RENO, Nev. – For years, the National Guard’s most senior general has urged Guardsmen to tell our story; last week, he also stressed explaining why we do what we do.
“We serve for the future, for global stability, for the continuation of the American experiment,” Army Gen. Daniel Hokanson told attendees at the 145th General Conference of the National Guard Association of the United States on Aug. 19. “These are not self-executing endeavors. They are not given; they are not granted. They are earned, and they are earned anew by every generation of American service members.”
The 29th chief of the National Guard Bureau listed recent examples of how Guard members have served at home and overseas:
Almost 7.5 million personnel days supporting our combatant commands at home and around the world last year.
8,500 people rescued from disasters.
Four more nations added to the Department of Defense National Guard State Partnership Program.
The Guard, Hokanson said, is a local force with global reach.
“We serve because there is a calling inside each of us to make a difference,” he said. “We seek challenges, wanting to learn more, do more, and be more. We are driven by an innate internal force to do something good — the 1% who bears the weight of our national and global security and defends the international rules-based order.
“The rare drive that leads us to take an oath to the Constitution is the same drive that propels us into action — both in and out of uniform.”
One example among many: On May 20, seven New York Guardsmen en route to a training exercise came upon two people trapped in a car after a crash. The team drew on military training and civilian-acquired skills to cut airbags, free the injured, and stabilize them until an ambulance arrived.
“They didn’t drive by or call and wait for help to arrive,” Hokanson said. “They took action. Because of their call to serve and their drive to make a difference, those New York Guardsmen kept their promise to be Always Ready, Always There.
“When faced with a crisis, some people freeze, unsure of what to do. Some people flee, running away from danger. But some people fight back — and a rare, special few fight for the lives of others. That’s what being a Guardsman is all about.”
Hokanson listed priorities for taking care of Guardsmen, including continued efforts to provide no-fee health care across the force. An operational planning team is addressing the complexity of no-fee health care and finding ways to address the access and continuity of care challenges unique to the National Guard.
Where it makes sense, Hokanson also encourages telework. The National Guard Bureau Telework and Remote Work Program was established in May.
“The program is designed to maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of our workforce, both military and civilian,” he said. “Not only is it a tool for operational readiness, it helps us support, recruit and retain a resilient and productive workforce [and] gives our people both opportunity and flexibility.”
And a pilot program for drill weekend childcare for Army National Guard members that Hokanson announced last year has expanded from six to 15 states.
Initiatives like no-fee health care and drill weekend childcare are more complex and challenging to implement than they might seem: There are nationwide childcare shortages. Providers are reluctant to deliver childcare on weekends, citing insufficient staffing and reimbursement rates. Nevertheless, the quest continues.
“We prioritize childcare because our National Guard families matter,” Hokanson said. “They are another reason we serve.”
On the Army Guard side, Hokanson said that after three years of work with the Army, division commands, and the adjutants general, the Guard has reached full operating capability for division alignment.
Advantages include greater training consistency; increased cooperation between the active and reserve components; better integration with the regular Army’s divisions and the Joint Force; more predictable training and deployment rotations for Guardsmen; and formations that look the same and are interoperable.
On the Air Guard side, Hokanson said there is progress in fighter recapitalization efforts, with the goal of maintaining the Guard’s 25 fighter squadrons.
With almost 30 percent of the Space Force’s operational readiness residing in the National Guard, “It is imperative we align our Air Guard space assets to ensure they remain manned, trained, equipped and modernized in line with Space Force standards and Space Command priorities.”
Last month, the 100-nation State Partnership Program celebrated its 30th anniversary.
“Our impact does not stop at our borders,” Hokanson said. “We serve for the world and to preserve the free, open, rules-based international order. We are in an era of strategic competition — and the competition is fierce.
“The State Partnership Program remains the most successful and valuable security cooperation program in the entire defense enterprise. We’re interested in expanding the program in the years ahead, and we’re finding other nations are interested as well.”
The National Guard protects the homeland, builds enduring partnerships, and fights our nation’s wars.
“It’s our success in the homeland that creates the most dramatic pictures and the most indelible impressions,” Hokanson said. “It’s why for so many people the National Guard is synonymous with disaster response.
“But let’s zoom out and get a different perspective.
“Because, if the question is why we serve, we cannot forget our primary purpose: We exist to fight and win our nation’s wars.
“Why we serve is to serve our nation.”