ARLINGTON, Va. – In a year filled with unprecedented challenges, the National Guard’s mission is as relevant as ever, the chief of the National Guard Bureau told virtual attendees at the 142nd General Conference of the National Guard Association of the United States Aug. 29.
“As 2020 has shown us time and again, our work is invaluable to our communities, states, and nation – and we have plenty of work to do,” said Army Gen. Daniel Hokanson, who was sworn in as the NGB’s 29th leader earlier in August. “I believe this is an important and pivotal time in [the Guard’s] history, and what we do now, and what we do next, will ultimately shape our nation’s future.”
Service chiefs and the directors for the Army and Air National Guard joined Hokanson at the conference hosted by NGAUS, a membership organization that advocates on behalf of the National Guard.
Hokanson cited the outstanding service of individual Guard members who operated center stage supporting law enforcement’s response to civil disturbances and the nationwide COVID-19 response.
For the latter, Hokanson told the story of Army Spc. Ashley Rodriguez with the New York Army National Guard unit that found itself in a “very emotional mission,” recovering people who died as the pandemic ravaged New York City.
“Though trained as a cable stems installer, she started the decedent recovery mission in late March, working with families in their homes, and helping them when they needed it most,” said Hokanson. “She continued this mission, even after her daughter and grandmother contracted COVID-19, and I’m happy to report both fully recovered.”
Hokanson highlighted the service of four Airmen during civil disturbances in Washington, D.C. He described how Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Mark Nicholas, Tech. Sgt. Emmanuel Morales, Staff Sgt. Jacen Vaughan and Maj. Telisha Johnson saved the life of a woman who collapsed while jogging on the National Mall in early June.
“When the 113th Air Wing arrived at the Lincoln Memorial that day, they knew their mission was to protect federal property and the right to peacefully protest,” Hokanson said. “They did not know they would face a life or death emergency. But when the woman collapsed, their training and call to service kicked in.”
Regardless of what mission they are engaged in, Guard units only thrive when individual excellence is recognized, Hokanson said.
“As a team, we can encourage each other to be better, to do more, and to reach ever-greater heights,” he said. “When we multiply individual excellence across a unit, we can shape the course of history.”
In an example of that excellence, Hokanson cited the North Carolina Army National Guard’s 30th Armored Brigade Combat Team, the successor to the 30th Infantry Division, which held the line against German soldiers during World War II and helped save the Normandy campaign.
“Today, the legacy of Old Hickory continues,” said Hokanson, referring to the division’s nickname. “Last year, the 30th Armored Brigade Combat Team was among the first deployed to Syria to protect American-held oil fields from the Islamic State. It was yet another reminder that the war fight is our primary mission, and we always answer our nation’s call.” Hokanson also expressed his deepest appreciation to the families of Guard members who make it possible for the National Guard to fulfill such missions.
“It is an unusual time, and we are not only asking our Soldiers and Airmen to rise to the challenge – we’re asking our families to rise with us,” he said. “It is only through their sacrifice that we are able to do what we do – protect our nation and its future, save lives, and help our communities – [and] we must do everything we can to find that sustainable balance for our Guardsmen.”
Hokanson closed out his address to the association by assuring the NGB will continue its tireless advocacy for the Guard members in the 50 states, three territories and the District of Columbia.
“Our value as America’s National Guard is built on you, the people who support you, and the excellence you bring every time you put on a uniform,” Hokanson said. “All our success begins with you – and our job at the National Guard Bureau is to help enable that success,” he said.