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TRANSCRIPT | July 27, 2023

Transcript from National Press Club Headliners Newsmaker: General Daniel Hokanson

Gen. Daniel Hokanson, chief of the National Guard Bureau, spoke at a National Press Club in-person Headliners Newsmaker on Thursday, July 27, 2023, at 10 a.m.

Moderator Good morning, everyone. Just a quick housekeeping reminder to please silence your cell phones. And also we will be taking questions for the general after he gives his remarks. Just please write them on the cards at your seat and hand them up and we will answer them as many as we can. So. Okay. So welcome to our headliners newsmaker at the National Press Club, the place where news happens. I'm Eillen O'Reilly the 116th president of the National Press Club and the managing editor of Standards and Training at Axios. We're delighted today to welcome General Daniel Hokanson, the 29th Chief of the National Guard Bureau and a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. As Chief of the National Guard Bureau, General Hokanson, a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, leads more than 453,000 Army and Air National Guard, ensuring that they are combat ready to defend the homeland, assist in times of war and respond to disasters. Indeed, America's most often see the National Guard responding to state level disasters such as hurricanes and floods. But this past spring, General Hokanson touched down in South Korea, his first stop on a three nation Indo-Pacific trip that would include the Philippines and Vietnam. His visit was part of a mission to bolster security cooperation through the National Guard State Partnership Program. National Guard bureaus around the country, partner with allies for joint training, disaster response management, peacekeeping operations and cybersecurity, among other missions. The 30 year old program which began in Europe after the collapse of the Soviet Union, now includes 100 countries. General Hokanson says this type of relationship building is essential to national security and deterrence and is a crucial part of the national defense strategy. We are eager to hear more about this program and the the role it is playing as Ukraine fends off the Russian invasion. For instance, the California National Guardsmen have had exchanges, trained together, and built trip to true friendships with their counterparts in Ukraine for almost 30 years. So we've heard that when the tanks rolled into Ukraine, the phone almost immediately rang in Sacramento. Another topic we are eager to hear more about is General Hokanson's perspectives on the state of internal security at the National Guard, which recently suffered from one of the most serious intelligence breaches we've had in years. 21 year old Massachusetts Guardsman Jack Teixeira was arrested by federal authorities in the spring after he allegedly repeatedly exposed classified information. In June Teixeira was indicted by a grand jury on six counts of willful retention and transmission of national defense information. And he has pleaded not guilty. Please join me in giving a warm National Press Club welcome to General Dan Hokanson.

