Closing Thoughts - By Maj. Gen. Gus Hargett (Ret.)

February 2017
President’s Annual Report

By Retired Maj. Gen. Gus Hargett
(read online digital version)

NGAUS has many victories over the last seven years, but our association’s best days are still ahead

I look forward each year to publishing this annual report to members in the pages of our award-winning magazine. It’s an opportunity for me to reach a large audience and discuss what we’ve accomplished together in the previous 12 months.

This time, however, I will include a recap of my seven-plus years at this desk, as well as some words of appreciation for some of the people who have helped me serve as NGAUS president, a position I’ll be handing over next month to retired Brig. Gen. Roy Robinson of Mississippi.

Let’s start with our accomplishments. At the top of the list should be securing a seat on the Joint Chiefs of Staff for the National Guard Bureau chief. This had been a priority for years, but our efforts had always fallen short.

Thanks to friends like Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the co-chairs of the Senate National Guard Caucus, along with supporters in the House, we prevailed. The Guard now has a seat at the most important table in the Pentagon. The value of that cannot be overstated.

For me, one of our most effective lobbying efforts was convincing Congress to create two independent commissions, the first to study the Air Force and another to look at the way ahead for the Army.

Each of these panels was formed because service leaders and the National Guard fiercely disagreed over how our force was to be trained, equipped and utilized. Not only did lawmakers go along with us in creating the commissions, NGAUS and Guardsmen nationwide testified at their hearings.

Our impact became obvious when the panels completed their work. The final report from the National Commission on the Structure of the Air Force was made public in January 2014, recommending that the Air Force make better use of the cost-effective and highly capable Air Guard. It also called for retaining missions in the Guard that were set to go away.

The National Commission on the Future of the Army released its recommendations two years later, preserving the operational status of the Army Guard and keeping the AH-64 Apache attack helicopters in the organization. It also called for greater force integration.

The services have implemented most of the recommendations made by the panels. And relations between the Guard and the active components are now in a much better place, which is a benefit to national defense.

Many military members cite education benefits as a reason for enlisting. So we take them quite seriously here at the National Guard Memorial. When the Post-9/11 GI Bill originally passed in 2008, Title 32 missions did not qualify. This was supposedly an oversight and one we later fixed with the help of our friends in Congress.

Also, a NGAUS staffer answered a telephone call recently from a retired chief warrant officer 5 in South Carolina who had more than 30 years of service in the Guard, but none on Title 10 duty for other than training. For years, that meant he did not meet the federal definition of a veteran.

Now he does. We persevered on the issue of veteran status and recently prevailed. The federal government now recognizes someone with 20 years of service in the Guard or Reserves, even without the required 180 consecutive days on Title 10, as a veteran. No new benefits come with this victory. It simply lets thousands of men and women rightfully call themselves veterans.

That South Carolina chief simply called to thank NGAUS, as others have done. We appreciate their gratitude. It makes this victory all the more satisfying.

A few months ago, we worked with Congress to change the Federal Aviation Administration definition of an aeronautical mission to include remotely piloted aircraft. Without that change, Guard units performing this growing mission would have faced massive increases on their rent at civilian airports.

I could go on and on, but you get the point. We still have pending issues to resolve and we’ll have plenty of new ones pop up in the months ahead for which we’ll need your help.

We’re working now to resolve the problems with 12304(b), a new mobilization authority that gives the services easy access to the Guard and Reserve, but doesn’t convey the benefits other mobilization authorities provide, including the Post-9/11 GI Bill. This is one of our priorities for the new Congress.

Also at the top of our to-do list is eliminating the budget caps that are part of the Budget Control Act of 2011. Finally, there now seems to be momentum in Washington to end “sequestration,” but we need to keep up the pressure. The current budget environment has reduced our defense capability at a very bad time.

Another issue is the deployment-based early retirement program for traditional Guardsmen and Reservists. It affects only those who served overseas after it was signed into law in 2008. That means the very troops who inspired the program don’t share in its benefits. We’ll be working with lawmakers to find the money to make the program retroactive to Sept. 11, 2001.

