The chief of the National Guard Bureau highlighted the achievements of the National Guard over the past year while also advocating for health care for the force and urging Congress to provide funding to avoid cuts to training in the coming months.
Gen. Daniel R. Hokanson made the remarks during a briefing at the Pentagon last week.
He began by citing two numbers to demonstrate the value of the Guard: 12 million and 21 million.
The Guard has vaccinated 12 million people against COVID-19, in addition to the numerous other pandemic-related missions performed by thousands of Guardsmen in the past year-plus.
The 21 million refers to the number of personnel days served by Guard soldiers and airmen during 2020.
“Whatever the mission — combat deployments, COVID, wildfires, civil disturbances or severe storms — the National Guard answered every call in 2020 and 2021, as we have for the past 384 years,” Hokanson said.
Given all those efforts Hokanson said ensuring members of the Guard receive premium-free health care was one of his top priorities. Doing so would protect the investment America has made in its Guard, transforming it from a strategic reserve to today’s operational reserve over the last 20 years.
“Whether they are serving our nation overseas or their communities here at home, it is important they have access to medical care, so we can keep our promise to remain always ready, always there,” he said.
Hokanson also warned that the Guard cannot wait to be reimbursed $521 million for the Capital Response mission. The five-month mission involved every state and drained the Guard’s operations and maintenance funding and some pay accounts.
“If we don’t get that funding fairly soon we’ll have to look at not only August but also September, the last two months in the fiscal year, of either curtailing completely or drastically reducing our National Guard drill weekends, and annual training as well as our operational maintenance,” Hokanson said.
“It will have a very significant impact on National Guard readiness if we’re not able to resolve that in a timely manner.”
Following a busy 2020, Hokanson said the Guard is working closely with state leaders to address operational tempo to ensure the force can properly balance time with their military career, their family and their civilian careers.
“When we look at the future, we’re not really sure what it’s going to look like, but what we have to do is be prepared to meet whatever that demand signal is,” Hokanson said. “And so what we try and tell our folks is, ‘Hey, you know, we go back to our motto — Always Ready, Always There.’ We don’t know what we’re going to be asked to do but we’ve got to be ready to do that.”