GEN Hokanson Good morning, everyone, and thank you for the opportunity to speak with you today. Although frankly, I think everyone's happier when the National Guard is not making the news, because if we are making the news, it's often because our nation is at war or our communities are in crisis. And that's because to remove any misconception, the National Guard's purpose is to fight and win our nation's wars. That purpose drives our manning, our training and our equipment. And our unique constitutional authorities allow us to use that manning, training and equipment to help our communities in time of need. But it is all derived from our primary warfighting mission and not vice versa. But today, I want to talk about a different, more timely news story. We recently celebrated 30 years of our State Partnership Program. The State Partnership Program, or SPP, as I'll refer to it, pairs a state's National Guard with a partner nation. Today, we have 88 partnerships with 100 nations around the world. Last week, 93 countries sent senior government and military leaders here to the United States, actually here in Washington, D.C., to celebrate the 30th anniversary and discuss the SPP's future. Now, you might be thinking, "Well, Dan, that's very interesting, but that's history. And how is history news?" I think the State Partnership Program is news because the partnerships we've built over the past 30 years have a strategic impact that's playing out every day all around our globe. The most immediate example, as Eileen mentioned, is Ukraine. Ukraine and the California National Guard were among the very first state partners. And for three decades, Ukraine of the California National Guard trained, worked, studied and deployed together. Even our pilots flew together. Before the Russian invasion and annexation of Crimea in the Donbass Region in 2014, the California National Guard sent dozens of trainers to Ukraine. After that invasion, we sent hundreds. Those trainers helped Ukraine strengthen their forces and build their interoperability with NATO. They developed infantry tactics. They established a Ukrainian noncommissioned officer corps. They cross-trained on cyber operations and they helped build a joint operation center. Basically looked at all their shortcomings and how they would address those. And hours after Russia began their recent unprovoked invasion in February of 2022, as I mentioned, Ukrainian military officials made their first call to their friends more than 6,000 miles away, and that was the California National Guard. And I firmly believe Ukraine's ability to limit Russia's initial invasion was at least in part because of the training and assistance they received and continue to receive from their 30 year partnership. This morning, I can tell you we're breaking new ground using the successful template of the State Partnership Program. I'm pleased to announce that we will soon deepen and expand our security cooperation relationships throughout Europe. Both Finland and Sweden have expressed potential interest in the SPP and are currently in discussions for partnerships. Finland and Sweden have long been long time security partners and we look forward to deepening those relationships. In addition, the success of the SPP program is resonating with European countries who historically have remained neutral, such as Austria, who partnered with Vermont in 2021, and Switzerland. Switzerland is currently reviewing the relationships that other nations share with the National Guard and assessing the possibility of the program in their future. Interest from these nations validates the proven SPP model, especially against the backdrop of the current conflict in Ukraine. Every state, territory and DC has at least one partner and these partnerships are truly inspiring. Earlier this year, the Minnesota National Guard formalized a 50 year partnership with Norway, while Arizona formalized a partnership with Oman. SPP partners Oklahoma and Azerbaijan share an oil rich economy, and the state of Georgia and the country of Georgia, well, I think you can guess what they share. These are strong and valuable alliances and partnerships. These partners train together. They exchange best practices and subject matter expertise and host senior leader engagements. And historically, they often even deploy together. During the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Illinois National Guard deployed with their Polish partners 34 different times. 30 years. 88 partnerships. 100 nations. And about 20- to- 30% of our nation's security cooperation engagements, all at about 1% of our security cooperation budget. Our annual SPP budget is about $42 million out of a $6 billion security cooperation budget. And this year alone, we have over 1,500 engagements planned around the globe. As Eileen mentioned, the State Partnership Program began after the collapse of the Soviet Union. As they emerged from behind the Iron Curtain, former Soviet states looked to reform their militaries, moving away from a communist system towards a democracy and civilian control of their armed forces. Because of the National Guard's legacy as state militias, because it would seem less provocative to Russia at the time, the National Guard was the obvious choice to lead these engagements. In addition, the guard is experienced with disaster response, search and rescue, and civil military relationships, all of great interest to the former Soviet states at that time. And so in 1993, the first three SPP partnerships began Estonia with Maryland, Latvia, with Michigan, and Lithuania with Pennsylvania. The 30 years since then are very important because building relationships and building trust takes time. You can't surge trust, you can't surge respect, and you can't surge understanding. You can only build it one day, one person and one partnership at a time. That's why we're doing and that's what we're doing every day with 100 nations around the world. And we will continue to grow this program. Our relationships with former Soviet bloc countries may be the longest standing, but they are by no means our only partnerships. When the 2015 National Defense Strategy highlighted the rising significance of the Asia-Pacific, Africa and the Americas, the SPP prioritized these areas for building and maintaining partnerships. In the past 10 years, the SPP formed 21 new partnerships with 26 partner nations. Of those, four were established in the CENTCOM area of responsibility, five in the INDOPACOM and eight were in AFRICOM. The State Partnership Program directly supports the National Defense Strategy's second priority: deterring strategic attacks against the United States allies and partners. It does so by ensuring our nation has trusted capable and interoperable allies on our side. This is key to an integrated deterrence. Campaigning and building enduring advantages. All critical components of the National Defense Strategy. In the current strategic environment, these relationships matter more than ever. Russia's violent, unprovoked invasion of Ukraine has increased interest in the SPP. Other countries are looking at Russia and are concerned they too, will need to defend their sovereignty. Meanwhile, the SPP helps the United States remain the partner of choice at a time when China, our pacing challenge, uses predatory diplomatic and economic tactics to fulfill its imperial ambitions. They don't use the term "partner of choice" lightly. The fact is, these partnerships can't be forced. They are the product of trust, respect and free will. Every interaction with our partners either strengthens or weakens that bond. Every moment we share, from the initial signing ceremony, to a training exercise, is an opportunity to improve our relationship with our partner nations. It takes effort and commitment to remain the "partner of choice" around the world. Every day our Guardsmen bring that effort and commitment to everything they do. They are citizen soldiers and citizen airmen who bring their civilian talents and skills to the service of our nation as well. This makes us even more effective in our missions, both in the war fight and here at home. Here. I can't help but think of Sgt. Maj. Ed Carlson, I served with in Iraq, who worked for FedEx as a civilian. Because of the experience in developing routes and understanding supply chains, he was able to create more effective and efficient supply routes in support of our mission in Iraq. I think of the Guardsmen in Texas whose civilian job working at a call center gave her the expertise to establish a call center for her state at the height of the COVID pandemic, when people were desperate for information. And I think as a former Adjutant General of the Puerto Rico National Guard, Maj. Gen. Jose Reyes. During the pandemic, he pored over medical literature and early on identified the importance of cold storage for the emerging vaccines. His early acquisition of ultracold freezers allowed Puerto Rico to quickly vaccinate the island's population, and other states adopted Puerto Rico's hub and spoke vaccine distribution plan. This was especially critical in remote areas and sparsely populated areas. This is the ingenuity, dedication, efficiency and effectiveness of our Guardsmen and what they bring to every mission that they do. Our people, are our No. 1 priority, and they allow us to live true to our motto of being 'Always ready and always there". A role in the National Guard is unique and is critical to the National Defense Strategy, our national security and our global security. We don't just celebrate history through our unique position, our abilities and our partnerships. We help write it. Thank you, and I look forward to your questions.

Moderator Thank you, sir. Let me remind our audience, and I'm happy to take your questions. Please write them on the cards and hand them up to Cecily is right over there. That's real. Bring them to me. We did get several by email already, and I will ask as many as I possibly can. Thanks. Okay. So maybe let's start with Ukraine, since you were talking about that quite a bit. So can you tell me like how your relationship with Ukraine has changed since Russia invaded?

