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Home : News : Transcripts : Transcript View
TRANSCRIPT | Feb. 9, 2024

Army General Daniel R. Hokanson, chief, National Guard Bureau, and Senior Enlisted Advisor Tony L. Whitehead hold a press briefing on National Guard priorities for 2024

STAFF: Welcome and thank you all for coming. Today we're here with the chief of the National Guard Bureau, Gen. Dan Hokanson, and senior enlisted adviser to Gen. Hokanson, SEA Tony Whitehead, to discuss the National Guard's accomplishments in 2023 and its priorities for 2024.

I'm Lt. Col. Caitlin Brown, National Guard Bureau Public Affairs, and I'll be moderating today's media roundtable. We only have until 1:45 today, so we'd ask that you please keep your questions focused on the topic of Guard priorities.

Gen. Hokanson and SEA Whitehead have some brief opening statements, after which we'll open up for questions. To ensure we allow time for everyone to participate, we'll limit everyone to one question and one follow-up. If there's time remaining at the end, we can open it up for additional questions.

I have a list of the media joining us remotely and will call on you by name. I know some of you, but not everyone, so if you're in the room with us and I call on you, please state your name and outlet before asking your question.

With that, I'll turn it over to Gen. Hokanson for his opening remarks.


And good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for the opportunity to provide an update on your National Guard.

First of all, I'd like to recognize the five Marines that died in a helicopter crash yesterday and the three Soldiers who were killed at Tower 22 last week. On behalf of the National Guard, we would like to express our deepest sympathies and condolences to their families.

Service to our nation in uniform is selfless and often dangerous. Forty-one National Guardsmen were also injured in the drone attack on Tower 22, one of whom my wife and I had the honor of visiting in the hospital earlier this week. Fortunately, 30 of the National Guardsmen who were injured have been cleared and returned to duty.

It is a reminder the National Guard serves alongside our active-duty and reserve teammates on the front lines as an operational force in a turbulent and ever-changing global security environment. And although this may not be news to many of you, when I had the honor of assuming this job in August of 2020, I discovered there was a lot of misunderstanding about the -- what the National Guard is, what we do and who serves in our formations.

So, thank you for giving me and our senior enlisted adviser, Tony Whitehead, the opportunity to speak with you today to update you on one of our nation's most indispensable organizations, the National Guard.

Rather than giving you a trove of numbers and data on what the National Guard does every day, and has over the past year, I'd like to share a few snapshots of how the National Guard is having an impact locally, nationally and internationally.

To be clear, the National Guard exists to fight and win our nation's wars. That is a primary mission for our 430,000 Soldiers and Airmen across all 50 states, three territories and the District of Columbia.

Our unique constitutional structure and authorities also allow us to support our communities in times of crisis. And our community-based organizations allow us to build enduring partnerships at every level, from local first responders to the 100 nations who are part of our National Guard State Partnership Program.

We're the second largest organization in the Department of Defense, behind only the active-duty Army, and we comprise 20 percent of the United States military. We do everything from deploying combat formations around the globe to missile defense of the homeland, protecting cyberspace and conducting space operations. And at the same time, we respond to disasters in our communities.

Today nearly 45,000 Army and Air Guardsmen are mobilized, performing missions in support of our combatant commanders, and more than 27,000 of them are serving overseas. Simply put, America cannot execute its national defense strategy without the National Guard.

With an aggressive China asserting influence in the Indo-Pacific and around the globe, a belligerent Russia invading a peaceful neighbor, North Korea developing long-range offensive weapons and numerous violent, non-state actors at work in the Middle East and beyond, the mission of the National Guard and the capabilities we bring to the fight have never been more important.

Locally, as you see in the headlines out of California this week, the National Guard is making a difference in helping save lives in our communities every single day. For the National Guard, this is business as usual. Our communities expect it, and so do we.

As I've stated earlier, the National Guard's primary purpose is fighting our nation's wars. And we continue to make a vital difference at the national level across all warfighting domains. For example, most Americans aren't aware the National Guard has a significant role in cyber and space operations. And in September a National Guard cyber team won the NetWars Department of Defense Services Cup for the third year in a row.

This year's team included National Guard Soldiers and Airmen from Ohio, North Carolina, Delaware, Florida and California. These winners embody the best of our National Guard, experts in their civilian jobs who use those same skills to serve our nation.

