MILWAUKEE - When he was commander of North American Aerospace Defense Command and United States Northern Command, Navy Adm. James Winnefeld embraced the National Guard.
Still maintaining a close relationship with the National Guard, Winnefeld said it was “no mistake, no accident” that this was his first speech in his new position as the ninth vice- chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, at the 133rd General Conference of the National Guard Association of the United States here last month.
Winnefeld took special notice of this year’s conference theme – The National Guard: Right for America, drawn from a quote by Army Col. Lewis Millett, a highly decorated war veteran.
He said that from his experience with the Guard, “Capt. Millett got it right – from American’s early militias and the origins of the National Guard 375 years ago … to today, where over 53,000 Citizen Soldiers and Airmen are activated and making a difference in contingency operations worldwide and right here at home.
“You are uniquely postured, both as a personification of what is right about America – namely, selfless service to country and community – and as a shining example of what we are, what we believe and what we do in the United States military for the American people.”
Winnefeld recognized one such example of selfless service here at home – Air Force Master Sgt. James Stranahan, a senior medic with the Indiana National Guard, who ran toward a collapsed concert stage at the Indiana State Fair, to render medical assistance to those who were injured.
“Every day heroes like Sgt. Stranahan are what Capt. Millett meant when he was talking about what is right about America’s Guard,” he said.
Winnefeld also recognized the tens of thousands of Guard members who have served in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere throughout the world.
“Our Guardsmen do their duties overseas, too. They always have and always will,” he said.
The admiral talked about the heroism of five Army Guard Special Forces Soldiers, who recently earned the Croix de la Valeur Militaire, the French military award roughly equal to the Silver Star, for demonstrating heroism – and are again indicative of Guard members doing what is right for America, he said.
Winnefeld said he is proud of his association with the Guard.
“I want to assure you that I intend to continue building on my relationship with the Guard,” he said, telling the audience they can count on him as a strong supporter and advocate of the Guard.
“You have transformed from a strategic reserve to one that also provides operational full spectrum capabilities to our nation, and we’re grateful for this,” he said, “So simply returning the reserve component, and especially the National Guard … to strictly strategic reserve role is a non-starter.”
Winnefeld said there will be tough choices ahead on force structure and that we need to work together toward the collective good for our entire military – active, Guard and Reserve.
He pledged to stay connected to reserve component leaders, and to highlight the importance of the Guard and Reserve forces, but he asked the audience for some unique assistance.
“You are the linchpin of maintaining the American people’s connections with the military,” Winnefeld said. “You live and work alongside our fellow Americans in communities. You are their aunts and uncles, friend and neighbors, their coaches and their teachers. You as Guardsmen are uniquely postured in your communities to take the lead in maintaining and strengthening this dialogue.
“So – just as we need to hear from you on the strategic issues you face, and how we can work together – they need to hear from you about who we are and what we do proudly each day, and every day, as members of our nation’s military.”
He thanked Guard members and families for what they do in their states and communities, and for the United States, here and overseas.
“Thank you for truly living up to being all that is right about America.”