A Peek Behind the Curtain
Capt. Walter Jacobsen was a little surprised by his experience at the recent NGAUS Capitol Summit in Washington, D.C.
When he accepted an invitation to attend from his state Guard association, he wondered if the event was a little too good to be true. He would get admin leave for his full-time job with the Louisiana Air National Guard to travel, all expenses paid, to see for himself how NGAUS and the rest of Washington works.
“I thought it might be a ‘dog and pony show,’ something that just checked the box, not a lot of knowledge-based information,” he said after two-plus days of touring the city and hearing from a member of Congress, National Guard Bureau leaders and association officials.
“But it was very impactful,” Jacobsen said. “I like to see how things work, so it was nice to get a peek behind the curtain and learn about the relationships. I learned the messaging can be as important as the messenger. We really do need to be organized and synchronized, get all the states on the same page.
“Thanks to this visit, I’m starting to realize where we are on the food chain,” he said. “We really do need the numbers to advocate on our behalf because if we don’t advocate for ourselves, who will?”
Jacobsen was one 45 Guard company-grade officers from across the country who gathered at the National Guard Memorial, the NGAUS headquarters, Oct. 24-26 for the first in-person Capitol Summit in two years.
The event is designed to give attendees an up-close look at the legislative process, especially as it relates to Guard matters. NGAUS covers travel, hotel accommodations and meals. There are also receptions every night to facilitate networking.
To be able to see the big picture and sort of tie everything together is very valuable.
—Capt. Nicole Cosman of the Michigan Army National Guard
The return on investment, according to retired Col. Mike Hadley, the association’s vice president for government affairs, are more young Guard officers who are able to share with their peers how NGAUS operates, and where they can help the association make a difference.
It is one of the association’s two company-grade officer professional development programs. The other is part of the annual NGAUS conference. Conference OPD includes some legislative topics but has a broader overall focus.
The association pays for Capitol Summit with funds freed up since NGAUS paid off the mortgage on the National Guard Memorial in 2013. The association held two Capitol Summits every year from 2016 to 2019, but COVID-19 had limited in-persons gatherings in the time since.
Lingering restrictions precluded participants in October from visiting the Capitol and the Pentagon, two very popular excursions from past events. So congressional and senior NGB leaders came to the NGAUS headquarters to speak to them and answer questions.
Participants heard from Rep. William Timmons, R-S.C., who is also a South Carolina Air Guard captain, and a panel of congressional staffers. The agenda also included Lt. Gen. Marc H. Sasseville, the NGB vice chief; Lt. Gen. Jon A. Jensen, the Army Guard director; Lt. Gen. Michael A. Loh, the Air Guard director; Maj. Gen. Janson “Durr” Boyles, the association chairman, and the NGAUS legislative staff.
Most of the presentations morphed into conversations, with the attendees driving the discussion with their questions. Several questions asked of the two directors involved full-time support. The Army Guard has a FTS level of 15% of its authorized end-strength, the lowest in the reserve components. The Air Guard’s is higher (35%), but it has converted thousands of technician positions in recent years to the Active Guard Reserve program, which has led to some second- and third-order administrative effects, Jacobsen said.
“It’s not often you get an audience with the DANG,” he said of Loh. “He definitely seemed like he was engaged and looking for grassroots ideas and solutions to some of the problems.”
Capt. Nicole Cosman, a Michigan Army Guard officer, said the same of Jensen, the Army Guard director.
“It was nice to hear that what we care about and what we are concerned about in our unit is carried all the way to Washington, D.C., is fought for in Congress,” she said. “To be able to see the big picture and sort of tie everything together is very valuable. I learned a lot about the how and the why from why I do what I do from the senior leaders.”
“I enjoyed learning about what NGAUS is, what they do and how they help the National Guard,” added 2nd Lt. Chelby Rush, a Wyoming Army Guard officer. “I had no idea how much impact the membership does have on NGAUS and their power to lobby for the National Guard.”
The attendees also received an afternoon bus tour of Washington, D.C., including stops at the Vietnam and World War II war memorials.
“Part of the full experience of coming to Washington is seeing the sights, all of them monuments and memorials,” Hadley said. “Plus, we didn’t want to do two full days of death by PowerPoint.”
Jacobsen said he “really enjoyed” the tour. “We learned a lot of history about the city, a lot of history about the country,” he explained. “It’s what we fight for.”
Thirteen attendees purchased the new digital life membership in the association before they left. Jacobsen was one of them.
Hadley said the association is planning to conduct two Capitol Summits in 2022, the first one in March. State and territory Guard associations will select the participants, who must be NGAUS members.
The author is the NGAUS director of communications. He can be reached at [email protected].