It's even a surprise to many people that the National Guard has some of the most proficient and lethal advanced fighter pilots and crews. In fact, last September, after a 19-year break, the Air Force held once again its annual William Tell air-to-air competition. Competing side by side with their active-duty counterparts in an intense competition, the Vermont National Guard won the top F-35 wing, the F-35 individual superior performer and the top F-35 crew chief.

In addition, the Massachusetts Air National Guard won the top F-15 wing, the F-15 individual superior performer and the overall weapons load competition, demonstrating our Guardsmen are among the best of the very best. If that isn't impressive enough, our National Guard team also took top honors in the most recent international sniper competition against 35 three-person teams from all over the world.

Lastly, you'll find the National Guard in increasingly impactful roles internationally. Recently, on a trip to the European Command area of responsibility, I met with Ukrainian troops training with our National Guardsmen. They were just the latest of over 7,500 soldiers from 19 different Ukrainian battalions receiving training from our Guardsmen.

A few weeks ago, the Mississippi National Guard replaced the Arkansas National Guard, who had been building up the combat capability of Ukrainian forces for nine months, building on training the National Guard and Ukraine have been conducting together for more than 30 years through the State Partnership Program.

These snapshots are just a glimpse at what the National Guard does every day, locally, nationally, and internationally, highlighting the fact we're as active and relevant as ever and we'll continue to be in the years ahead.

Our leaders wake up each day ever mindful of the responsibility to ensure our more than 430,000 National Guardsmen are the best trained and most ready combat reserve our nation can muster. By taking care of our people, maintaining readiness, modernizing and embracing reform, we will do just that and continue to keep our promise to America to be Always Ready, Always There.

Thank you for your time and now I'd like to turn it over to our Senior Enlisted Advisor Tony Whitehead.

SENIOR ENLISTED ADVISOR TONY L. WHITEHEAD: Hey, thank you, Gen. Hokanson, and good afternoon. SEA Tony Whitehead, the Senior Enlisted Advisor to our chief of the National Guard.

You know, our 430,000 Soldiers and Airmen are an amazing family, and of those, 360 [thousand] happen to be our enlisted force. As Gen. Hokanson mentioned in his remarks, our Guardsmen are on duty all over the world and oftentimes in harm's way.

I want to express my deep sympathies, too, for our three Army Reservists, their families and their battle buddies, with their loss - who - who actually served our nation bravely. And our 41 National Guard service members who were injured. They're back home and we'll be taking care of them. And those that are back on the - on the frontline, we know they'll do a phenomenal job. And of course, as the general mentioned, our five Marines that lost their lives on Tuesday, our hearts go out to them and their families.

Deployed service members often face traumatic experiences and daily struggles which can adversely affect their mental health. These experiences may not show when they come back home immediately, but when they return to their everyday lives, sometimes it's there.

Our efforts to address individual contributing factors alone will just not suffice in enhancing resilience against it. The National Guard is actively addressing multifaceted issues with regard to suicide. We're committed to eliminating the stigma around seeking mental health by revising our policies and to encourage those in need of support we are there for them. Additionally, through strategic partnerships, we ensure that all Guardsmen have free access to mental health services, regardless of their status or location.

Sgt. 1st Class Damien Jorgensen from the Nevada National Guard came with his team to visit my office this past week, and while there, he talked about the fact that they appreciated the chaplains coming to the formations because that was extremely important to their morale and welfare.

What he talked about most importantly was that the talk wasn't about faith, it was about his wellbeing. Because of that, he made the decision to switch MOSs and become part of the Religious Affairs team. This is very important to his formation and to the Nevada National Guard as a whole.

And it also changed his outlook, and retention has helped because of that, but that was one of the few - one of the few that were part of that team that made a huge difference over many. And one of the things that he wanted me to share is this - he said "we do have to report suicides," he said, but if he ever had an opportunity to talk about the lives that we saved, that number would be very large.

We've performed over 28 million in-person days for our communities over the past three years, and we've done that when we've been called wherever we were needed. Over this past year, we've provided ground and air forces to all of our - America's combatant commands, whether it was here or overseas.

Speaking overseas in the SPP program that the space - State Partnership Program that Gen. Hokanson mentioned, Chief Master Sgt. Camille Caldwell from the South Carolina National Guard, when she went over with the U.S. Southern Command, she had a profound impact through that engagement to talk about how Women, Peace, and Security would change how they do the NCO development and how females would have an active role in their military. And because of that, now we see the changes that have been made in some of their policies and procedures to have some females place some - play some very important roles in their NCO leadership roles.

