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Gates taps McKinley as next Guard Bureau chief

WASHINGTON -- Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates recommended Air Force Lt. Gen. Craig R. McKinley as the next chief of the National Guard Bureau and promotion to full general, and LTG H Steven Blum as the next deputy commander for the U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM) during a Pentagon media briefing Wednesday.

If nominated by the president and confirmed by the U.S. Senate, McKinley would become the National Guard's first four-star general. Blum, the Guard's current chief, would become the first National Guard deputy commander of NORTHCOM, based in Colorado Springs, Colo.

McKinley is currently director of the 106,000-member Air National Guard, a post he assumed in May 2006. Blum has been chief of the Guard Bureau since April 2003. Blum served as NORTHCOM's chief of staff for eight months before that.

"General McKinley is well qualified for this important and historic new assignment," Gates told Pentagon reporters. "He has held command positions at every level of the Air Force during his 34 years of military service."

Gates said the nomination for a fourth star for the National Guard Bureau chief is in keeping with the recommendations of the Commission on the Guard and Reserves and the fiscal year 2008 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

McKinley would serve as the principal advisor to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on National Guard issues. The NDAA, also establishes the Guard Bureau as a joint activity of the Department of Defense.

The law further stipulates that the deputy commander of NORTHCOM be a National Guard general unless the command's top officer is already a National Guard general.

"This is truly a historic and magnificent selection," stated Blum. "Craig will provide the leadership that will take the National Guard to the next level. He is a competent, caring and proven leader. Craig has and will continue to have my complete confidence and full collaboration."

"The elevation of the National Guard chief to four stars recognizes the enhanced importance of the Guard to America's overall national defense," said Gates. "The elevation also recognizes the vital role the chief will have as a bridge between the state and federal components of our government and the active and reserve components of our military."

The Guard Bureau chief is the senior uniformed National Guard officer responsible for formulating, developing and coordinating all policies, programs and plans affecting more than half a million Army and Air National Guard personnel, including civilian employees.

The last Air Force general to serve as Guard Bureau chief was Lt. Gen. Russell C. Davis, who held that position from 1998-2002.

Blum's nomination as NORTHCOM's deputy commander is in keeping with the recommendations of the Commission on the Guard and Reserves and the congressional requirement that the commander or deputy commander of NORTHCOM be a Guard officer.

"It reflects the critical role the Guard plays in our homeland defense, the unique experience and expertise a Guard officer of General Blum's caliber will bring to this position," said Gates.

Gates also called Blum's nomination as NORTHCOM deputy commander a "historic first," and he praised Blum's service as the Guard Bureau's chief.

"For more than five years, General Blum has been a dynamic and effective leader of America's National Guard community during a time of wrenching change for our Citizen-Soldiers," said Gates. "As chief, he has been a tireless advocate for America's Guardsmen and women to see that they receive the right training, equipment and support for the demanding range of missions the Guard has taken on since Sept. 11th and will face in the years to come."

Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the National Guard has transformed from a strategic reserve to an operational force, and Blum has been praised for his vision and leadership during the transformation.

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