ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Readiness for its primary mission of fighting America’s wars makes the National Guard’s domestic responses possible, Army Gen. Daniel Hokanson told enlisted troops here Sunday.
“The manning, training, and equipment used to fight our nation’s wars … makes possible our incredible capability to respond to our communities in times of need,” the chief of the National Guard Bureau told more than 800 service members attending the 50th annual conference of the Enlisted Association of the National Guard of the United States.
This year sees the anniversaries of two events that transformed the National Guard.
Sept. 11 marks 20 years since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The overseas deployments that followed triggered what Hokanson called a seismic change for the National Guard, going from being a strategic reserve to an operational force.
“This shift made us better trained and equipped and better integrated with the Joint Force,” Hokanson said. “Today’s National Guard is the most professional force in our nearly 400-year history.”
And Dec. 31 marks a decade since the National Guard’s most senior general was elevated to the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“We make up 20 percent of the Joint Force, and we’re deeply involved in nearly every aspect of our defense enterprise,” Hokanson said, encouraging Guard members to follow topics tracked at the level of the Joint Chiefs in order to better understand the implications for the National Guard and its troops, families and employers.
- Afghanistan and Iraq: Retrograding forces from the region likely won’t change our overseas deployment levels, but it will allow us to focus on more significant threats to national security and the postwar global order, Hokanson said.
- China: “We consider China to be our pacing challenge and primary focus,” Hokanson said. “China is the only competitor capable of challenging the stable and open international order.”
The Department of Defense National Guard State Partnership Program is an example of how the Guard contributes to America’s national security strategy.
“Part of our strategy is demonstrating to our allies and partners that the United States remains the partner of choice,” Hokanson said. “The National Guard is uniquely equipped to do this through the SPP.”
The SPP pairs the National Guard in the states, territories and District of Columbia with 83 countries. Thirteen of these partnerships fall within the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command area of responsibility.
“We’re entering a new phase of warfare, and whatever the challenge is ahead of us, we must be ready to face it,” Hokanson said. “That drives our training, our manning requirements, and our need for equipment that is deployable, sustainable and interoperable.
“Whatever the combatant commanders need,” he added, “we must be ready to deliver.”
Because it stands ready to fight America’s wars, the National Guard was able to provide an extraordinary response at home for the last 18 months.
- The COVID-19 pandemic: Citizen-Soldiers and -Airmen have administered 13 million vaccinations in communities and supported testing, logistics, food banks and other missions since March 2020.
- Disasters: Guard members are currently fighting wildfires in multiple states and stand ready to respond to hurricanes, tornadoes, floods and all other natural or manmade threats.
- Borders: The National Guard is supporting federal, state and local agencies guarding America’s borders.
- Cyber: About 4,000 Guard members are involved in cyber missions. “The National Guard plays a vital role in DOD’s cyber enterprise,” Hokanson said. “The domain may be virtual, but the danger is real.”
- Civil disturbance: Guard members from every state and territory supported law enforcement agencies in multiple states and protecting the U.S. Capitol.
“We pride ourselves on being Always Ready, Always There,” Hokanson said. “It’s a promise we make to our nation and a promise we make to our communities.”
The National Guard’s ability to keep these promises is made possible by family, community and employer support to troops. The general was joined by his wife, Kelly Hokanson, who has been meeting with family support groups across the nation for the last year.
“From the bottom of my heart: Thank you,” Kelly Hokanson told the troops. “But I also want to say thank you to the families who have been part of this journey with you.”
Families’ patience, grace, understanding and support all deserve thanks, she said.
“While our families might not put on a uniform or deploy overseas, we still bear the weight of long separations and other realities of the military lifestyle,” she said.
Sharing her own experience using resources provided by state family program directors during her husband’s career, Kelly Hokanson encouraged troops to ask for help when needed.
“I found this treasure trove of resources,” she said. “People and programs that could help me figure out finances and the health care system, help me learn how to manage deployments – just people who could help me, whatever I needed.”
These resources are available in every state and territory and the District of Columbia. “They’re here for your families, so your family can be there for you.”
Mrs. Hokanson also encouraged troops to tell their stories and to get involved. “Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much,” she said, quoting Helen Keller.
The CNGB ensures the 443,000 National Guard Soldiers and Airmen who serve as the combat reserve of the Army and the Air Force are accessible, capable and ready to support our combatant commanders overseas and our communities here at home.
EANGUS was formally organized in 1972 to increase the voice of enlisted troops in the National Guard. The organization is dedicated to the principles of providing an adequate national defense and promoting the status, welfare, and professionalism of the men and women of the Army National Guard and the Air National Guard.