I must also express my pride - and I know the general talked about some of the very, very impressive folks that we have, and we talk about the weapons systems - our precision - precision weapon systems. Guess what? Our Soldiers are themselves.

In 2023, the Utah and the Idaho National Guard, to include Montana, won the 2023 - make sure I got this right - U.S. Army Forces Command Best Squad. Best squad, not just the National Guard but for the Forces Command. In addition to that, thousands of miles that were put on their feet, rough marches, just you name it and they were there. These are the young soldiers that make up our National Guard, and then they go back to their communities and serve. Weapons systems in action.

And then lastly - and I'm going to wipe this ...


There you go. I didn't put the powder on there, sir.


We also want to celebrate Airman [Dhruva S. Poluru] and I want to make sure I said that right because I know he's listening. He's from the New York National Guard. He won the 2023 Outstanding American Legion Service Member of the Year award and the Air Force's 2023 Outstanding Airman of the Year award.

These are our Airmen, our Air National Guard, part-time members, full-time commitments.

As leaders, hearing about these personal stories and experiences for our - for our individuals behind - behind the uniform, both on and off duty, they are phenomenal representatives of us as a nation, and that reminds Gen. Hokanson and myself that we have the responsibility to provide them with the assistance and the resources they need, both on and off duty.

As you may have seen, our service senior enlisted recently talked about quality of life issues. I'm grateful that I had an opportunity to be an advocate for our Guardsmen. Just the day before, I had a detailed and meaningful conversation with the Chair and the senior members of the Quality of Life panel for the House Armed Services Committee, and we talked about those issues that affected our Guardsmen and their families.

I'm thankful for their dedication to the wellbeing and the safety of our brave service members and their families. And what they were saying to me is they want us to make sure that we had everything that we need to be always ready and always there.

And so with that in mind, I want to thank you for affording us the opportunity to tell the Guard story, and I look forward to your questions with Gen. Hokanson.

STAFF: We'll now open it up for questions. I'd like to start with Tara from the Associated Press.

Q: Thank you for being here. My first question’s for you both on Tower 22 and the attack in Jordan. You said that 30 of the 41 had returned to duty. Can you speak a little bit about the nature of the injuries of those that are still getting care? And then overall, have you heard back from - especially the enlisted who were there, how concerned are they about their security at that base, given all the increased tensions?

And then secondly, next topic, on F-16 training, without another supplemental for Ukraine, how much longer can the Guard keep training Ukrainian pilots? And is that going to affect the ability to get pilots out onto the battlefield?

GEN. HOKANSON: OK. Great, Tara, thank you so much. With respect to the conditions, due to HIPAA, we don't really release the - the injuries that they've sustained without their approval or - so with that respect, I'd kind of have to defer, and if we get that later on, we could certainly provide that.

But when you look at our Guardsmen, we've got over 8,000 in the CENTCOM area of responsibility, and we work very closely with the combatant commanders to help mitigate any risks out there. Sadly, no system is 100 percent successful in anything, but our teams have done extremely well defending all of our installations in the region. And so we work very closely to make sure they have the resources they have to mitigate the risk as low as possible.

But I will tell you, everyone in the National Guard now has either come in or listed or reenlisted since September 11th, and their expectation is that they will deploy overseas. They will serve our country no matter where that is, and so we've seen no change in that so far, but obviously, we watch that very closely.

With respect to the F-16 training, we do have the resources to continuing the training that's already started and we plan -- that's being conducted down at the Arizona -- in the -- Arizona, the National Guard. And in fact, we've been training over two dozen allies and partners since 1989 there on the F-16. So we'd be able to continue the training and hopefully get all those folks completed later on this year, and then if we decide to increase that, obviously, we'll need the resources to train additional pilots and -- and ground support personnel.

Q: OK, OK, great.

STAFF: OK, next question?


SEA WHITEHEAD: So thank you for that and thank you for asking about our -- our enlisted force in particular. I want to tell you, you talk about force multipliers on the field. They are the ones. You know, it -- it helps with the commanders and the job that they have to do, and those in particular that had to get back to work when they were able to, it's because they had that resilience, the resilience they get from their leadership, they give to their family and the community. And as the general said, you know, any -- any -- any issues or concerns about the medical welfare is something that we can't talk about.

