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TRANSCRIPT | Sept. 13, 2023

General Daniel Hokanson's interview with MSNBC: How September 11 Changed the National Guard

(General Daniel Hokanson, chief of the National Guard Bureau, was interviewed on MSNBC's Morning Joe on September 11, 2023.)

Mika Brzezinski: Just moments ago, the unfurling of the American flag on the side of the Pentagon that was attacked on September 11. When the Twin Towers and the Pentagon were hit 22 years ago, the National Guard was deployed to protect New York City and Washington, both on the ground and from the air. After that, we saw the beginning of a shift in the Guard's mission from a strategic reserve to an operational force that would eventually be deployed to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan. Joining us now: four-star general, Dan Hokanson, the chief of the National Guard Bureau.
Thank you very much for being on the show this morning on this special day. If you could talk a little bit about the meaning of this day 22 years later and how it perhaps triggered the transformation of the National Guard. 

Gen. Hokanson: Thank you for that question, Mika. I think for all of us that were alive then, it's one of those days you remember exactly where you were when you heard the news and the impact it had on our nation. You also look at the heroism that day, by the first responders, by many of our civilians, and also our Guardsmen, particularly here in New York. We have a large National Guard contingent here in New York. Literally, hundreds of thousands of them immediately went to their armory without being asked.
By the end of the day, we had 6,000 Guardsmen on duty here. We had six states involved with the air patrolling. One of the unique stories is within Washington, D.C., when Flight 93 was unaccounted for, we launched fighters. Because they were not armed, they only had 500 rounds of training ammo, and their mission was to prevent anything from attacking our nation's capital. So when the aircrews took off, they knew it could mean them having to ram the aircraft to prevent it from attacking our capital. 
Jonathan Lemire: Extraordinary moments of service and potential sacrifice 22 years ago. Now, we are two decades since the attack, still ever present, particularly for those in New York. How are you seeing the spirit of service? Are you still seeing Americans want to serve in that way, and are you concerned that maybe not enough are? 

Gen. Hokanson: You know, there is an incredible sense of service with those serving today. When you look at the past 20 years, that was the turning point for the National Guard. Before that, we were more of a strategic reserve. Then, we became operational over the last 20 years. A million Guardsmen have deployed overseas. We have incredible leaders at every level when you look at the spirit of service and the experience they developed over that time. We're very fortunate; the National Guard will meet our numbers. The Air Guard is a little closer. What we're finding is those eligible to enter military service.
 The number continues to decrease every year. At the end of the day, we maintain our standards, and we're looking for the best and brightest. They still come to our formations, and having them there is also really good.  

Richard Haas: In the last 20 years, deployment was the greater Middle East, Afghanistan, etc. In the future, we're thinking more of Europe, Asia, and China. If you will, the great geo geopolitical game. How does that affect the Guard? How is your training and planning adapting to the return of traditional geopolitics?  

Gen. Hokanson: Interestingly, the National Guard has state partners. Every state in the United States has a national partner.
We developed this after the end of the Cold War when the Berlin Wall came down. A great example is California, which has partnered with Ukraine since 1993. After Russia invaded Ukraine for the first time in 2024, our Guardsmen sat down with the Ukrainians and looked at what went right and wrong. We set up a training group in Ukraine in 2016 and focused on those areas. You're seeing their impact and ability to thwart Russia's plans to invade the entire country. Now, there's a lot of work still going on.
Shortly after the war began, we moved our training to Germany. We continue to train Guardsmen in the Ukrainian army with equipment. Of course, that's making an impact on the battlefield even today. 

Al Sharpton: General, one of the things I most remember 22 years ago is a sense of people from different races and backgrounds came together and realized that we were all under threat. I mean, no one sent an email telling blacks, Latinos, or Asians, "Don't go to work tomorrow at the Twin Towers or the Pentagon." After that, there was this coming together of saying, "We have our political differences, but we need to stand up and preserve the country." Have you seen that growth maintained? Did you see this kind of spirit of American unity then and what has happened to it in your judgment over the last 22 years? 

Gen. Hokanson: That's right. I see that every single day. Whenever I drove with the Guard unit or visited them, and we have about 23,000 deployed today.
You know, to them, they realize the importance of what they're doing. That's regardless of the color of your skin or what you believe. At the end of the day, it says the U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Coast Guard, or space force, and we work together because we have a job to do and take it very seriously. We're honored and proud to represent our country, no matter where it is on the face of the earth. 

Brzezinski: Chief of the National Guard Bureau, general Dan Hokanson, thank you very much for joining us this morning. 

Gen. Hokanson: Thank you.