WASHINGTON - Air Force Lt. Gen. Joseph Lengyel was confirmed Wednesday as the 28th chief of the National Guard Bureau by the U.S. Senate.
Lengyel, who also will be a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will be promoted to four-star general, the highest-ranking officer in the nation's oldest military force.
The Senate action follows Lengyel's June 21 Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.
"Although we are proud of our heritage and our past, I am more excited about our future," Lengyel told the committee, adding that the skill and devotion of Citizen-Soldiers and -Airmen since 9/11 has transformed the National Guard into an operational force at home and overseas."
"The development of our most important assets, our people, will be our foremost task," Lengyel told the committee. Among other priorities Lengyel mentioned during his testimony:
* Working seamlessly with the joint force. * Nurturing the National Guard's enduring local, state, national and international partnerships. * Effectively communicating, collaborating and coordinating with all the National Guard's stakeholders. * Continuing to enhance the Guard's cyber capabilities. * Keeping deployments predictable.
Lengyel highlighted the challenging global environment and the need now, more than ever, for an operational and ready National Guard.
He also stressed the critical importance of the adjutants general. The adjutant general is the senior military officer of the National Guard in each of the 54 states, territories and the District of Columbia.
"My job ... is to know what they think, know what they need ... [and] blend that all together with the lens of the national picture of the whole National Guard, and make my best military advice to my bosses," he said.
Lengyel steps into a complex assignment in complex times.
"We are living in extraordinary times with incredible advances in technology, globalization and commerce that give great cause for optimism and hope for the future," he told the Senate Armed Services Committee. "This optimism is tempered by unprecedented challenges in our global security environment ... [that will] require a greater agility and inclusion of all elements of national power."
The chief of the National Guard Bureau serves as a military adviser to the president, the secretary of defense and the National Security Council. The chief is the Defense Department's official channel of communication to the governors and the adjutants general on National Guard matters. He is responsible for ensuring the accessibility, capability and readiness of Guard members to secure the homeland and to provide combat resources to the Army and the Air Force.
Like many Guard families, the Lengyel family continues a multi-generation tradition of military service, and the new chief has known the meaning of both the service and the sacrifice that military service entails since his earliest memories.
His father, Air Force Lt. Col. Lauren "Laurie" Lengyel, initially served in the Massachusetts National Guard, including a Guard deployment during the 1958-1961 Berlin Crisis, before switching to active duty and flying combat missions in Vietnam.
On his 40th combat mission on Aug. 9, 1967, Lt. Col. Lengyel was captured after ejecting from his aircraft.
He spent 2,044 days in captivity before his March 14, 1973, release and was one of only two former Vietnam prisoners of war to return to the country and resume combat missions, during the fall of Saigon.
Like his father, Lt. Gen. Lengyel served as a pilot, including deployments during Operations Desert Storm, Provide Comfort, Southern Watch and Enduring Freedom.
"I hope that, unlike your father and me, the number of landings have matched the number of takeoffs," said Sen. John McCain, also a former pilot and Vietnam POW, prompting laughter from other members of the Senate Armed Services Committee and those watching the June 21 hearing.
Lt. Gen. Lengyel was the senior U.S. defense official in Egypt before he was appointed vice chief of the National Guard Bureau in 2012.
The position of vice chief was re-established and elevated to the three-star level by the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act. No nominee to succeed Lengyel in that position has yet been named.
Lengyel will succeed Army Gen. Frank Grass, the first chief of the National Guard Bureau to serve a full term as a four-star general and member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The chief of the National Guard Bureau was elevated to a four-star position on the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 2012, during the tenure of Grass' predecessor, Air Force Gen. Craig McKinley.
The National Guard is a joint activity of the Department of Defense composed of the Army National Guard and the Air National Guard, which are reserve components of the Army and the Air Force. The Guard fights America's wars, secures the homeland and builds partnerships at home and around the world.