But I will tell you it's their training, and just like with my niece, who is a member of the Georgia National Guard just recently deployed, there was what I told her. I said, "Listen to your chain of command, remember your training and use common sense. (inaudible) you may be in harm's way, but if you remember those three things -- three things, there's a very good chance you're going to come back home." And as the boss said, nothing's 100 percent guaranteed, but following those three normally gets our soldiers and airmen back home.

STAFF: We'll go to Haley from CNN?

Q: Thank you. Hi. First, if you can speak a little bit about the -- some of the National Guard air defense units in particular. What is sort of that looking like, especially in the CENTCOM area? Is there any talk about sort of beefing up -- you know, sending more units out? I know that's -- you can only speak so much about that. But anything about that in particular?

GEN. HOKANSON: So thank you, Haley. And when you look at the role of the National Guard, we have been involved in air defense for decades now. In fact, the air defense in the national capital region is being run by the National Guard, and has been for a long time.

Additionally, when you look across the United States, we've got 16 air control alert sites. Fifteen of those are run by the Air National Guard, to include our air defense sectors both east and west. So we're very involved in that aspect of it.

When it comes to those folks in the CENTCOM AOR, we do mobilize our air defense units and send them forward. I would really have to deter -- or defer to the combatant commander, Gen. Erik Kurilla, as to where they are and -- and what they're doing. All I know is that our units are manned at about 95 percent strength, which is really where we want them to be, that or above, and they're trained to the same standard as their active-duty counterparts. And we have been conducting air defense missions, you know, for a long time, to include back during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, where we were providing the base defense system for those, as well.

So our folks are very well-trained, and we continue to fill all those mission sets that we're given.

SEA WHITEHEAD: (inaudible). Just short addition to that, having had an opportunity to work in an ACA unit, as the general said, you know, the -- the history we have with understanding, one, our weapon systems, and two, things that we need to do to defend our nation, and making sure from the wing commanders in the case of our ACAs up to the adjutant general, what we need to have in place, one, for the fight back home, and then preparing our air -- soldiers and airmen to go downrange (inaudible).

GEN. HOKANSON: On ACA, it's air control alert.


Q: It sounds like manning is good...


Q: ... on those (inaudible). But is there any efforts -- I know just generally speaking, it's not just National Guard, obviously, but recruitment, it seems to (inaudible). I know there's been efforts...


Q: ... by the Army to try to recruit air defense in particular.


Q: Is that something that the National Guard is -- is trying to do, or if it talks about trying to bring in more air defense?

GEN. HOKANSON: Absolutely, and we do this in coordination with the Army. As they look at -- obviously, we all see the importance of air defense right now, and it looks like that's going to be critically-important well into the future from what we're seeing in Ukraine, as well. And so as a result, we work very closely with the Army. If they're going to grow capability in air defense, of course, they'll consider putting some of that stuff into the National Guard. And historically, we've had large numbers of air defense units that have changed over time, so we have the capability to regrow that if we need to.

And just briefly, since you brought up the recruiting, we're actually in a pretty good place. When you look at the National Guard, we focus more on our end strength, which is a combination of what we recruit, how we retain, and that now, we bring in people that have served prior. And right now, we're over 99 percent in both the Army and the Air National Guard when you combine those. But obviously, it's a tough recruiting environment, just like we see with everybody else. But we're doing everything we can to get at that to make sure that if our units are called on, they're fully manned and they can do exactly what they're asked to do, so...

I'll just add, as far as ADA is concerned, one of the things that we do in re- -- in recruiting for both the Army and air, but particular, for the Army and the ADA is our in-service recruiters. The opportunity to maintain that experience and those skill sets long-term, it gives them an opportunity if they want to continue to serve, and they may want to get out of the active component, they can join the National Guard, still use that skill set, and that will help with new accessions on the Army side.

STAFF: All right, joining us remotely, we have a question from Idrees Ali with Reuters. Idrees, go ahead.

Q: OK, thanks for doing this. Can you provide some details on, you know, there's a lot of talk about the National Guard on the border, on the Southwest border. Are you anticipating a nationalization or a federalis- -- federalization of the National Guard to sort of go to the Southwest border? Is that something you've had conversations with your leadership?

GEN. HOKANSON: Idrees, thank you for the question. And actually, I'm not anticipating that, and I've not had any questions related to that. There are multiple provisions in law that the president, the secretary of defense or the service secretary could mobilize or federalize the National Guard, but we've not had any conversations related to that.