GEN Hokanson So in a way, it really, it has changed in the aspect that now they're actually in an open conflict. Obviously, hours after the invasion, the Adjutant General at the time, Dave Baldwin, was calling me and texting me as he got inundated with requests. The thing that was fascinating about the request, though, it was, here's what we need. They were there. They were going to defend their country. And one of my first trips overseas after the invasion was to go to the three Baltic nations, as I mentioned, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia and also Moldova. And the key there was to reassure them that our partnerships remain strong. But then also to look at, you know, over the course of the years, we had developed training plans, but we wanted to say, do we need to adjust those? And we made significant adjustments accordingly. And what the California Guard has done, as obviously they're unable to go into Ukraine right now. So they've maintained really virtual engagements and really staying in close contact. Also, one of the things I've done since the war has begun is I've been to Germany twice. Obviously, after 2014, as I mentioned in my opening remarks, Ukraine really took a good look at what went right and what went wrong. And the National Guard and the active Army work together to establish really a training center outside of Lviv to focus on all those areas they saw as potential shortcomings. And since 2015, they've really focused on that. And although many skeptics have said, "hey, we didn't think Ukraine was going to last that long," folks within the California Guard and our Guardsmen that had trained the Ukrainians said "not so fast". These folks really took those lessons to heart. They've been focusing on that. And so, as I mentioned, I've made two trips to Germany, since to visit our guardsmen who continue to train the Ukrainians in Germany. And it is pretty inspiring to see what our Guardsmen are doing, but also the dedication and the importance and frankly, the, you know, the willingness of the Ukrainians to get trained and get back into the fight to protect their sovereignty.

Moderator Interesting. Can you tell us, did you bolster the numbers of people that were physically in Europe or after the invasion or?

GEN Hokanson So for us we had a pretty large presence and it was called the Joint Multinational Training Group - Ukraine. And actually it was Florida Guardsmen that were in Ukraine. And we extracted them about four days before the invasion. They went back under the command of U.S. European Command and they set up the training area. And when the conditions allowed, both in Ukraine and there, where they were set up in Germany, then we started training those folks in Germany. So we've kept about the same size of our footprint that we had previously because we found that was about the right number of folks. And of course, if there were specific skill sets or weapons systems, obviously we'll augment that with active duty soldiers. And, you know, many of our NATO allies are doing the same thing as well. And so many countries are still providing that training and the equipment so that they can get back into the fight and basically maximize the use of the new equipment that they have.

Moderator And then I thought your comment about Finland and Sweden was interesting. Can you tell us a bit more like what that would look like and what the time frame might be?

GEN Hokanson Yeah. So when we look at Finland, we've had a relationship between them and Virginia for over a decade where you look at the environment, the terrain in the Arctic, the high north, the cold. That's really important to us to be able to you know, you can't just survive. You have to be able to operate in those conditions. And so the Virginia Guard has been training with them and now they've become a NATO ally. And you look at Sweden as well as pursuing NATO membership. What it does is it allows our guardsmen to train with them because we have all the equipment that our joint force has so that we can work on the interoperability, how we would work together, how our equipment works together. And in some cases, if they have a National Guard, a National Guard type organization, it just works really well for us to do that. And when you look at the State Partnership Program, in many cases, our state National Guard, their National Guard is about the size of many of these countries' militaries. And so it's a very good kind of peer-to-peer relationship where we work together. And the great thing about this that I really like to stress with our partners is it's not a one way relationship. We learn so much from them and we share all the things that we have become really good at. And it makes both of us better at that because we get a chance to see not only how they operate, the environment they operate in, but also where they are regionally, and the impacts. So it helps our guardsmen understand the global environment and it allows us to share a lot of things that we've learned and and learn from them.

Moderator Yeah. Um. Okay. So somebody asked, do you have units from Florida, New York, California and elsewhere, states in Europe to assist Ukraine? Can you tell us how many people total and where they are exactly?

GEN Hokanson So when I look at today, we have, you know, about 450,000 Guardsmen. We've got 46,000 mobilized today, which is about our average. And today we have 27,000 around the globe. So I can't give you specific numbers, but we're in every single combatant command right now really supporting the combatant commanders with, say, partnerships, events with training events and deployments in support of, in some cases, combat operations or in support of the combatant commanders. So prior to 9/11, we were more of a strategic reserve. But now since then, every person in the Guard today has either re-enlisted or come in with the expectation that they're going to go somewhere around the globe and be part of the joint force. And when you look at the size of the military, the National Guard is 20% of our entire military. And so many of the specific skills or requirements that our combatant commanders have are being filled by guardsmen.

Moderator So speaking of which, how is your recruitment going? And are you reaching your goals or where are you on that?

