WASHINGTON - Army National Guard Soldiers and leaders joined together this week in Washington for the 2023 annual Association of the United States Army meeting and exposition.
The three-day event included panels led by Lt. Gen. Jon A. Jensen, director of the Army National Guard, and Command Sgt. Maj. John T. Raines III, command sergeant major of the Army National Guard.
“We have such a large attendance this year,” Jensen said to a room of hundreds of Soldiers, Army civilians, allied military guests and industry partners. “Thank you all for being here.”
Jensen, who has commanded at every echelon from the company to the division level, witnessed many modernization efforts but says as we look toward the Army of 2030, the Guard must continue to advance at a rapid pace.
When considering what the Army National Guard will look like in 2030 and 2040, Jensen, the 22nd director of the Army Guard, said the Guard needs to continue integrating at every level of the Army.
As the combat arms reserve of the Army, the Guard must be ready to fight alongside Active and Reserve component counterparts at a moment’s notice. Jensen said this means the Army Guard must focus on building generational readiness throughout the ranks.
“It takes a generation to create the readiness needed for large-scale combat operations,” Jensen said in his opening remarks during the Army National Guard panel. “It takes a different mindset and skill set and a level of lethality that we haven’t trained for in the Army for decades.”
To maintain a level of readiness that will allow the Guard to achieve success in any environment, whether deployed stateside or to a combat zone overseas, the panel members all agreed that leaders must continue to provide tough and relevant training to their formations.
“We must continue to maximize the effectiveness of the training events that we are doing,” said panelist Maj. Gen Rich Johnson, deputy commanding general of U.S. Army Forces Command. “From a squad at an armory on a drill weekend to an [eXportable Combat Training Capability] (XCTC) rotation, we can always be better and always be more relevant.”
In addition to unit training and XCTC rotations, units from the Army Guard, on average, complete one National Training Center rotation and three Joint Readiness Training Center rotations annually.
The unique nature of the National Guard allows for partnerships with governments and militaries around the globe. Just this year, the National Guard celebrated the 30th anniversary of the State Partnership Program.
Since 1993, the National Guard, in conjunction with the State Department, has been building successful relationships with partner nations. The SPP program now includes 88 partnerships with 100 countries.
“In 30 years, our State Partnership Program has come a long way,” Jensen said. “I think the program is valued within the Department of Defense, exceptionally valued within the Department of State, and it is certainly valued inside the National Guard Bureau.”
The Iowa Army National Guard recently conducted training with its state partner, Kosovo, in a HAZMAT exercise. The Maryland Army National Guard teamed up with Moldova during Exercise Rapid Trident. And the Texas Army National Guard partnered with Chile to conduct cyber training in that country.
“The program is in a much better place than it was 30 years ago, and even in a much better place than we were 10 years ago,” Jensen said.
Maj. Gen. Lapthe Flora, a panelist and senior Army Guard leader responsible for much of the success of the SPP, said the program’s future is bright and just one of the things that makes the Guard such an attractive component to serve in.
Raines, the 13th command sergeant major of the Army National Guard, led a joint panel alongside the Army Reserve’s senior enlisted leader, Command Sgt. Maj. Andrew Lombardo, on the importance of Soldiers telling their story.
Raines’ story began when he joined the Army in 1989 during the height of the original “Be All You Can Be” marketing campaign. He said he still gets motivated by the slogan and is glad today’s potential recruits will know there are no limits on what a Soldier can be.
“Something got all of us to raise our hand and come in to serve our country,” said Raines. “For me, ‘Be All You Can Be’ still rings true, 34 years later.”
Raines recognized other Soldiers in the Army Guard who are being all they can be while serving their state and their country.
Master Sgt. Christopher Sehy, the Army Guard’s recruiting and retention NCO of the Year, was one of the Soldiers invited by Raines to participate in the panel.
“Every person that I talk to has a different reason for joining the Guard,” said Sehy. “But most of them all have one thing in common: They want to be all they can be.”
Jensen also weighed in on the Guard’s recruiting efforts and the importance of connecting with the next greatest generation of talent.
“It’s our obligation to reach out to the young men and young women of America and convince them that the opportunity to serve their country and their state is a valued choice in their life,” he said.