Q: OK, just have a question for each of you on the Middle East, and then I have a follow-up on Ukraine.

My first Q: You know, you talked a little bit about air defense, but SEA Whitehead, if you would expand upon what the National Guard does. Because a lot of the questions I get is, what is the National Guard doing in the Middle East right now? Can you talk a little bit about the mission and the capabilities that the National Guard provides in the Middle East?

And then for you, Gen. Hokanson, with this attack, with so many injured, how angry does this make you? What would you like to say to the attackers?


SEA WHITEHEAD: I would have liked this question, but...



SEA WHITEHEAD: No, I will tell you, with -- without getting into the details of the mission, we are over there to support what our geographic combatant commands need us to do. What -- and -- and so it's -- and that's as far as we can go with that, is that whatever the -- would -- the -- the mission is for us in a support role or in a primary role, we will do whatever the geographic combatant command needs us to do, and we are very confident that the Soldiers and Airmen that we have over there -- very capable, very confident to have the training that they need, and they are getting the job done.

GEN. HOKANSON: Yeah. And Carla, I would just say, you - you know, our folks are there to provide peace and stability in the region. If you attack, if you hurt our people, we know who you are and we will find you and there will be a bill to pay much greater than anything you will inflict on us.

And like I said, we work very closely with the combatant commander - in this case, Gen. Erik Kurilla, and he and his team are doing everything to take care of our folks, keep them safe, reduce the risk, but then again, we also will inflict punishment as we feel necessary.

Q: Question on Ukraine, where are the F-16 pilots - the Ukrainian pilots in their training now? Are they on track, are they behind schedule, ahead of schedule? And can you, sir - as the chief of the National Guard Bureau, can you commit to provide U.S. reporters, like myself, greater access to the training of Ukrainians by the National Guard in the U.S. and also in Europe?

GEN. HOKANSON: So with respect to the training, everything we see right now, they're on track. Obviously, we get further on into higher levels, then that will - it may change. They may be more advanced or less. But we look at each pilot individually cause what we want to do is prepare them as much as possible, before they go back to Ukraine, to be successful.

In terms of access, I would really have to defer to OSD on - because they're the approval authority for access, but we will take that and - and follow up to see, OK? Thank you.

SEA WHITEHEAD: The - and I made sure I got this right because I did an acronym earlier - you know, our standard operating procedures and OIs are translated for those maintainers so they can make sure that the continuity of training can continue to take place when they have to go back to Ukraine.

STAFF: Next question will go to Meghann from Military Times.

Q: Thank you. So given that National Guardsmen are - make up such a big percentage of the troops who are deployed in support of OIR and they're being shot at more now than they have in the past few years, what are you doing to advocate for their safety with CENTCOM but also to provide for their care when they get back home and they go back to their civilian lives?

GEN. HOKANSON: Thank you, Meghann. So we work very closely with the combatant commanders and - and some members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. You know, we provide all the resources that - that we can to each of the combatant commanders. We can never meet all of their requirements but we work with them to reduce the risk to the lowest possible level that we can.

And so all of our Soldiers and Airmen that are deployed down range, they're aware of that. They see the security and the safety setup on each of our installations. So they know that our greatest responsibility is do whatever we can to protect them.

And then in the case where we saw the 41 Guardsmen, as well as others, that were injured, you know, we get them the absolute best medical care we can forward. We were able to return 30 of them to duty, as I mentioned earlier. For the one Soldier that's back here, I got a chance to visit with that Soldier. Doing extremely well, getting a lot of great care.

And - and that's really how we take care of our people. We know that if they're injured, they know they're going to get the best care possible, to get them hopefully back to work as soon as we can, and develop a long-term care plan for them if they're series - if their injuries are serious.

Q: And given that there might be some concerns about some of the air defense capabilities at these remote outposts, are there any deployable Guard (inaudible) - deployable Guard units right now that would be able to step in if the Pentagon decided they want to send more over?

GEN. HOKANSON: Brandi, in that case, we worked very closely with the Joint Chiefs of Staff to identify those capabilities that are needed and get them where they're needed to be. And we have answered every single request that we've been asked for within the Army National Guard, and like all of our formations, we stand ready to move or go wherever the mission dictates.

SEA WHITEHEAD: OK. Just simply put, our - our soldiers and our airmen, they're warfighters. They have an expectation that when they join, as the General talked about earlier, that they're - may be going down range and the possibility of being in harm's way is there, and we prepare them for that.

