ARLINGTON, Va., - Since the attacks of 9/11, the National Guard has had to make some of the most dramatic changes in its 373-year history, a senior Guard leader said in a recent interview.
"We have evolved and we have changed," said Air Force Maj. Gen. William Etter, the acting director of domestic operations at the National Guard Bureau. "In the past, the Guard was a strategic reserve and just like the name, it was held in reserve, waiting for the big one.
"Like any change, it was kind of insidious and started out small so we may not have recognized it."
The "big one" that would change the dynamic of the Guard entirely would come in early 2003, when Operation Iraqi Freedom began after multinational forces, led by U.S. forces, invaded Iraq.
"What happened there was such a large demand for [American military] that the Guard became a part of going overseas, and we're very proud of that and it's something that we don't want to stop doing," said Etter.
About three-quarters of the National Guard has deployed once, and 25 percent have deployed more than twice. "The Guard feels like it's a battle-tested, hardened organization now, with many combat veterans," he said. "With that kind of experience level, it just makes for an extremely professional and capable (organization)."
Etter added that the changes have been hard and like with any change, there has been some turbulence along the way, but the Guard is proud of the changes that have been made.
"One change that the Guard has faced is that now the structural organization of the Army Guard more closely mirrors the active duty, such is the case with its brigade combat teams," he said.
"One other change is the level of the Guard's involvement and the Soldier's participation within the Guard," Etter said. "It's no longer the one weekend a month, two weeks a year.
"This has been a nation at war, and we've fought side-by-side with all of the other forces, and I don't think there's any looking back."
Because of the Cold War, the Guard was often been referred to as a force of "weekend warriors," which is a title that no longer applies as it gains more respect among active duty forces.
"I know that as we work together as a team, and we see nothing other than being accepted as an equal partner on the team during the missions that we're on," he said. "Cultures take a long time to shift, but you've got a lot of combat veterans in the Guard right now and they know what they're doing."
When it comes to the future of the Guard, Etter is very confident of what the Guard is capable of and where it is headed.
"Where we are right now, we feel like we can continue indefinitely," he said. "Obviously nothing in the world stays the same and if something were to happen to call us someplace else, it'd be a different story. But at the end of the day, we're going to do what we need to do."
Finally, Etter said the Guard is a great value for the country. "We're accessible, performing a dual mission, and we're proud to serve the governors, the president and the American people," he said. "We'll be there."