BARRIGADA, Guam – More than 7,000 miles from the continental United States, Guardsmen stand “Always Ready, Always There” where America’s day begins.
Far away – on the other side of the world, and always one day ahead of the rest of the nation – Guam’s Citizen-Soldiers and -Airmen are as important to the National Guard’s most senior leaders as Guardsmen anywhere else.
The chief of the National Guard Bureau’s troop visits and key leader engagements here this week underscored the Guam National Guard’s significance.
Army Gen. Daniel Hokanson’s stop in Guam was part of a Pacific itinerary that included visits with Hawaii Guardsmen and senior leaders at U.S. Indo-Pacific Command. Missions fulfilled by Guam and Hawaii Guard members support their territory and state – and the combatant commander’s priorities and the nation’s strategic objectives.
At the Pacific Disaster Center in Kihei, Hawaii, Hokanson heard how the center consolidates information to help reduce disaster risk at home, providing global risk intelligence, early warning and predictive modeling to partners, including the National Guard Bureau.
“Accurate information helps everyone from individual citizens to local, state and federal agencies build resilience,” the National Guard’s most senior general said. Hokanson has recently stressed the importance of readiness, partnerships and resilience.
Over a week, Hokanson visited numerous units, many in remote locations, listening to Soldiers and Airmen, from commanders to the newest recruits, one-on-one and in small groups. And the general met with senior state, territory and combatant command leaders.
On the islands of Maui, Kauai, Hawaii, Oahu and Guam, the general quizzed troops: “What motivated you to enlist? … What is your civilian career? … Tell me about your family?” He swore in four of the Guard’s newest recruits and gleaned the insights of some of the component’s longest-serving members.
“Nothing beats sharing food with our troops and hearing their stories, successes and concerns,” Hokanson said. “Any day I can be out with our Guardsmen where they live, train and work is a great day.”
Such visits also help the general continuously assess the component’s progress meeting his priorities: people, readiness, modernization, reform.
Visiting the Hawaii Guard during a drill weekend before his stop in Guam, Hokanson found troops engaged in training, including hands-on time with weapons and physical fitness tasks.
For Army Capt. Kevin Tam, 229th Cavalry, Hokanson’s visit created a training opportunity before the general even arrived. It was a chance to refresh his troops’ understanding of the National Guard’s leadership structure and the role of its highest-ranking general as a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, advising the secretary of defense and the commander in chief.
Tam’s platoon leaders met with the general in a small group, discussing issues including recruiting and retention, health care, and how to maximize training on Soldier tasks. Among the unit’s unique challenges: Soldiers commute from three different islands for monthly drills.
The 292nd Combat Communications Squadron is a new unit, still standing up, actively involved in the National Guard’s modernization. “To be part of something that’s brand new is an honor,” Air Force Master Sgt. Gavin Raquel told Hokanson.
Hawaii’s 298th Support Squadron is always on duty at a remote location on the island of Kauai, enhancing the nation’s air defense capabilities by feeding information to the Pacific Air Defense Sector, supporting America’s air sovereignty.
“To have the general come out is a once-in-a-lifetime situation,” said Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Joshua Dunn, the squadron’s senior enlisted member. “We’re at the beginning of the chain supporting a lot bigger mission, and so to have somebody of his stature come, just to be able to think about us when the big decisions are being made, it means a lot.”
Given its remote location in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, the unit operates under what is sometimes called the tyranny of time and distance: Logistics, supply and communication are top of mind for service members on the Pacific islands.
“To know that somebody at the highest levels is thinking about us, can picture us, and really knows where we’re at, what we’re doing and why we’re doing it is very important, strategically,” Dunn said.
Air Force Lt. Col. Mariko Boone is the unit commander.
The general’s visit highlights the Pacific Air Defense Sector’s mission, Boone said, standing in front of a white geodesic radar dome on a Kauai mountaintop. “Especially one of its three geographically separated units. This is one of the main sites that provides the data, connectivity and other communications backbone back to an operations floor to get the mission done for America’s air defense.”
The Hawaii National Guard is paired with Indonesia and the Philippines in the Department of Defense National Guard State Partnership Program. In just one example, Hokanson heard how Hawaii’s 230th Engineer Company supports construction projects in both partner nations and also in Thailand, which gives troops valuable real-world training.
The SPP partnerships support U.S. Indo-Pacific Command objectives. Both partners gain readiness in aviation safety, humanitarian assistance, disaster response, maritime security and other areas of focus.
Hokanson’s visit also included aerial assessments of training facilities and ranges and a review of natural threats and responses.
“The National Guard stands ready to respond on little or no notice to natural or manmade disasters,” Hokanson said. “Our ability to do that is made possible by the training and equipment derived from our primary mission as the combat reserve of the Army and the Air Force.”
The Hawaii National Guard supported the local, state and federal response to the 2018 eruption of Kilauea. The eruption destroyed 716 homes, covered 30 miles of roads, inundated almost 14 square miles with lava up to 180-feet deep and created 875 acres of new land, where before there was the ocean. The highest ash plume reached 30,000 feet above sea level, and the eruption repeatedly released energy equivalent to a 5.2 to 5.4 magnitude earthquake.
Hawaii and Guam’s natural threats also include hurricanes, typhoons, earthquakes, tsunamis and flooding.
“The National Guard is continuously engaged in the complex missions required to fight America’s wars, secure the homeland, and sustain enduring partnerships at the local, state, federal and international level,” Hokanson said.
On Guam, Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Shane Aguon, an intelligence officer with the 105th Troop Command, said Hokanson’s visit served as an example of hands-on leadership. Troops saw how important it is to continue to spend time with the force, both to avoid losing touch with troop concerns and to give back, regardless of rank and weighty responsibilities.
“We already know he’s looking at the biggest picture,” Aguon said, “but it’s great he goes to the 54 states and territories and sees how they contribute to the mission.
“It means a lot to the Soldiers and also serves as motivation. It’s motivation for the Soldier to progress through the ranks: Just receiving a coin for excellence from a four-star, you never know, that Soldier might just become an officer one day and strive to become chief of the National Guard Bureau.”
Army Cpl. Virginia Sos-Carter, 1224th Engineers, was one of the Guam troops Hokanson sat with for a few minutes during his visit. “It’s an honor,” she said.
Throughout the trip, the general also met with recruiters to gauge the status of the National Guard’s recruiting and retention programs, and his wife, Kelly Hokanson, met with military spouses and discussed family support programs.
“The support of our families, friends, communities and employers makes it possible for us to remain ‘Always Ready, Always There’,” the general said.