JOINT BASE MYER-HENDERSON HALL, Va. – Almost 150 people from all service components, including National Guard leaders from all 50 states and four territories, gathered in Patton Hall to witness a defining moment in National Guard history: the unveiling of the positional flag for the senior enlisted advisor to the chief, National Guard Bureau.
Army Gen. Daniel Hokanson, the National Guard’s top officer, noted the significance of the day, emphasizing the ever-evolving nature and significance of the Guard.
“Tonight, we honor a new chapter in the National Guard Bureau’s history,” said Hokanson. “This role joins two enlisted forces with two unique cultures — the Army and the Air Force — united by their duties and identity as Guardsmen. The SEA’s colors and insignia make it clear: Today’s National Guard is a valued and valuable force —on the world’s stage, in the homeland we defend, and at the highest levels of military leadership.”
With a history dating back to 1636, the National Guard boasts centuries of tradition and tenacity. However, this marks the first time a senior enlisted advisor to the National Guard chief has been recognized with positional colors. The introduction of the colors symbolizes an acknowledgment of a storied past and the forward momentum of the enlisted force.
Tony L. Whitehead currently serves as the SEA to the CNGB and is the sixth Guardsman to hold this position.
He’s the first to bear the unique Air Force rank of SEA — equivalent to the Guard’s parent service senior enlisted leaders, the sergeant major of the Army and chief master sergeant of the Air Force — and the position now has the unique associated colors. At the pinnacle of enlisted leadership, Whitehead steers the enlisted force and voices their interests.
Whitehead, a Jacksonville, Florida, native, began his Air Force career in December 1982 and transitioned to the Air National Guard in 1994. He served in a range of roles in Air Force security specialist and security forces career fields. With retirement on the horizon, he envisions the new colors as a beacon, signaling to National Guard Soldiers and Airmen that all achievements are within reach.
“After over four decades in this uniform, there are goals you set, and then there are transcendent moments that defy description,” Whitehead said. “Being here, recognized in this new capacity, is not by chance. It’s the fruit of guidance from pioneering leaders and mentors. I see this as a turning point to uplift our enlisted ranks, solidifying the National Guard’s stature for future generations.”
The National Guard, comprising roughly 430,000 Soldiers and Airmen, makes up about 20 percent of the Department of Defense’s Joint Force. Today, some 20,000 Guard members are on overseas assignments, underscoring the National Guard’s pivotal roles in homeland defense and the National Defense Strategy.
“What does the future hold for the senior enlisted advisor role?” Whitehead said, adding that he believes the new colors are an acknowledgment of unwavering dedication and a nod to the foundation they’ve laid.
“In the National Guard, when we join hands with our allies, it’s less about showcasing our prowess and more about underscoring the respect and dedication intrinsic to our role,” he said.
In recent years, Whitehead has traveled globally, forging connections with military leaders, Soldiers and Airmen. His core principles — educate, empower, execute — will define his legacy.
Whitehead’s philosophy centers on the idea that every service member has the potential to drive change and exhibit leadership qualities. He believes continuous learning and growth are critical to build an educated and effective military force. He encourages service members to empower those around them, enabling them to showcase their talents and skills and execute missions with their knowledge and expertise.
“The positional colors echo the spirit of the entire National Guard, not merely the enlisted,” he said. “These colors resonate strength, power, humility and service that embodies us in the National Guard. Our mantra remains, Always Ready. Always There.”