Original Three Priorities

When I took this job in 2010, my priorities were to increase membership, bolster the reputation of NGAUS on Capitol Hill and fill the coffers of the National Guard Educational Foundation (NGEF) endowment.

Membership has proven a hard nut to crack, but we’ve done better than many other military associations, which have seen significant declines in membership. Still, a lot of Guard officers are benefiting from our work without joining us in the fight.

Many officers are under the mistaken notion that they can’t talk openly about the role of groups like NGAUS. It’s simply a case of too many lawyers being too cautious.

I would remind them of Gen. Mark A. Milley’s memorandum in June last year regarding military associations. The Army chief of staff spoke highly of them and encouraged soldiers to join, even mentioning us. They “foster military professionalism and development,” he wrote, and “increase the American public’s awareness of our mission.”

We would add that our association offers an essential link between your unit and the decision-makers in the nation’s capital. Your membership enables you to shape the future of the Guard.

NGAUS perhaps turned a corner regarding membership recently with the installation of new computer software easing communication between us and our members. Not every state is participating with this association membership software, as it is called, but it simplifies updating and renewing your membership. It wasn’t as easy as we had anticipated, but we believe the benefits are worth the angst.

When you become a member, we have multiple ways of keeping you informed. One is this monthly magazine which has received awards in recent years from Association Media & Publishing, a respected national organization that focuses on the communication efforts of membership associations like NGAUS.

We also produce Washington Report, a weekly e-newsletter that includes news you might not find in national or hometown media, from legislative issues to policies affecting troops in the field to news about NGAUS. And members receive our legislative alerts generated when action in Congress requires your attention.

When I took this job, I felt we needed to enhance our presence in the halls of Congress. That’s not a knock on my predecessors. Rather, it’s an acknowledgement that those halls had become increasingly crowded with organizations vying for the attention of lawmakers and the billions of dollars they control.

It had become difficult to be heard above the din of so many lobbyists pushing their various agendas.

If I’ve succeeded in this—and our list of legislative accomplishments makes me think I have—it is because of you, the Guardsmen who fight wildfires and terrorism with equal skill. No member of Congress can argue that you’re not worthy of the benefits, training and equipment we seek.

When lawmakers see NGAUS at their door, which they do often, they know the National Guard has come calling for something it truly needs.

One thrill for me in this job has been serving as president of NGEF. The foundation has a serious responsibility—to preserve and share the Guard’s 380-year history.

I’m proud that during my time, the foundation’s endowment has more than tripled, jumping from $1.2 million to $4.2 million, nearly halfway to the full endowment goal of $10 million. Thanks go to all who donated, especially those members of the Legion de Lafayette, a special program reserved for NGEF’s largest benefactors.

As you know, NGEF operates our fine museum. In recent years, it has opened an entire gallery dedicated to the Guard’s role on and after Sept. 11, 2001, including a memorial wall that lists the names of nearly 800 Guardsmen who have made the ultimate sacrifice.

We’ve also updated the World War II gallery and the one dedicated to the war in Vietnam. It’s no surprise that the number of visitors has increased, including high school classes that perhaps include future Guardsmen.

I have to say, although I was not around 380 years ago, there is no doubt in my mind that if those early militia members were able to see how we honor their memory and the history they initiated, they would be very proud.

In 2011, NGEF partnered with DRS Technologies to create a college scholarship for children of Guardsmen who gave their lives in the fight against terrorism. Since then, we have provided 56 students with scholarships worth $250,000. DRS provides the funds and NGEF makes the awards.

We also administer the Van Hipp Heroes Scholarship for Guardsmen wounded in action and the children of the fallen. Hipp, the chairman of American Defense International Inc. and an author, provides the funds with proceeds from his recent work, The New Terrorism: How to Fight It and Defeat It.

Nothing we do is more rewarding than administering these two scholarship programs.

Building Momentum

The annual conference and exhibition is a major undertaking for us and for the host states, but I’ve enjoyed each one during my time as president. In fact, I’ve only missed a couple conferences since I first joined NGAUS.