GEN Hokanson So obviously it's a very challenging environment right now. Overall, when you look at our Army National Guard, we've been over 100% on our recruiting and retention for the last four months. So we're not declaring victory, but I think our recruiters have really adjusted to the new environment. And on the Army Guard side, we are scheduled to meet 100% of our authorized end strength by the end of the year. On the Air Guard, it's a little bit different. We are currently programed to be about 70 or 97% of our authorized strength at the end of the year. And so we're working very closely with our recruiters on the Air Guard side to identify not only the root causes but the things that they can do to incentivize folks to to come into the military. And it's a multitude of factors. I actually travel around the country on our training weekends and visit with the states, with their senior leaders. But I also make it a point to visit with the recruiters everywhere I go. And I ask them, you know, why are young men and women coming in? Why are they not? What are the challenges you face and what are the things that they're most interested in? And so at the national level, we try and tailor our resources so that we can help support that. And obviously, you hear many of the things like it's a very tough environment because of the economy, the demand for workers. The benefits that we traditionally relied on for recruiting like education, reduce health care costs, the training, the chance to go overseas and serve your country. Now, many industries which in the past hadn't offered like medical benefits or education benefits, are now providing those. So, you know, there's a lot more competition for that. You know, 23- to- 20% of America that's even eligible for military service. But I you know, our recruiters are doing the best they can. And and I think the the National Guard is a really good value proposition. You know, you can live where you want. You can pursue your civilian career, but you can also gain military training. You can serve your nation and gain really invaluable leadership experience.

Moderator Someone asked, during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, units of the National Guard carried a very heavy load and paid a very high cost in casualties and those killed in action. How has this impacted morale in recruiting at the National Guard, particularly as the active forces are struggling to meet their goals?

GEN Hokanson You know, So it's really interesting having deployed both to Iraq and Afghanistan and had the fortunate opportunity to command a brigade in Iraq. To this day, I'll be in places around the country and run into soldiers that I served with, and many of them that look back as that was a significant event in their life, and they were very thankful for that opportunity. And obviously, we did pay a toll like many other forces. And we do everything we can to take care of our families and supporting members of the community. But I think for our Guardsmen, when you look at the pre-9/11 and post-9/11, as I mentioned earlier, when a Guardsman comes in today, their expectation is to be part of that. And when I talk to our Guardsmen and I work with our Adjutants General, very closely, the commanders of each of the 54 states territories and D.C., we want to make sure that we have an environment where they can balance their civilian career, their military career and their family so that we can not only sustain recruiting and retention, but also keep that capability and capacity that our nation needs at a reduced cost in the Guard. And so I would say that the National Guard has really risen to that challenge. And, you know, when I talk to leaders around the country, their soldiers and airmen, they're eager to deploy. They want to do their part in serving their country. And when they come back, they feel really proud about what they've been able to do because they're there to see the impact that they're having globally and really playing their role in our National Defense Strategy.

Moderator Mm hmm.

Moderator So one of the, you know, issues is that suicide has been a persistent problem for veterans who suffer from PTSD and other disorders, with an average of more than 20 suicides a day. Is this a problem for veterans of the National Guard, especially those who served in Afghanistan and Iraq? And what can the Guard leadership do to stem this terrible trend?

GEN Hokanson So obviously, we're very concerned about that. And we do put a lot of resources toward this. And unfortunately, there's not one answer to it. And so what we do is we work with all of our states and territories, and we actually encourage them to try or develop plans or programs that they think might make a difference. And then we really try and measure the success as best we can if it's having an impact. And then through flat communications and I speak with all of our our senior Guard leaders every Thursday, every day, every week of the year, we share that information or if it's promising, we share that with our our team within. We call it our J9. And they really look at our people and called warrior resilience and fitness. And we're trying to do everything we can to reduce that. Obviously, the loss of anyone is critical and it's not just to the organization, but it's to their family, it's to their friends. And so for us, we can we can almost not do enough. And so we're working very closely to do it, address it in any way we can, and really trying to foster that environment where our Guardsmen, even though we drill one or two weekends a month, that they're looking out for each other. They're in communications and they're aware of events in somebody's life that may put them in a situation where they're they're very stressful or they may be in a in a position where, you know, they're having harmful thoughts and we train them to help intervene or get them to the resources that we know are available that may make a difference. 

Moderator Have you found any programs that seem to work better than others? I know it's been a long term issue for you. 

GEN Hokanson You know, sometimes I don't think that there's anything. I mean, I look at it as communicating, being aware of the environment our soldiers and airmen are in and maintaining that person-to-person communication and then getting them to the resources. I think the ability for them, you know, with these 24 -hour hotlines to to intervene there. Also, we have directors of psychological health in each of our states. And their whole purpose is to not only educate the force, but be there as a resource to where if somebody identifies somebody that might be struggling, preemptively, you know, they'll engage with them and just check in on them, say, "hey, is there anything we can do for you? Any resources we can provide? You need someone to talk to?" But at the end of the day, it's that person to person connectivity that we really need to do in an environment where a lot of stuff is virtual or texting or phone calls. Any chance we can get to where there's that person to person contact, I think that is one of the best ways we can help out.

