HONOLULU – Ohana is a Hawaiian word that refers to one’s extended family, friends and other close, intentional associations.
Tony Whitehead, senior enlisted advisor to the chief of the National Guard Bureau, experienced Ohana close-up as he visited Hawaii National Guard units across the island of Oahu March 5-6.
“These Guard members are so closely intertwined within their communities and state, and it’s great to see firsthand,” said Whitehead. “I am so impressed with the men and women of the Hawaii National Guard.”
The Hawaii National Guard encompasses the vision of Army Gen. Daniel Hokanson, the chief of the National Guard Bureau, and his four priorities for the National Guard: people, readiness, modernization and reform, Whitehead said.
“The most important thing for me is the opportunity to be here for a training weekend,” said Whitehead. “That is when you get a chance to see the men and women who serve in our National Guard in their element.”
Throughout the visit, Whitehead emphasized his priorities to educate and empower junior enlisted members and noncommissioned officers so they can execute their missions. He also stressed the need for NCOs to know and build up their subordinates and for junior Soldiers and Airmen to take an active role in their career development.
“One of the best things an NCO can do is share their knowledge,” he said. “And for those junior members, seek challenges. Step up. Not everything you need to know about being a leader will happen in one place. Never say what you’ll never do.”
Whitehead’s visit on Oahu included stops at the Hawaii Guard’s Joint Operations Center and the state Army Aviation Support Facility near Honolulu. He met with members of the 29th Infantry Brigade Combat Team and 29th Brigade Support Battalion. He also visited members of the 227th Engineer Support Battalion in Kalaeloa, the 103rd Troop Command in Pearl City, 154th Wing on Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, and 298th Air Defense Group on Wheeler Army Airfield.
“I think it’s important for our members to see a person of [Whitehead’s] level come out and want to be immersed and focused on what we’re doing in the Hawaii National Guard,” said Chief Master Sgt. Zandra Fox, the Hawaii Air National Guard’s senior enlisted leader.
Fox said the Hawaii Air National Guard is implementing Whitehead’s educate-empower-execute strategy to create a development plan for enlisted members to broaden their training and education.
“Training is a huge part of readiness,” said Whitehead. “We may not know where our next theater of operations will be or when the next disaster will strike, but know that the Soldiers and Airmen of the Hawaii National Guard are trained, prepared and equipped to respond.”
Hawaii’s isolation from the U.S. mainland doesn’t stop the Hawaii National Guard from accomplishing the mission at home and elsewhere.
Last year about 200 Hawaii Guard members went to Washington, D.C., to assist with the National Guard’s presidential inauguration task force.
“We were tasked with the mission to support the Virginia State Police and their road closures and traffic management,” said Lt. Col. David Hatcher, a battalion commander with the Hawaii National Guard team called up for the inauguration support mission. “They were some of the first responders to assist Capitol Police on Jan. 6, 2021. Their experience with that adds to the value of our partnership.”
Partnerships are an important part of the Hawaii National Guard mission. In addition to maintaining readiness as part of the combat reserve for the Army and Air Force, the HING provides organized, trained units capable of assisting civilian authorities responding to disasters or the unique needs of the state and its communities.
Over the past two years, Hawaii Guard members have helped state and local authorities administer COVID-19 tests and vaccinations. They delivered vaccines to neighboring islands via a C-17 Globemaster military transport aircraft operated by Air Guard members with Hawaii’s 154th Wing.
The C-17 job was unique for Guard vaccination teams, said Hawaii Guard spokesman Jeff Hickman during the mission in 2021.
“They stop the plane. They don’t even turn off the engines, and then they crank out the 150 to 200 (vaccinations) per island,” Hickman said. “They come on, get their vaccination and they do their waiting period back in one of the buildings at the airfield. And then the plane closes back up and goes to the next location.”
Lt. Nathan Love, one of the members on the ground for the mission in Maui, explained the significance of the Task Force and the Guard’s relationship with the community.
“As a task force and as a community, we are trying to end COVID-19 and protect our community by building herd immunity,” said Love. “We are looking forward to taking this first step to protecting our community here in Maui.”
The Hawaii National Guard also maintains close relationships with the active component forces in Hawaii and U.S. Indo-Pacific Command. And the Guard has built strong relationships with Indonesia and the Philippines in the National Guard State Partnership Program.
Whitehead praised Hawaii National Guard members for their dedication.
“The resources and people we have in Hawaii are unbelievable,” said Whitehead. “I was proud to learn more about and meet with some of them. On behalf of the roughly 455,000 Guard members across the nation, thank you and aloha!”