The National Guard is living its glory days, but it must also prepare for the future to stay a relevant force.
The chief of the National Guard Bureau, Gen. Joseph Lengyel, outlined what the Guard has become and what it must be in the future during his remarks at the 141st NGAUS General Conference & Exhibition.
His wide-ranging remarks also touched on the burden that Guardsmen have carried during the War on Terror, an expanding State Partnership Program, the need for a Space National Guard and the numerous challenges facing the force.
Lengyel also briefly addressed controversial provisions of the National Defense Authorization Act that could grant NGB new powers of oversight over state forces.
“We are better than we have ever been,” the general, who is a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told attendees in the Bellco Theatre. He said the Guard is better educated, better equipped, better trained, more ready, more diverse and more tolerant than ever before.
“These are the good ole days,” Lengyel said.
The improvement in the force has been driven by the transformation of the National Guard into an operational reserve, he said. The force is now indispensable to the nation and a key part of the National Defense Strategy.
“To be relevant in today’s world, we have to be a lethal force. We have to be a lethal part of the U.S. Army and the U.S. Air Force,” the general said. “And I think we have continued to prove, over and over again, that we continue to do that.”
But as the National Guard approaches 1 million mobilizations since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Lengyel said the force must admit its transformation has not been without pain.
“Are we doing too much? Are we walking away from the fundamentals of our business model?” he said. “We have to understand our business model does have some limitations. We do need to have a period of time that is predicable that we’re going to deploy. We need to have predictable amounts of time in dwell where we can return to our civilian lives and stay true to our employers and families, otherwise our business model doesn’t work.”
Some pain has made the Guard better, Lengyel said. The force has found ways to train more efficiently and to better allocate resources. But the force must be careful.
In what will likely be his last NGAUS conference in uniform, Lengyel paid particular attention to the future of the force in his remarks.
In recent years, the Guard has become a central part of relatively new missions, such as protecting the homeland from cyber attacks.
Lengyel said the force must continue to innovate while adopting new mission sets and aggressively embrace divesting itself of old platforms, such as the C-130H.
“We want to be leaning forward into new and more relevant missions,” he said.
That includes space. Lengyel said he believes the nation will create a Space Force as a separate military service. And he said he has been vocal in the belief that the Guard must be part of the new force.
“There needs to be the creation of a U.S. Space National Guard,” he said.
Lengyel announced that the State Partnership Program, which currently includes 76 partnerships with more than 80 countries, will grow in the coming year. He said letters to states seeking partners for Timor-Leste, Papa New Guinea and Egypt will be sent soon.
And while taking questions, he addressed concerns over three provisions of the NDAA.
Section 1036 would grant the chief of the National Guard Bureau with inspection authority over Guard units.
Section 1037 would expand the authority of the president, in cases where state National Guards fail to comply with federal law and policy, to limit or completely bar federal funds from being received by the state and withdraw federal recognition of National Guard officers and/or units.
Section 1038 would allow the chief of NGB to appoint state property and fiscal officers and limits the officer selected to one who has not served within the state in the preceding 36 months.
Lengyel said the provisions sound reasonable to him, but the decision ultimately lies with Congress.
“If Congress wants me to have that oversight authority and responsibility then they have to give me those authorities,” he said.
Lengyel cut his visit to the NGAUS conference short this year in response to Hurricane Dorian approaching the East Coast. The general said he would fly from Denver to Washington, D.C. to meet with FEMA officials and President Trump ahead of the storm.