Big Picture

August 2016

By Cody Erbacher
(read online digital version)

NGAUS brings young officers to Washington to meet NGB leaders and see how defense decisions are made in the nation’s capital

Fifty-three National Guard company-grade and warrant officers were treated last month to a cookout at the home of the next National Guard Bureau chief, tours of the Capitol and the Pentagon, and an inside look at how NGAUS lobbies Congress.

They were the first group to take part in an association-funded officer professional- development (OPD) program that brings two officers from each state and territory to the nation’s capital. NGAUS created the program with some of the money the association saved by paying off the mortgage on the National Guard Memorial, the association’s headquarters in Washington, D.C.

The program is open to officers up to the ranks of captain and chief warrant officer 3. A second group took part this month. State or territory associations selected the participants. About two-thirds of them last month were making their first trip to the nation’s capital.

“The goal is to expose young officers to how things in Washington work and help them better understand the critical role that NGAUS plays,” said 1st Lt. Heather Bennett, the NGAUS Legislative Fellow and a Mississippi Army Guard officer who organized the event.

The whirlwind three-day, two-night visit began with a cookout on Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, in Washington, D.C., at the quarters of Lt. Gen. Joseph Lengyel, who received a fourth star and took over as the NGB chief this month. He spoke informally with his guests that evening and more formally with them the next day at the National Guard Memorial.

During that meeting, he sipped his morning coffee while providing an overview of current Guard worldwide operations. He then asked for questions and comments from the officers, who represented 48 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

Capt. Jim Roth, a New York Guardsman, wondered about a law taking effect next year that converts some Title 32 military technicians to Title 5 civilian employees.

Roth, a full-time finance officer with the 109th Airlift Wing, said he likely would be affected by the change. It could take him out of uniform on weekdays, a prospect that would make him feel less connected to the unit.

“I put my uniform on every day and my son sees me wear that uniform and that’s important to me,” he told the general.

Later, Roth said he was a bit amazed at his opportunity to speak candidly to the next top Guardsman.

“Nowhere else would I be able to get up and have a conversation with General Lengyel as I did today as a captain,” Roth says.

Lengyel was happy to have such conversations. He told National Guard, “This is the future of the National Guard. I think it is important they understand what I think we are and I wanted to ask them some questions.”

He also invited the officers to provide their thoughts about the operational tempo. As he parted he asked, “Can we do more so we can squeeze every bit of goodness out of the National Guard?”

Some of the participants jotted their thoughts on paper and provided them to Bennett.

The soon-to-be chief’s impressions of the group couldn’t have been better. “There’s an energy about them that makes me feel good about the Guard,” he said. He was also impressed with the new program undertaken by NGAUS.

“It will make them be able to do their jobs better if they understand the strategic picture just a little bit more,” Lengyel said. “The networking opportunities they have from meeting fellow officers from other states will pay them dividends over years as they go.”

Lt. Gen. Timothy Kadavy, the director of the Army Guard, and Lt. Gen. L. Scott Rice, the director of the Air Guard, and some congressional staffers also addressed the group.

Rice told National Guard that it’s important for the officers to be in Washington D.C. and observe operations “because NGAUS is what connects all those dots together.”

Kadavy said the NGAUS program “pulls the curtain back a bit to show really what we do up here at the National Guard Bureau. I think we’ll see benefits because they will go back to their states and talk to their peers and let them know what we’re doing up here.”

Capt. Charles Esteves made the 18-hour journey from Guam. A life member of the association, said he wanted to learn more about the organization to share with others back home.

“I didn’t know that there’s a whole museum dedicated to just the Guard,” Esteves said of the National Guard Memorial Museum that is located in NGAUS headquarters and was part of the agenda.

He said the visit gives him “confidence that the organization is heading in a positive direction. Everyone’s here because they want to be here.”

Capt. Johnie L. Brown Jr., a public-affairs officer from Louisiana, said he made the trip to network with some of his peers from across the country. He also wanted to get a better idea of what NGAUS does and share that with his fellow officers back home.

“We don’t get to see the full picture,” Brown said. “I’ve found that if you can see what the big vision is, then you’ll better be able to see your part in it.”

CODY ERBACHER can be contacted at 202-408-5892 or at


NGAUS OPD Programs

The fly-in to Washington, D.C., is one of two officer professional-development programs NGAUS currently offers Army and Air National Guard company-grade officers.

The other is the OPD program at the annual conference. The National Guard Bureau, in recent years, has authorized each state and territory to spend a small amount of federal dollars to send captains and below to the conference for professional development.

This year, the figure is about $300,000 total across all 50 states, Guam, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the District of Columbia. Those selected are on official orders and must attend all business sessions, their service’s separate session and special OPD sessions.

NGB has authorized a similar amount for E-6s and below to attend the conference of the Enlisted Association of the National Guard of the United States. The event is in New Orleans, Aug. 21–24.

More information about NGAUS OPD programs is available at