And in - in the unfortunate event that something happens, you know, when they get back, we do have the transition that takes place to make sure that before they leave their orders, we do everything possible to get the medical attention, the mental health attention, and even the services for them and their families before they return to their civilian career.

STAFF: Also joining us remotely, we have a question from Mosheh Gains, NBC. Go ahead. Mosheh, do you have a question for the general? OK, we'll come back to you. Do we have any questions in the room? Brandi with FedScoop?

Q: Hi, thank you both for doing this. Good to see you again. The last time we spoke, I think I asked you about 3D printing. This time, I want to talk about your drone priorities. I believe the Texas Air National Guard recently received and used an MQ-9 Reaper for agile combat employment operations at Scholes. Are y'all also working with and testing with smaller drones? Can you speak about that and sort of how you're thinking about deploying different drone groups and sizes in future operations?

GEN. HOKANSON: So obviously we're very vested in the MQ-9. When we look at the smaller drones, we're trying to learn everything we can from what we're seeing in the - the Ukrainian and Russian conflict. I was just in Poland two weeks ago and I met with our folks there, and they're looking very closely at - at what's working, what's not working, and we're trying to learn from that so that we can develop the capabilities that we need to not only defend our forces but also look at those that provide offensive capability.

I think it's too early to tell exactly what those systems will be but I will tell you it is very important, based on what we're seeing in the Red Sea, what we're seeing with some of our locations in CENTCOM, to learn as much as we can and develop counter-capability but then also develop that capability as well.

(UNKNOWN): Yes, sir, OK.

GEN. HOKANSON: Thank you, Brandi.

STAFF: On Zoom, we have a question from Steve Beynon, Steve, go ahead.

Q: Hey, appreciate you guys taking the time. General, are you - with the National Guard taking up the bulk of forces in the Middle East and - are you happy with the current state of doctrine and - when it comes to countering drones and the current deployment of anti-drone tech - rather, be it the ADA and for dismounted troops?

GEN. HOKANSON: Well, Steve, thank you. I - I would say none of us will ever be happy until we have 100 percent system that's going to work and - and protect everybody and everything. But the beauty of our nation is we have a lot of researchers and folks looking at all of these problems and really using technology and what we're learning on the ground to improve the systems that we have and develop future ones that are going to be even more capable.

So that said, I'm very - I'm very supportive of - of the work that we're doing. We know that there are issues and things that we need to face but we're working on all those each and every day, and we're learning a lot of things that we're implementing overseas.

But at the end of the day, a lot of the new systems that came out are going to require research, development, but that's where our - our country has a lot of great innovations, where I think we're going to make a huge difference in the long-term.

SEA WHITEHEAD: Just to add to that and I think the boss covered it completely but I'll just say that we don't send our folks down range unless they're prepared to go. And if there's any changes in this technology that's there, we make sure that training is in place before.

Any changes that we find when we're down there, these are lessons learned for us to get back to of course our commands and of course the United States - or should I say the DOD - so that those changes can be made, the training can be made, and new technology that we need to can be increased.

And - and bottom line is some places aren't safe, and where it's not safe, we understand, but again, as I said earlier, it may be a canned answer but we do have warfighters in uniform that are Guardsmen and they have that expectation that it may not be safe where they go but they are prepared for it before they go there, while they're there, and when they come home.

GEN. HOKANSON: And if I could use just one example is, so we held an innovation competition twice a year within the Guard, and Gen. Kurilla did the same at CENTCOM. And it was a Massachusetts National Guardsman on his own time coded a training program for counter-UAS and helped identify that that actually won their innovation competition to help train people to look for these small, unmanned aerial systems and prepare to defend against them. So it's that level of innovation that we really try and leverage in the Guard, as I mentioned earlier, with our cyber team -- really taking what they have learned and their civilian skills and actually applying that to their military job and making a difference.

STAFF: Question in the back of the room?

Q: (inaudible) with Al-Jazeera. Thank you, General, for engaging with us. In light of the last presidential elections, do you assess any renewed risks associated with the next -- with the upcoming presidential elections and its aftermath that require you to deploy National Guard, whether in D.C. or other place? And -- and are you actively planning for a potential demand for National Guard service?

GEN. HOKANSON: OK. So if you go back to the elections as early as 2016, is when we first provided support in terms of the cyber realm. We did the same in 2020. We had 18 states that did that. Right now, we have eight states that have identified their cyber elements, that they're there to help support the state to make sure that there's no intrusion in the nets, and that everything goes free and fair.

