ARLINGTON, Va. – The past 20 years have proven the National Guard has transformed from a strategic reserve to an operational force, the chief of the National Guard Bureau told lawmakers Tuesday.
Addressing the House Committee on Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, Army Gen. Daniel Hokanson told members this change began on 9/11.
“In the two decades of conflict that followed – and in the past two years, when we responded to COVID, civil disturbances, and disasters while meeting every overseas deployment – the National Guard transformed,” said Hokanson, the highest-ranking officer in the nation’s oldest military force.
He added the Guard is the second-largest force in the defense enterprise – behind the Army – making up 20 percent of the Joint Force.
“But more than that, it’s our combat experience honed over two decades of conflict that provides our nation the increased capability and capacity it needs,” he said.
As an example, he pointed to how last year, Minnesota Army National Guard Soldiers were on the ground at Afghanistan’s Hamid Karzai International Airport while Air National Guard assets provided air cover, transportation, refueling and monitoring.
The last fighter aircraft to leave Afghanistan, Hokanson added, was a New Jersey National Guard F-16 Fighting Falcon.
He also noted how Montana Army National Guard members embedded in Northern Syria contributed to the fight.
“In January, they used their Bradley [Fighting Vehicles] during intense fighting following an ISIS prison break,” he said. “Every gunner in that platoon is a school-trained master gunner, [and] the battalion commander called them the best Bradley company he has ever observed.”
For Hokanson, it’s a testament to today’s National Guard.
“We exist to fight and win our nation’s wars, and the Joint Force cannot do so without us,” he said. “It’s the mission that drives our manning, training and equipment needs [and] makes possible our ability to respond to almost anything here at home.”
But those needs are evolving, he explained, with the simultaneous threat that China and Russia bring as nuclear-capable strategic competitors.
“We cannot predict when or where the next conflict will be or what our competitors are bringing to bear,” Hokanson said. “We must ensure our personnel are ready and our equipment and training and processes are modernized. We have to be ready to fight – and win.”
Part of moving forward with that posture, he said, includes strengthening ties with allies and partners. Through the Department of Defense National Guard Bureau State Partnership Program, an unmatched strategic advantage is created when Guard elements are paired with the militaries of other countries.
The benefits of the SPP, he added, are apparent in the partnership between the California National Guard and Ukraine.
“When Russia began its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, Ukraine’s military leaders reached out to people they trusted – people they had known for years. And those were members of the California National Guard,” Hokanson said. “Ukrainians’ first text messages were, ‘We’re being invaded.’ Their second messages said, ‘Here’s what we need.’”
Hokanson said the Florida National Guard was actively training in Ukraine just before the invasion.
“They were among the last Americans to leave Ukraine,” he said, noting the training continues in Germany.
Since their partnership began in 1993, the California Guard and Ukraine have conducted more than 1,000 training events – something that has proven to be highly beneficial for the country, Hokanson said.
“While the rest of the world underestimated the Ukrainian Armed Forces’ abilities, the National Guard was not surprised because we had been training with them for more than 29 years,” he said.
In his closing remarks, Hokanson reflected on Guard contributions to the Joint Force and security partnerships, and its promise to the nation.
“I am proud to represent today’s National Guard – a force that is ready to fight our nation’s wars, ready to serve our communities in their time of need, and ready to work with our partners at every level, from local to international,” said Hokanson. “Throughout our evolution of the past 20 years, the National Guard has been, and will remain: Always Ready, Always There.”