Moderator Okay, So let's talk about U.S. readiness. And with billions of dollars of weapons and equipment sent to Ukraine over the last year, has this transfer of weapons hurt the National Guard and dangerously depleted U.S. military inventories making us vulnerable?

GEN Hokanson So we track this very closely. And based on the the large force structure in the National Guard, we've been able to provide that equipment. We're working with the Army to have replacement equipment. In many cases, it's equipment that we needed to upgrade anyway. So we'll be getting the upgraded models. But to make sure that we meet all of our training requirements if we have to, we'll cross level equipment across organizations. But right now, we've been able to manage the readiness impact to that, and we'll continue to watch that very closely every day. And as I mentioned earlier, we're 20% of the joint force. And we are focused on readiness every single day, making sure that we're training our Guardsmen to the readiness levels they need to be. And in case they get called forward for any contingency, not only overseas but also in their communities.

Moderator Okay. Let's talk about this here a little bit. So has the guard conducted its own review of security standards at its state Guard units following Teixeira's leaks? Are you considering any changes to how a SCIFS and the handling of classified material is standardized?

GEN Hokanson Absolutely. So that was a very disappointing event, to say the least. In this case, the unit was actually supporting a combatant commander. And right now the investigation is ongoing. But immediately, we worked with the Department of Defense to go back and look at to make sure all of the policies and procedures were up to date and were being adhered to. And, of course, any time you have an event like that, you want to look across the organization to make sure that we do everything we can, that something like that never happens again. And so I would tell you that the chain of command, not only there but across the guard, is taking a look at all command and control relationships and ensuring that all of our personnel are following the established procedures that they need to.

Moderator Okay. So, you know, there's a whole bunch of questions. Okay. Um. All right. So in light of of the leaks, what do we know about the bureau's plans to revamp IO or information operations, and what challenges do the differing duty statuses present when trying to enforce intel rules?

GEN Hokanson So when we look at the the information operations, obviously the National Guard is part of the Army and the Air Force. And so we follow all direction from them in terms of training requirements, the establishment of units and what we do. Now, the unique thing about the National Guard is we have three duty statuses, so we're in Title 10 when we're fully activated and part of the Army or the Air Force; and Title 32, they're under the command and control of the governor and usually, well in all cases the Adjutant General is then their commanding general that oversees them while they're training and getting ready for developing readiness for potential deployments. And then we have State Active Duty, and this is primarily the status that we're in when we're responding to hurricanes or disasters within a state. And that's where they're under the command and control of the governor but the state is actually the one paying them. And then they fall under the the state authorities. So we really try and leverage those. and that's the uniqueness of the guard, is and we can do just about everything that we do. But there are restrictions when it comes to information operations that we can do or cannot do. And those are really something we cannot do in the United States or against United States citizens. And so we really trained to that war standard, and it's really focused on their deployed mission.

Moderator Um, can you tell us how many junior soldiers or airmen in the National Guard have access to top security, top secret and secret information?

GEN Hokanson Um, I couldn't give you that exact number, but the majority of them have a secret clearance, and that's basically, you know, the understanding, you know, they all swear an oath to the Constitution of the United States to support and defend our country against all enemies. And so we really hold them to that standard each and every single day. And I would say that, you know, the actions of one individual, his individual actions are not reflective of the other 449,999 members of the Guard. So obviously, we take that very seriously. But I would say it is not representative of the organization. 

Moderator How does the National Guard and Department of Defense plan to review procedures to stop future compromises of classified information? Can it even stop with all the new technology that's out there?

GEN Hokanson I think there's a lot of things that, um, that we learned and really a lot of the policies and procedures were there.

Moderator Mm hmm.

GEN Hokanson And we'll see what the results of the investigation are to determine that. But I think we all value that and the importance of safety and security of all information. And I think all of Guardsmen are aware of that. And of course, we want to make sure that we're doing everything, we're leveraging those capabilities that become available through technology to help monitor that. And I think over time, we'll continue to do that, to make sure that we keep all of that information that needs to be classified in a classified form.

Moderator Okay. Okay, So you mentioned the state guards. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis just introduced the Florida State Guard, an armed force of about 400 people under his direct control with an undefined mission. How important is it for state militias to be under federal control, and how do these semi competing guards impact the National Guard's role?

GEN Hokanson So when you look at the role of the National Guard, we're primarily a federally funded force. And so we have federal requirements: whenever called to our units, mobilize and deploy. The state militias are separate from that. They're really trained and equipped and paid for by the governor. They have no overseas mission. They're not part of the U.S. military. It's it's almost like something that was developed prior to World War II. And really the intent was they were the help run the armories if the entire National Guard mobilized. But they're not federally paid or resourced. And so we really would have to defer to the states, because that's a state issue with the National Guard. Some National Guards have a relationship to them, but not specific to what we do in the National Guard.

Moderator Are there ever is there ever tension between them or...?

GEN Hokanson You know, not all states have them.

Moderator Right.

