ARLINGTON, Va. – National Guardsmen more than demonstrated their value to America the past year, and the need for their service has never been greater, said Army Gen. Daniel Hokanson, the chief of the National Guard Bureau and a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
He cited two numbers to demonstrate the value of Guardsmen: 12 million and 21 million.
Guardsmen vaccinated 12 million people against COVID-19 and thousands of Guard members worked throughout the pandemic to care for, feed, transport and help fellow citizens.
Twenty-one million refers to the "personnel days" Guardsmen served in 2020.
"Whatever the mission — combat deployments, COVID, wildfires, civil disturbances or severe storms — the National Guard answered every call in 2020 and 2021, as we have for the past 384 years," Hokanson said during a Pentagon news conference June 23.
The personnel days include troops deployed around the world in support of the Guard's primary mission: to fight and win the nation's wars, the general said.
June 2020 saw the most Guardsmen mobilized since World War II. "Nearly 120,000 Soldiers and Airmen were mobilized supporting combatant commanders overseas or in domestic operations here at home," Hokanson said. "And despite the COVID environment, we continued our military training and met every overseas deployment."
Guardsmen deployed in the wake of the murder of George Floyd in 2020; responded to the insurrection at the Capitol Jan. 6; and more than 26,000 arrived in Washington to help secure the presidential inauguration. "'Always ready, always there' is more than our motto; it's our promise," the general said.
Hokanson highlighted the efforts of the Guard during the Labor Day weekend in 2020. "That weekend, more than 64,000 National Guardsmen were on duty around the world," he said.
"Roughly 20,000 were deployed across 34 nations in support of our combatant commanders. During the same weekend, more than 18,000 were helping their communities fight COVID-19 — from manning testing sites to supporting long-term care facilities to working in food banks."
In Texas and Louisiana, more than 3,500 Guard members were helping communities recover from Hurricane Laura. More than 2,600 Guardsmen were on the Southwest border, providing aviation and operational support to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
"More than 1,500 were protecting the rights of peaceful protesters and safeguarding communities against violence in Georgia, Texas, Kentucky and Wisconsin," Hokanson said. "More than 1,100 were guarding America's skies — from pilots and maintainers manning the Aerospace Control Alert Mission at fighter and tanker bases across the country to the five 24/7 command-and-control sites in the continental United States, Alaska and Hawaii."
More than 90 Guardsmen were operating ground-based missile defense sites in California and Alaska. "That same week in Alaska, a team of Guardian Angel Airmen were awarded the Wilderness Rescue of the Year by the American Red Cross of Alaska for rescuing two hikers, [including] one who had fallen more than 100 feet off a cliff," he said.
Guardsmen combated wildfires throughout the West. On Labor Day, California National Guardsmen rescued 240 people trapped by wildfires in the Sierra National Forest.
"This daring night rescue in heavy smoke was possible because our crews were equipped with modernized helicopters and the latest-generation night vision goggles," the general said. "For their heroism and extraordinary achievement, the aircrews were awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross."
Guardsmen are also U.S. ambassadors. Under the Guard's State Partnership Program, state or territory Guard units partner with nations to help build bridges between nations, help nations develop security capabilities, and aid in programs put forth by combatant commands.
"I recently returned from a trip to Africa where I witnessed the signing ceremony of our newest partnership between Egypt and the state of Texas, as well as observed the Utah and Morocco State Partnership Program in action during Exercise African Lion 2021," the general said.
Given all that Guardsmen do for the nation, Hokanson said service members should receive premium-free health care. "Whether they are serving our nation overseas or their communities here at home, it is important they have access to medical care, so we can keep our promise to remain always ready, always there," he said.