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TRANSCRIPT | Feb. 3, 2024

Lt. Gen. Marc Sasseville with News Center Maine and WABI

(Lt. Gen. Marc Sasseville, vice chief of the National Guard Bureau, was accompanied by, and provided interviews to, two news outlets during a visit to the 101st Air Refueling Wing, Bangor, Maine, on Feb. 3, 2024. The reporters were Donovan Lynch of News Center Maine, an NBC affiliate station, and Caitlin O’Connor of WABI, a CBS affiliate station.)

Tell us a bit about what you’re doing here in Maine?

VCNGB - … meet with some Airmen and some Soldiers of the Maine National Guard to hear about how well things are going for them, what kind of challenges they have. I don’t get out of the Pentagon very often, but when I do it’s great to meet some folks and see how things are going and what they’re doing for, not only the country as the combat reserve, but also for the great state of Maine.

Donovan Lynch - And what are some of those challenges that you heard from some of those service members today?

VCNGB - Well, there’s quite the gambit. Right especially here at the communication squadron and the cyber team, a lot of people are quiet concerned about cyber defense as they should be, this a thing that everybody in the country is concerned about inside the department of defense and outside the defense is how do we make our country more secure against cyber attacks—how do we defend the nation on multiple fronts is a big concern from the team here.

For the Air Refueling side here, Bangor and the 101st plays a tremendously important role in terms of defending the nations with the geography and the air refueling mission we have here, so listening to them and how do they continue to support the country with air refueling receivers essentially going across to the European continent, to Africa to central command is always something that we track.

And everybody was worried about recruiting—that’s a big thing, country-wide, that we’re looking at—how do we focus in on recruiting members that want to serve.

Finally, I’d say that sexual assault and how members fare inside the organization is also something that we talked about.

Donovan Lynch - And touching on that sexual assault piece, what are the conversation you’re having in the pentagon about, you know, stopping sexual assault within the air national guard. I know Maine has been leading the nation in kind of pushing these efforts, so what are some of the ideas you have?

VCNGB - So what we’re seeing is tremendous support from Congress, a lot of from congress to get better at the prevention side of things. And that support is translated directly into the department of defense, the secretary of defense, the deputy secretary of defense are very interested in robusting prevention across the force. A lot of money is going into, how do we hire a workforce that, to this date, past 10 to 15 years, I’d say, got really good at reporting but wasn’t very good at preventing. So that’s the next evolution, we need to hire some people that are professionals and can get us in front of bad things happening, not just reacting to them. So, I’m very encouraged by the support we’re getting, Maine has been doing a fantastic job of trying to get in front of it, like you said, very involved with it. Fundamentally, one sexual assault is too many, none of us want that we need to get rid of that scourge, if you will in the ranks and the country, for instance.

And shifting gears a bit, your visit comes at a very tumultuous time in the world. Obviously, three service members were killed in Jordan—what do you see the role of the Air National Guard in this conflict against these Iran-backed proxies.

Well, I’ll say about the Air National Guard, and the Army to a certain extent, but the Air National Guard is the combat reserve of the Air Force, and that’s how we see our role answering the nation’s call. Here with the Air Refueling mission, making sure the right capabilities and the right amount of capacity get delivered to the places that they need to be. So, we know that this is really a team effort when you look at the active component and the reserve component, specifically the National Guard, we’re all on one team working toward National Defense.

Donovan Lynch - And what specifically about the Maine-iacs, about Bangor Maine do you see as strategically important, in confronting these new threats that we’re seeing in the middle east.

VCNGB - Strategically important, what everyone looks at is the geography. We’re on the northeastern corner of the United States, very well placed to reach out ot the East, right, and as I mentioned, over to Europe, African continent, the Central command area of responsibility.

And it’s been that way for many years, right, we’ve recognized that this is a launching point and very strategically geographically. But the other thing we don’t talk about very often is the people. That is a strategic resource, and in this time when we’re looking at trying to make sure that we’ve got people that want to come in and serve and stay with us. And, those who do come in we want them to continue to stay, right, the retention aspect of how you manage your workforce, that’s also a strategic asset that we have.

The other thing that I think is also very interesting is the relationship the State of Maine has with the country of Montenegro—a NATO ally in a very challenging part of Europe—helping them get through their challenges, especially on the cyber front as we’ve discussed here today with the communications squadron.

Donovan Lynch - What do you see as the greatest threat, right now, to American peace and prosperity? I know that’s a broad question, but if you could weigh in…

VCNGB - I see several challenges, from a warfighting perspective, we’re opening new domains. Space is a warfighting domain that we need to be especially cautious of.

I think Cyber is also a frontier, if you will, that needs to be shored up and defended. I think the Department of Defenses has good defenses in place.

I think the country has some work to do to defend our critical infrastructure at the local and state level.

And then, finally, I’d say another thing that keeps me up at night is what does AI look like in the future and how will we know that we’re looking at and hearing the truth. That’s something that I think we all need to be paying attention to.

Donovan Lynch - I just have one more question, you mentioned the people a little bit. My question is really, with so many of Air National Guard in civilian roles during much of the time, and then coming maybe a weekend a month, what is the advantage to kind of to having that, to having a force that has so much civilian experience?

VCNGB - That’s a great question, Donovan, thanks for asking that.

The advantage that the National Guard brings to the country, and really I do think that the National Guard is a national treasure, is that we’ve got this capability and this capacity—and so we’ve got skillsets, we’ve got people who can do things, many more things than they’re actually trained by the military to do, but they bring that into the military circles when they go on duty. When they go on duty answering the nations call or when they go on duty.  And so, that in and of itself is a tremendous force multiplier. But the even better things is that we provide all that at a fraction of the cost of a large force.

This is a part time force, you use it when you need it and when the force isn’t put to good use and there’s no longer any use for military, especially uniforms, to do the duty that can be offloaded to civilian agencies. Then they go back, go back to rest, go back to their normal lives and their normal jobs and get ready for the next opportunity or the next time they’re needed. So, it’s a very versatile, very accommodating capability that the country has, not only the great state of Maine.

Caitlin O’Connor - You said you came to Maine a lot when you were little, you said you had family in Lewiston, and what does coming here today mean to you, your service, and just being here for a day like this, especially with your high ranking.

VCNGB - Well, it makes me especially proud, just to come back to Maine and see how things have evolved over the years. I do have roots here, I have family in Lewsiton.

I couldn’t be more proud of watching the Maine Guard grow and turn into the capability that it has become for not only the country but also the governor

They’re doing fantastic work here and I’m encouraged with every Soldier and Airmen that I meet.

Caitlin O’Connor - And that’s great, and have you visited other bases in Maine?

VCNGB - Uh, no really Augusta and here in Bangor are the places that I’ve been.

Caitlin O’Connor - And what’s your favorite thing about visiting these bases?

VCNGB - My favorite thing about coming to these bases are meeting the people and understanding what they’re going through, their successes, their challenges. That’s part of, I think, what I do as a senior leader working in the Pentagon is understanding everything that goes on here… talking to the adjutant general, finding out what her challenges are and so really engaging with the people is my number one objective and my favorite thing.