They are invaluable in so many ways, from the business conducted to the social events to the guest speakers. As you recall, President Donald Trump, who was then a candidate for the office, spoke to us last year in Baltimore. That continued a stretch of having at least one major-party presidential candidate address our gathering in every election year since 1992.

My association with NGAUS goes back a while. I joined soon after I received my commission in 1966 and I’ve served on the board and as chairman. But I was surprised when I took this job to discover how much our association is also a business.

Much of my time as president is spent dealing with that aspect of our organization. We have to keep the six floors of this wonderful building full of tenants. The rent they pay is a major source of funding. The ads in this magazine provide needed revenue, as are the dues paid by our members.

This side of NGAUS is largely invisible to members, but vital to our ability to advocate on your behalf on Capitol Hill.

As you may know, we had vacancies in our building that caused us to miss out on much of that needed revenue. Fortunately, because of our efforts and those of our management company, Donohoe, Amtrak has signed a long-term lease for three-plus floors.

Before I stop talking about the building, let me remind you that we shredded the mortgage in 2013 at the conference in Honolulu. I was particularly proud of that since I was chairman in 2003 when we signed the original paperwork.

Because we no longer have a mortgage payment each month, the board created two programs to benefit our young officers. One is the NGAUS Fellows Program, which brings two company-grade or warrant officers to Washington, D.C., to spend one year on the staff, getting a close look at the legislative process.

We also provide for two company-grade officers from each state and territory to visit the nation’s capital each year for a whirlwind three-day tour. They visit the Pentagon, the Capitol and the NGAUS headquarters, meeting many senior officials along the way.

Giving young officers this exposure to our nation’s decision- making apparatus will pay dividends as their careers progress.

This report is getting long, but I’m at the point now where I need to express my appreciation to the people who have helped make these seven years enjoyable and productive.

First is the NGAUS staff. Every day I am surrounded by people who come to work with one purpose—to push forward the interests of the National Guard. Our staff includes military members, former military members and lifelong civilians, but each one is determined to fulfill the mission our association has performed since it was formed in 1878.

I get a heck of a lot of credit for the accomplishments of this association, but it is the staff that does the work. General Robinson is about to find that out.

Also, let me thank the elected officials who have stood with us over the years. I’ve mentioned Senator Graham and Senator Leahy, but Rep. Tim Walz of Minnesota and Rep. Steve Palazzo of Mississippi, the co-chairs of House National Guard and Reserve Components Caucus, and Rep. Duncan Hunter of California, a former co-chair, come quickly to mind, as well.

There are many more lawmakers who understand the value of the Guard to the nation and have supported our efforts. I hope to thank some of them in person before leaving town, but I encourage all of you to show your appreciation to your representatives when they support the Guard.

Our work here is made easier often when the 54 adjutants general are involved. These men and women have credibility on the Hill, and when they are united behind an issue, roadblocks fall like a house of cards.

My thanks goes, too, to the members of the NGAUS board. Their willingness to serve is to be honored and I have benefited from their guidance.

And we are fortunate to have many strong state Guard associations with good executive directors at the helm. It’s obvious to me that where we have good state associations, we have good membership.

Lastly, I must thank my wife, Shirley. Not only for allowing me to be gone for so long from our home in Tennessee, but for enthusiastically joining me making donations to NGEF.

There are many people involved when we succeed. I simply can’t mention them all, but each one has my respect and thanks.

So my time at this desk is soon to end. I will leave town with many memories and great satisfaction. It has been an opportunity to do more for the National Guard than I’ve ever done before, even as the Tennessee adjutant general.

NGAUS is a valuable asset for the Guard and for the rest of the U.S. military. I hope none of you take its mission for granted. Without it, we would not today have the best Guard in the nation’s history.

I take pride in my role in making that happen. And I pledge to you that my work on behalf of citizen-soldiers and citizen-airmen does not end with my departure. I cannot imagine why any Guard leader, currently serving or retired, wouldn’t take every chance they could to advocate for their professional association.

I look forward to seeing you all join me in that effort. Thank you.

RETIRED MAJ. GEN. GUS HARGETT is the president of NGAUS and NGEF. He is set to step down in March. He can be reached at