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Maryland Guard visit gives OSD analysts greater understanding of Guard mission

By Sgt. 1st Class Jon Soucy | National Guard Bureau | June 08, 2017

WARFIELD AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Md. — Analysts from the Office of the Secretary of Defense recently spent time with members of the Maryland National Guard as a way to gain greater perspective and understanding of the role, mission and needs of the National Guard as a whole.

Part of the Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation office, or CAPE, the analysts provide independent analytic advice to the secretary of defense on all aspects of the Department of Defense, including weapon systems and force structures, the development and evaluation of defense programs and the cost-effectiveness of those programs and systems.

While in Maryland they received a hands-on overview of Guard civil support team capabilities, Air Guard base operations, Army and Air Guard aviation capabilities and requirements and information on a variety of other units and mission sets as they interacted with Soldiers and Airmen.

"What they saw is the people [of the Guard], their skill and their dedication," said Army Col. Thomas Fields, a programmer coordinator with CAPE who worked to set up the event. "The analysts in CAPE now have a better understanding of the Guard and have developed other relationships."

The overall goal of the visit, said Fields, was not only to provide information about the history, authority and organization of the Guard, but also to provide an increased understanding of issues and mission sets unique to the Guard.

"It also highlighted the differences between what an active component unit has and what a reserve component unit has," he said, adding that one difference is Guard Soldiers and Airmen often bring with them civilian career skills.

"I was with the [Louisiana Army National Guard's] 256th Infantry Brigade Combat Team and the medical platoon sergeant was also an emergency room nurse," Fields said, as an example. "Their [noncommissioned officers], and even some of the enlisted Soldiers, were [emergency medical technicians on the civilian side] who were on ambulances taking care of people on a daily basis. It was just a different level of experience and diversity of skills."

Prior to heading to Maryland the CAPE analysts met with Air Force Gen. Joseph Lengyel, the chief of the National Guard Bureau, who provided an overview of the Guard.

"Our business model is fundamentally different from the active component," Lengyel said. "It's different – not better, not worse — but it is a business model that relies predominantly on a part-time force."

Though the Guard is mainly part-time, it's a vital component to the Army, the Air Force and the warfight mission, stressed Lengyel.

"That is the first and most important mission we do," he said. "That's why we exist." Currently, there are roughly 19,000 Guard Soldiers and Airmen deployed overseas, said Lengyel, and roughly another 4,000 on orders taking part in defense and security missions at home. Meanwhile, other Soldiers and Airmen have been taking part in training exercises and responding to natural disasters and other emergencies.

"All of our homeland capability derives from what we do in the warfight," said Lengyel, adding that the operational nature of the Guard makes it a better-trained force.

"Our leaders, Soldiers and Airmen grow and our force is better for it," he said.

For many analysts the trip provided a broader picture of that.

"I thought of the Guard as responding to hurricanes, disasters, things like that," said Diana Connolly, an operations research analyst with CAPE. "I didn't know of all the things the Guard does."

Others felt similarly.

"The depth of the integration between the reserve and active components surprised me," said Thomas Johnson, also an operations research analyst with CAPE. "I knew that was the case, but I did not realize the extent to which they were so deeply integrated and how much of an active effort there is to make that stronger."

For Connolly, it was the domestic mission and the Guard's civil support teams that held a special interest. A former cancer researcher, she said she saw similarities between that and the CST's mission of assisting civil authorities with detection and identification of chemical and hazardous materials.

"They use similar equipment I used as a cancer researcher," she said. "It's amazing to see the depth of what they can do."

Johnson agreed.

"The civil support team and that special role and special capability, it was surprising the amount of stuff they are able to bring to bear," he said.

Analysts also spoke with A-10 Thunderbolt II pilots from the Maryland Air Guard's 104th Fighter Squadron. The pilots provided a walk-around tour of the aircraft while touching on its capabilities as well as their experiences during a recent deployment to the Middle East.

"Taking trips like this — and I don't get to do that very often — that's one of the things I get to see and hear," said Johnson, adding that gives him a larger context when looking at a spreadsheet of information.

"[Our] job is to lay out the facts as we see them, try to gather the reasons behind what those facts might mean and say this is this because of this," he said.

For Connolly, the trip provided a similar contextual setting.

"It's one thing seeing it on paper," she said. "Seeing it in person and hearing how it's used gives a greater understanding and physical context."

That was one of the main focuses of the event, said Fields.

"You have really, really smart, great, dedicated people at CAPE, but many have little military experience," he said. "Now they can say 'I've been inside a helicopter. I've met the crew. I understand what they do, their mission. I talked with a guy who does that.' When [they're] sitting in a meeting, it helps to give them context."

For Johnson, that means a wider view of things.

"I get a detailed picture of those things, but sometimes I don't get the whole picture of the field of play and this helps," he said.

During the visit, many Soldiers and Airmen shared both their military and civilian backgrounds with the analysts as well as how they balance and manage both.

"It was really interesting to hear from the folks here about the interaction between their civilian life and military life and how that all comes together," said Johnson.

For Fields, the visit was a success in allowing "CAPE to understand the Guard better."

"I liked the outcome of the visit," he said. "When everybody says they had a great time and the two senior folks say it was a success, that's one in the win column."

It also makes it a little easier for CAPE analysts to make their assessments, said Fields.

"The big thing is there is a lot going on at a very fast moving pace," he said. "You have people out there making their assessments and this just gave them another piece of information that you can't get out of a book."