Force proposal to transfer Air National Guard units to the Space Force.

The CNGB said this action would counter 100 years of precedent and ignore the non-federalized role of the Air Guard, to include space formations. Unique among the Armed Forces, the National Guard has dual state and federal roles, and Guard functions are present in every ZIP code in the United States.

More than 1,200 members spanning seven states have been performing critical space missions for over 28 years. Guard units operate some 34% of Space Force Operations Squadrons, which provide space domain awareness, missile warning, defense electronic warfare and more. Some units are on duty around the clock. 

Hokanson underscored that the Guard delivers capabilities and functions at the unit level, and moving individual part-time service members and units to the Space Force would hurt retention and degrade capabilities.

“As I’ve been very clear in all of my testimonies since I became the chief, I feel the best option is no cost to our nation,” the general said. “Our Air Guardsmen who are currently serving in space missions, if they want to serve in the Space Force, we can just change their name tapes. They would still be in the National Guard.

“They would still have their same civilian job,” he said. “Same location. Same mission. All we do is change the signs and their name tapes.”

Hokanson said the administrative and staff support elements are already present in Air Guard space units, and moving these units to the Space Force would fracture that. He cited that 70% of Air Guardsmen involved in space missions have expressed their preference to stay in the Guard, even if it means changing job function or specialty.

“Right now, our country can’t afford to lose our level of experience in the space field,” he said. “Our units have been doing this for almost 30 years. They are extremely good, and I would argue some of the best at what they do. I’m trying to retain that capability because our nation absolutely needs it.

“Whatever decision is made, it’s my responsibility to ensure we provide the best space capabilities we can,” he said. “And we do that.”

Hokanson and other Reserve component chiefs answered questions about duty-status reform. 

Since the 2010s, the Guard and Reserve components have been working with Congress on an initiative to streamline the number of duty statuses reservists can serve under. Now, reservists can be called to duty under 27 statuses.  

“Whether the person is on active duty, Guard or Reserve, if they’re working side-by-side at the same time, same location and performing the same duties, that they’re eligible for all the same benefits,” Hokanson said. 

“It would also ensure we would no longer have disparity between our service members,” he added.

The Army, Air Force and Navy Reserve chiefs also voiced their support for duty-status reform. 

Throughout his tenure, Hokanson has worked to improve the health care options available to part-time Guardsmen. 

“We have about 30,000 Guardsmen that don’t have health care,” he said. “We need them 24/7 for overseas deployments and for emergencies in their communities. We need them to be medically ready. If they don’t have health care or access to health care, they can’t be ready and perform the job we’ve trained them to do.”

The CNGB also updated lawmakers on the Defense Department National Guard State Partnership Program and how the increase in program funding approved for fiscal year 2025 will be implemented.

“We’ve leveraged Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in speaking with many former neutral countries,” Hokanson said. “Sweden and Finland became NATO allies, and they also became members of the State Partnership Program. Switzerland has applied to become a state partner. 

“No one thought there would be another war in Europe; there is now,” he said. “They have expressed an interest that they need to develop additional capability based on what they saw. They realize the benefit they can get by training with our Guardsmen, and we see the benefits of training with them.”