GEN Hokanson And I think in some states, they provide a valuable resource. In this case, in some states like California, they have a state guard and they provide a lot of disaster response and they help with the communities. And each state looks at it a little bit differently. But I think the intent was there is to help augment that capability, particularly when it comes to disaster response, really as a group of volunteers that would come in. And each state varies. Some actually pay them, others they're purely a volunteer and they're trying to, in a way, serve their communities.

Moderator If you look at the Florida one in particular, do you think that the 400 member militia is, like, what are your thoughts about that one specifically?

GEN Hokanson So it'll be interesting to see the organization, the structure and what actually, you know, the state of Florida asks them to do. I think we're too early in the process, but obviously we watch that closely because we want to make sure that folks understand that they're not National Guardsmen. We adhere to federal standards. We meet the requirements of the Army, the Air Force, and when identified to mobilize, we're there. And we also work directly for the governor for disaster response. So for us, we'll make sure that there's a clear delineation between guardsmen. And we're trying to do everything we can to make sure that the public understands that there is a difference.

Moderator Okay. Yeah, I can see that could be a potential problem.

GEN Hokanson Yeah.

Moderator Okay. So this is about the Rio Grande. Does a controversial use of barbed floating buoys in the Rio Grande impact whether U.S. National Guard under federal control will remain at the border?

GEN Hokanson So when we look at we've got about 2,300 guardsmen under U.S. Northern Command that are augmenting this Customs and Border Patrol along the border. And really they're there to help support Customs and Border Patrol so their agents can do the law enforcement actions. I am not aware that we're involved in that at all. I think our folks are primarily supporting CBP. So I would really have to defer that to the state of Texas and what relationship they would have related to that.

Moderator Okay. And their follow up question was, well, the troops deployed in May of 2023 be extended there?

GEN Hokanson Yes. My understanding is that the troops will not be extended, but they'll be troops that come in behind them to continue to support Customs and Border Patrol.

Moderator Um, in regards to, uh, during times of national disasters, could you explain how the National Guard establishes a team of environmental professionals to assess?

GEN Hokanson So when I and I'll use, say, wildfires and hurricanes as an example. So what we have found over the course of years is our Guardsmen have become very good at this. Particularly I'll use Florida as an example, and California for wildfires. So what we found is over the course of the years, our units within each state also deploy. And so within Louisiana, the 256th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, it's about 4,000 members of the Louisiana Guard. So when they're deployed overseas. The state of Louisiana has a significant gap in the normal capabilities that they would have. So what we do is every year we have an all-hazards conference and we invite all 54 National Guards to come in and we talk about the major disasters that will face in the United States. And so in this case, if Louisiana knows that their formations are going to be deployed. They identify capability gaps and then we pre-identify the states that would provide that capability in the event that a hurricane would hit Louisiana or Florida. And so prior to hurricane season, we already know who's going to go where to help everybody out based on the scope and scale of of that disaster. Now, we've been doing this for over a decade. So when I first became the chief back in 2020, we started that with wildfires as well, where we get with the National Interagency Fire Center and the states that are prone to wildfires, which has become more and more. They get together annually as well, because one of the greatest capabilities we provide our helicopters that can provide firefighting. And we also have specially equipped C-130s that can fight fires as well. So we identify any loss of that capability, identify who would fill that. But then also we work with our interagency partners to kind of go over, okay, let's make sure everybody's qualified on time. These are the capabilities that we could bring forward so that in the case of a wildfire, if they start to reach the maximum civilian capability, we start alerting guard units to say, hey, they're almost at the max capability. The next step is to alert the guard so that they're ready to go and then they can be there where they still make a difference. And now when you talk about environmental, this is all interwoven in that when we look at hurricanes, there are things that we've identified as, you know, long term environmental impacts. So we work with those agencies responsible to help play our role in mitigating that anywhere and everywhere that we can. And the same on the wildfires.

Moderator Yeah, it's interesting. So is climate change and the rising number of natural disasters, from wildfires to torrential rains, tornadoes, hurricanes and other natural disasters putting a strain on the National Guard who are often tasked with responding and rescuing citizens? Like, how do you handle learning how to be a firefighter versus, you know, all the other different types of...

GEN Hokanson So in many cases, we we really rely on our states to take a look at those formations and those individuals, No. 1, that are available to that. We always like to take volunteers first. But in many cases, it's a unit solution because they have the chain of command and the equipment. And they're oftentimes more effective. And so when you look at our disaster response, we try and alternate those units with the exception of unique skill sets like our firefighting aircraft. Those are pretty unique. And then our communications team. So we try and make sure that we that they're always ready and they're prepared to do that. And if you go back to the height of COVID, you go back to June of 2020, we had 47,000 Guardsmen supporting COVID operations. And also we had 43,000 providing support to law enforcement for domestic disturbances. So in June of 2020, we had 120,000 Guardsmen around the globe and here in the United States activated. And that's a huge number. But at the time, it was only just over 25% of the National Guard. So we had obviously significant depth capability and capacity beyond that if our nation needed it. But we do monitor that very closely to make sure that our states don't get to that point where they can't find that balance for our Guardsmen between their civilian career, their military career and their family.

Moderator Okay. Someone asks, Is it woke to discuss climate change? Is the National Guard seeing and responding to more disasters caused by climate change?

