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National Guard Magazine |
February 2024

'We need to think a bit differently than we have in the past'

A Conversation with the NGAUS President

Digital Version

Retired Maj. Gen. Francis M. McGinn doesn’t like sitting still. And he thinks NGAUS should have the same mindset.

The new NGAUS president served 40 years in the Massachusetts Army National Guard, most of it while he also ascended the Massachusetts State Police and helped raise a family.

He concluded his military career in late 2021 after an assignment as the mobilization assistant to the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency in Washington, D.C.

McGinn then took a demanding new job, one he just left: commanding the Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport Station, which is part of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority Police Department.

Through it all, he always made time for his other passions. He has completed the Boston Marathon three times. He also continues to play ice hockey, a game he began at age five. And he spent the last 15 years on this association’s board of directors.

McGinn did sit still recently for NATIONAL GUARD magazine to share more about his background, why he wanted to be NGAUS president and his plans for the association’s daily operations.

You left a critical law enforcement job at one of the nation’s most important airports to be NGAUS president. What was the attraction?

In my opinion, there’s no better job. We are the premier military service organization advocating for National Guard soldiers and airmen across 54 states, territories and the District of Columbia.

And I left the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority Police Department on good terms. I left a high performing team with great morale. So, I felt that I left Reagan National Airport in a good place. Of course, there’s some regret because you feel an obligation to them as a team, but there is no better job for me than this one here.

You’re quite familiar with the association’s history, goals and finances from your 15 years on the NGAUS board of directors. What have you learned about the association’s daily operations in Washington during your first few weeks on the job?

One, a new-found respect for the staff and what they do every day. I never realized as a board member how busy the staff is and how busy the Memorial building can get.

In February, we had the NATO Reserve Forces Committee holding their semiannual meeting here, while we’ve got state associations utilizing the Hall of States downstairs. We also hosted the Adjutants General Association of the United States. It’s been a whirlwind of different groups coming through the building.

So, it’s been a learning experience to see what we do here day to day. And it’s just great to highlight the staff and what they do on a day-to-day basis.

You already had the opportunity to meet some members of Congress. What did they share with you about NGAUS?

They all have the utmost respect and admiration for our soldiers and airmen and the mission we do. They’ve all been extremely supportive of what we do, what we need and how they can support us as members of Congress.

What are your overarching goals as NGAUS president?

I’d like to take NGAUS to the next level in some areas. One is our General Conference. It needs a refresh. I think we need to improve the conference experience for all echelons of our membership — company-grade officers, field-grade, general officers and retirees. It’s a very good event, but I think we can make it better.

We will continue to invite our senior leaders from the Pentagon, but I think we need to have more voices. We need to eventually create an agenda that offers our attendees more options. I want them to be able to choose among speaker A, speaker B or speaker C, and not be as prescriptive as we have been. So, that’s one way I’d like to freshen it up, but it will take us a year or two.

We also need to utilize social media more at the conference. We should be streaming some of the presentations, so we share the content with more members, perhaps some who have never had the opportunity to attend. Maybe even stream some of the social events. I think, that way, more people will want to attend in person in the future to take advantage of the networking and professional development opportunities. I also think we can market the conference a little better.

I also want to take a long look at the business side of the association. We need to do what we can do to increase our revenue streams, so we have the resources to do more for our members and the Guard. So, I’ll be looking at our budget in depth and looking for different ideas and different ways of how to generate revenue other than our four traditional revenue streams — the building, the trade show, the insurance program and membership dues — and then reinvest in additional legislative efforts or additional marketing and communications efforts. So, that’s another focus.

I think we can get to that next level of communications. I’m talking about podcasts and utilizing our studio more. There is a myriad of different presentations we can do. We can bring in senior leaders, we can bring in industry, we can bring in some of our company-grade people, successful businesspeople. The sky is the limit of what we can do. More external communications, I think it’s something we need to look at as well. We have a great team. There’s a lot of capability there. We just need to expand what we do.

Membership is always key. We’ve been somewhat flatlined at around 52% to 53% membership, and I think we can improve there. We need to improve there actually. So, we’ve got to figure out different, innovative ways for how to attract members. Do we have the right model now with just a dues-paying type of membership? Or do we go to some sort of a subscription-based membership in the organization? So, that’s something I’ll take a hard look at as well. And this is not an easy problem to fix, as others have tried. I think we need to think a bit differently than we have in the past.

On the legislative front, what are your goals?

Zero-cost TRICARE is the No. 1 priority. It’s more than just a readiness issue. It’s also a recruiting and retention issue. And I don’t think Congress currently sees it that way. We, as a nation, spend a lot of money recruiting people. Then, we spend a lot of money turning recruits into productive members of the force. Zero-cost TRICARE would help us recruit. It would also be an incentive to stay in. When we retain soldiers and airmen, we not only keep their experience, we also avoid the cost of replacing them, which is significant. We need to factor that return on investment into the zero-cost TRICARE discussion.

Zero-cost TRICARE would also benefit our civilian employers. They wouldn’t have to provide health care because Guardsmen would already have it. It would certainly make Guardsmen more attractive in the civilian job market. And our people would have continuity of care. No more worrying about changing doctors during deployments when they switch from employer-provided health care to TRICARE.