With respect to, you know, how the Guard would be employed, you know, if you're not aware, actually, go back to President Washington, the National Guardsmen involved in the inauguration from the president from the very beginning. And primarily, they were there to supplement the -- the D.C. National Guard to provide additional personnel for crowd control and other events.

But when you look at anything beyond that, obviously, on a regular basis we look at what we have learned in the past and anticipate anything, whether it's a disaster or a civil disturbance or even COVID, and we make sure that whatever we're asked for, folks are -- are basically manned, trained and equipped to do that mission set.

And so if asked to do anything like that, we'll make sure that our folks are ready, that they have the right equipment, they know exactly what their authorities are, and we'll support our civilian law enforcement agencies as directed by our governors.

Q: (inaudible) civil disturbance, and this is where I was alluding to, the -- the cyber threat, but I'm talking about domestic threats that came from the highest office, probably, in the nation. Do you have any assessment of potential risks that would require yourself to deploy forces, or can you assure the American people that these elections will be different this time?

GEN. HOKANSON: So we've had no requests at this time, but obviously, as we get closer to our events, we work very closely with the governors or the mayors of the cities, and also local law -- local law enforcement. Because at the end of the day, they're the lead federal agency or the lead agency, and we're just there to provide additional support or manpower that they may need. And as we get closer, we'll definitely keep a close eye on that, and we'll be ready for whatever they ask us to do.

Q: OK, thank you.

STAFF: OK, thank you. Sandra Erwin, Space News?

Q: Yeah. General, I was wondering if you have any updates on the possible establishment of a Space National Guard. The Department of the Air Force said they do not support that. However, you may have gone back to them with another proposal. Do you have anything to share with us on that?

GEN. HOKANSON: So there's a -- a congressionally-mandated report called the 924 that we're working with the secretary of the Air Force now on, and that is to look at what the potential options for the future are. If you go back historically for the last three years, the House of Representative (sic) has passed a bill to create a Space National Guard. It was introduced in the Senate earlier this week, and I think there's 12 senators that support that, which is the most that have supported previously.

For me personally, I've been very clear on my congressional testimony when asked my best military advice. I believe the establishment of a Space National Guard is -- is the best use of our folks that have been doing this mission, in many cases, for over 25 years.

But as we look at where we are, no decisions have been made. My ultimate desire is to make sure that no matter what decision is made, that the mission that the Air National Guard folks are doing in space has got to continue. Space is a very contested domain. Our nation needs every single capability we have. And so speaking with the secretary of the Air Force and the chief of space operations, Gen. Salzman, my commitment is to make sure that those missions continue because our nation needs it, and also to do everything we can to take care of our National Guard personnel, whatever that future is.

Q: Is the legislative proposal, is that for the -- perhaps, for the 2025 defense bill? Is that what -- is that what they're looking at?

GEN. HOKANSON: Yes, ma'am, exactly. Yeah.

Q: Thank you.

STAFF: OK, we have time for one final question. We'll go back to Tara from the Associated Press.

Q: I have a follow-up on the elections.


Q: Can you give us a sense -- you said there's already eight states that asked. Is there a greater demand now? Are you having to throw more resources at helping states protect their election integrity? And can you talk a little bit about what these troops are doing? Are they actually manning networks? What are they doing?

GEN. HOKANSON: So if we look at -- it's hard to tell right now. So we had 18 in 2020. We have eight right now so far. And what we're finding -- in some states, they've realized they need additional cyber capabilities, so they've achieved that. In other states, they're aware of it, and if they do not have enough, that's when they'll reach out to their National Guard. And we've got cyber units in 42 of -- of the states, so we're available there.

But the key is to -- basically, to help monitor to the nets to make sure that there's no intrusion or no attempted attacks at those systems. And that's what we've relied on in the past. Of course, every year gets different. Technology changes. So we'll watch very closely on what we do.

If you go back to 2020, it was not just cyber; there was -- well, it was really a -- they had COVID back then, and in many cases, some of the volunteers at the polls were in that most-susceptible age group to COVID, and so we had Guardsmen helping, you know, provide support to those locations, as well.

STAFF: OK. Thank you for joining us today. Please feel free to send additional questions to the National Guard Bureau Media Desk, and we'll follow up on those and any taking questions as soon as possible.