GEN Hokanson So. I would consider that really a false narrative. I would just encourage anybody to go to a drill weekend and see what we do. I was recently in California watching our units train to go to the Joint Readiness Training Center to watch one of our infantry brigade combat teams do a live fire movement to contact These folks are completely focused on building readiness. And in the time we have, we focus on our combat tasks. And I would say, you know, when you look at talking about the environment, we live in that. Our Guardsmen are from the communities that they're responding in. And it's basically they want to take care of their communities. They want to serve our nation overseas, that we focus on our war fighting skills, but also, if called to respond, they want to make a difference in the community that's long lasting because at the end of the day, they take their uniform off and they go to work in that community and they want to do everything they can to make it a better place.

Moderator Okay, let's shift a little bit to back to the SPP. Yes. Okay. Um, so with the SPP success and expansion, with over 80 partnerships moving forward, what are some of the key objectives and aspirations of SPP outside of expansion?

GEN Hokanson So one of the things that we try and do when we work at the countries is have a two way communication to address those things that they may want to work on, but also for us to learn from them. And when you look at the, as you mentioned, the number of disasters in the United States, many of these countries like, say, Oregon and Vietnam, you know, they face wildfires as well when they face flooding. And so what we're trying to do, which is help make each other better so that our National Guards can be more effective in their response. But also for our partner nations to help them address the recurring issues they have to create a more stable and secure environment. I think at the end of the day, one of the great things about the partnership program is we're both really trying to take care of our citizens and our country, safety and security and stability. And so what we want to do is engage with them to make sure that we're adding value. And they see the value in that, because there are other countries out there that, as I mentioned, you know, they have purely their own needs and desires in mind and they're okay with taking advantage of a country. For us, we're trying to build that long term relationship where they see, you know, it's not just a one way. We want them to become better. We want to help them to become better, and we become better in that process. And so that's why many of our partnerships are going on 30 years we've become so close because they realize there's no ulterior motive here. We're just trying to learn from each other to both become better.

Moderator Mm. Okay? Someone asks. As China is expanding its military capability and its influence beyond the region. What role should the National Guard play to protect national interests? 

GEN Hokanson So if you look at that, we've got, you know, particularly in Indo-Pacific, we've got 13 partnerships over there. And as mentioned earlier, I was in Korea, the Philippines earlier this year and, you know, had a great visit there with those countries to talk about that to them, about their issues and concerns that they have and any way that we can help them. Because at the end of the day, we don't want somebody to become, you know, reliant on someone else for their own safety and security. But if you go back to the Philippines, we've got one of our oldest alliances with them, and we talk about the things that they're seeing, what they're facing and how we can help them. I was also in Vietnam during that trip, and we visited one of their new disaster response centers that they were able to build with resourcing from INDOPACOM. And we walked through the exercise and what the impact would be so that hopefully these countries can resolve and respond themselves. But if it exceeds their capability, they know that we're always there to to lend a hand really without strings attached. And we're not going to ask them to do things that they may be uncomfortable with. We're just there to help them become better.

Moderator And can you tell us a little bit more about, you know, when you were talking to them, what are their concerns and how can we help them?

GEN Hokanson Obviously, everyone's very concerned with their sovereignty. Country or lands that belong to them and others encroaching on them or others making claims to territory that exceed the international rules based order. And I think what we have seen since World War II is the world kind of got together and said, hey, these are the rules. We've got freedom of the seas, we've got all these things. And what we want to do is make sure that no one country overreaches that and starts to impact the sovereignty or the ability for other nations to benefit from the global environment.

Moderator Mm hmm. And do you feel like China is, you know, reaching that?

GEN Hokanson Yeah. When you talk to those countries, you would see that the the influence or the claims to the South China Sea that historically have not been there. And so we we work very closely with them to help in any way that we can. 

Moderator Someone asked, Is Pakistan a partner nation?

GEN Hokanson They are not. Yeah, but obviously we work. And just briefly, the process. We work very closely with the State Department and the combatant commanders to identify those countries that they feel like would be good partners in the region. And of course, it's a two way conversation. The country has to request it as well. And so based on that, we build a a prioritized list I have built  for the next 10 years and really looked at those critical partners and those nations that are willing and would like to do this. And we help prioritize through them, through the State Department, the Secretary of Defense. And we usually try to grow two or three each year.

Moderator Okay. So in ten years, how many do you hope to have?

GEN Hokanson We figure there'll be around 130.

Moderator Okay.

GEN Hokanson And we look at that's about the capacity of our program, the ability of some states. Every state has at least one. Some have two, and some actually have three. And we want to make sure they have the ability to balance that. So it's it's important to both that each country continues to see the value. So we don't want to get it to the point where we have a partnership, but the state doesn't have the time or the country doesn't have the time to dedicate to its growth.

Moderator Right. And does that the desire for 130 partnerships over 10 years, does that mean like what would the recruitment goal have to be to.

GEN Hokanson So it would be 2 to 3 every year. We think is probably about the right number.

