More than 4,000 National Guard officers and their guests have gathered in Denver to lay the groundwork for the next year of advocacy on behalf of the Guard.
Meanwhile, Guardsmen around the globe remain busy with both overseas and domestic missions aimed at protecting the homeland, defeating enemies abroad and preparing for natural disasters.
The 141st NGAUS General Conference & Exhibition is in full swing, with professional development opportunities preceding the conference’s first business session, which began just after noon at the Colorado Convention Center.
Maj. Gen. Donald Dunbar, the chairman of the board, said NGAUS exists to tell the Guard’s story and serve the soldiers and airmen in all 50 states; the territories of Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands; and the District of Columbia.
Dunbar, who is also adjutant general of Wisconsin, called the conference to order and welcomed a diverse group of attendees that included senior military leaders, representatives from at least four foreign countries and hundreds of industry leaders. This year’s event has the theme The National Guard: An American Treasure.
Officials from all 54 individual Guards introduced their states and angled for bragging rights as part of the Roll Call of States. In one-minute bursts, states rattled off facts, cheered on local sports teams and attempted to one-up one another, sometimes in costume.
For perhaps the first time in the conference’s history, two states are co-hosting the conference, with Colorado and Wyoming providing support.
Maj. Gen. Michael Loh, the adjutant general of Colorado, said those attending NGAUS will use their passion to help improve the force for those Guardsmen who were unable to attend.
“We have become their voice — their voice in the National Guard as we shape today and shape our future and make it better for all of us,” he said. “Use this time to connect, to share, to learn from each other… This is what the National Guard is all about, the relationships we form at these events.”
Loh noted that while thousands of Guardsmen are in Colorado for the four-day conference, many more are busy around the world.
More than 4,500 are providing 24/7 support to homeland defense missions.
More than 26,000 are deployed in support of combat operations overseas.
And, with Hurricane Dorian bearing down on the East Coast, another 5,800 are providing critical capabilities to community partners.
Maj. Gen. Greg Porter, adjutant general of Wyoming, said the conference would highlight the Guard’s unique role as both a sword and a shield for the nation.
“As the sword, we are lethal and effective on the battlefield. And as the shield, we are responsibly capable in the homeland,” he said.
Porter said Guardsmen in Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas — states currently in the path of Dorian — are performing that shield mission now.
“We’re thinking about you,” he said. “And should you need our help, all you have to do is call. We are, as a whole, the nation’s guardians and we’ll be there.”
Local leaders, including Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon and Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, welcomed NGAUS to Colorado.
Both had high praise for Guardsmen.
“You protect the homeland. You’re part of our fighting force. You’re deployed all over the world in dangerous, dangerous places. And unhappily this is a more dangerous world than any of us would like to see,” Gordon said. “But I sleep better at night because of what you do. Not only because of the defense that you bring, but also because if we have a fire, it’s the Guard that gets out there, if we have rescue missions in our mountains, it’s the Guard that takes care of it.”
Hancock, meanwhile, noted the history Denver and the area where the convention center now sits has with the Guard.
The former Camp Weld was home to the First Colorado Volunteers before they marched more than 400 miles to what was then the New Mexico territory in 1862.
Those Guardsmen defeated the Confederate army in the Battle of Glorieta Pass, “saving the southwest for the Union.”
This time around, the Guard is not preparing for battle in the city, but instead preparing for the future of the force as a whole.
“We want you to have a great time in our city,” Hancock said. “The city of Denver is yours this weekend.”