Moderator Oh, I'm sorry. I mean, I mean, as far as Guardsmen. Guardsmen.

GEN Hokanson So for our guardsmen, when I look at our strength of about 450,000, it's actually a recruiting tool because those are Guardsmen, if they get a chance, like if you're from Oregon, as I mentioned, they get to go to Vietnam and train with them, go see that global environment, learn from them. And then when they come to the Oregon to train, it benefits both of us significantly. And once they do that, they're like, Oh my gosh, I want to do that again. This is such a great program. And additionally, when we look at these partner countries, we also have a guardsman in the embassy of that country. We call them a bilateral affairs officer. So they're every single day in that country, in the U.S. embassy, as a means of communication to help develop the training, answer questions or work with their military on things that, hey, we would like to work on this. And the unique thing is, is when you're a partner. So if you look at Georgia and the country of Georgia, if there's a capability that the country of Georgia wants to train on or needs help with and that's not resident in the Georgia National Guard, well it's resident somewhere in the National Guard. And so we'll find that state or that unit. And then Georgia will facilitate the connection between both of those and the training events to to meet the country's requirement.

Moderator Someone asked, how has Republican Alabama Sen. Tommy Tuberville hold up this hold up of promotions and new assignments affected the National Guard and the Joint Staff and other military services of his as the chosen leaders cannot take their new positions and take action during a time of expanding international challenges?

GEN Hokanson So. My personal opinion is it has a readiness impact. But it's also having a very hard impact on our families. So traditionally, many of our senior leaders, they transition this summer because many of them have children and it gives them time to get settled. Their children get involved in the new school. It gives them a chance to move and get settled. And when you do that, when you stop that system, it's not just the generals that are impacted. It's it's the colonels that would become generals. And for many of these folks, they and their families have sacrificed for 20 or 30 years. And for every colonel, there's a lieutenant colonel. I mean, it's a meritocracy. As people retire or get promoted. It allows others to move up. And so if you stop that process now, if whenever it is clarified or resolved, now you're going to have people moving potentially in the middle of a school year, which may cause some of our officers and senior NCOs to move and be separated from their family because their children have already started a school and they may not want to take them out of the school year. And then you have to look at the impact at our mid-grade officers that are looking to say, do I want to make the military a career? And they're looking at what's happening to our our senior leaders. And their families are going to have conversations about about their future and and the potential impact that it has on them. Then obviously when you have members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff that are in acting capacity, you know it sends a message to the force. And so I think all of us are very concerned and it's something that we would like to get resolved just as soon as we can so we can continue to build the readiness that our nation needs. But also so we can take care of our families and show them you are our priority. We say you're a priority. We're doing everything I can, we can, to take care of them and get them where they need to go.

Moderator Um. Um, I guess one more question on immigration. Some governors have sent National Guard troops to Texas as hte immigration crisis continues. Do these governors undermine training and morale by sending their troops to the border? And how does that policy complicate your training and planning?

GEN Hokanson So at the National Guard Bureau, we watch our readiness very carefully and we make sure that anything that's performed in a state status does not impact deployments or the readiness of the force. And we work with the adjutants very closely on that. So the governors make those decisions between governors in a state active duty status where the state pays that and they move those forces back and forth. But for us, we work very closely to make sure it doesn't impact readiness and that our soldiers and airmen are ready for whatever we need them to do. And then obviously, with respect to disasters that we work very closely with the Adjutants General and the governors to make sure they can still meet all those requirements.

Moderator Can you tell us a bit about how the ESGR helps bring stability to the lives of those who serve in the National Guard and their families?

GEN Hokanson Sure. ESGR or theEmployer Support of the Guard and Reserve is is just critical to all that we do. And what it does is it provides a liaison between our Guardsmen and their employers to help resolve issues, because at the end of the day, the beauty of the National Guard is we provide, as I mentioned, 20% of the joint force, but at a significant cost savings because some of our greatest costs are personnel and we only pay for them part time. But when we need them, they're ready to come on full time. But what's fundamental to our ability to do that is that they can maintain their civilian career or military career or their family, and the Employer Support of the Guard in the Reserve is really that interface to help work with our Guardsmen and employers to make sure that they can maintain that balance. And if there's issues or concerns, a lot of times they can help resolve that between the service member and the employer so that both see the benefit of this. The company sees the benefit of a really good employee that they're there every day and that  we give them the predictability of when they're going to be deployed. So the employer knows well in advance when they're going to be gone, how long they're going to be gone, and they can adjust accordingly. And so when the guardsmen gets back, they can reintegrate back with their civilian job as quickly as possible.

Moderator Um, well, I'd like to take a moment to thank all of you for being here with us today. I'm supremely grateful for the National Press Club staff, including our executive director, Didier Soji, membership Director, K Holster and Membership Program and Events Coroner Cecily Scott Martin. I also would like to thank our co-chairs of our headliners team Laurie Russo and Dan on my one La Jay, as well as team member and retired U.S. Navy captain Kevin Rinsing, who helped pull this event together. Most of all, thank you, General Hokanson, for joining us and taking so many questions.