With zero-cost TRICARE, we may not have to have PHAs, periodic health assessments, every year, which takes one drill weekend out of the precious few 12 that we have. We could give those two drill days back to the unit commanders to do readiness training. I think that’s a real benefit that we’re not calculating into what the Congressional Budget Office has scored as far as a cost. So, I think we need to dig deeper into the financial benefits of zero-cost TRICARE, what is a real return on investment, and then educate Congress as we continue to advocate for this.

All of this is not going to happen overnight. Many of our biggest legislative victories were the products of years of persistent advocacy. We didn’t get a seat at the table in one year. It was a multiyear effort that finally came together. Members of Congress are rightly concerned about adding new, recurring spending to the defense budget. But this is the right thing to do, and it will pay for itself. Our job is to continue to stress those points.

We must also keep up the pressure on equipment modernization, a Space National Guard, fighter recapitalization and benefit parity. Our to-do list on Capitol Hill is long.

How can NGAUS members contribute?

Be a member, and then get involved. And there are so many opportunities to get involved. Whether you’re sitting on a task force, serving in your state, reaching out to members of Congress. It doesn’t have to be here in D.C., but in their district offices where our members live. There’s so much that we can do within the states in the different districts that can help influence our advocacy.

Are you going to encourage members to tell their stories?

If you listened to the National Guard Bureau chief recently on his briefing in the Pentagon, he must have had five different stories where Guard men and women won competitions across the services. So, we’ve got great stories to tell. I would argue in every state and territory across the country that we have success stories. Not just in the military, but what they do in their civilian lives. There’s so much that the Guard has to offer and the stories, I think, are endless. We need to keep telling them.

You’re a career Army National Guard officer. How fluent are you in the issues affecting the Air National Guard?

I’m getting smarter every day. Thankfully, we have a phenomenal legislative staff, and they are on top of every aspect of fighter recapitalization plans and other issues facing the Air Guard. They stay attuned to all aspects of the issues that face us as a National Guard. I meet with them daily on any updates that come in. So, I pay close attention to it. There are other resources and assets out there. I have one-, two- and three-stars who are offering advice and counsel. And I listen to all of them.

You spent about 40 years in the National Guard. Are there any people or specific events that shape your outlook on military matters?

You have to go to 9/11. The Guard I joined in 1981 is certainly not the Guard of today. I think 9/11 was certainly a game-changer and transitioned us from a strategic reserve to an operational force. And with that came a lot of the complexities and the issues that we’re dealing with to this day, modernizing our equipment and truly being able to fight alongside our active-component brothers and sisters.

What I see today is a world even more dangerous than it was after 9/11. We need to increase our readiness. We don’t know what’s going to happen in the European theater. We don’t know what’s going to happen in the South China Sea. We don’t know what’s going to happen with Taiwan. There is so much uncertainty out there. I think there are so many boiling points across the globe. I think we just need to be prepared to go into whatever theater we may be called to go into. And that risk will likely increase in the years immediately ahead.

Like most Guardsmen, you were part time for much of your career, juggling military obligations with your civilian career and family responsibilities. How will your background as a drill status Guardsmen impact your thinking on legislation and other NGAUS programs?

I think it gives me a great perspective, having been a traditional Guardsman for 40 years. I know from experience the challenges that part-time Guard members have. I know the challenges that affect employers. I know how that affects families. So, I think it gives me a phenomenal perspective on how every piece of legislation that we’re advocating for is going to affect our total Guard force across the 54 states, territories and the District of Columbia.

You have 34 years in law enforcement. How do you think your skills and experience in police work apply here?

I’ve had a wide array of experiences in law enforcement. I think part of it is, especially working as a detective, you develop acute listening skills. And I think that helps in communicating internally or externally and understanding all facets of an issue or a problem. In my career, a lot of it revolved around leading during crisis, experiencing crisis behavior and problem-solving. I spent a career working with other agencies. To be successful, you had to be collaborative and work with other agencies.

And then as you rise through the ranks in the law-enforcement profession, you see the business side of the job. You focus more on planning and executing a budget with limited resources. So, I think those duties and responsibilities transcend over to running a business like NGAUS. Lastly, I would just say spending a lifelong career testifying in multiple jurisdictions and levels of the judicial system certainly helps with preparation and any testimony that might be required up on the Hill.

At age 60, you still play ice hockey every Friday night. You’re also completed three Boston Marathons. Does this suggest you have a competitive streak?

Some may say I have a competitive streak. My wife and kids won’t bowl with me anymore. But I think competition is good. Healthy competition is good. So yeah, I like to compete. I don’t think it’s a bad thing. I think it’s healthy.

You come from a military family. Were you expected to serve, or did you feel a calling?

I was not expected to serve. My grandfather, my namesake, was killed in World War II. He was a National Guardsman with the 101st Infantry Regiment in Massachusetts. When he was mobilized for the war, my dad was seven. My dad never spoke of it while I was growing up.

When I joined the Guard, I just came home and asked my dad for a ride to the airport. I was on my way to basic training, but I never said anything. He asked me why I needed a ride to the airport, and I told him, “I joined the Army National Guard.” He was a little taken aback initially. I think my joining the Guard was difficult for him at first. After that, he became very proud that I continued to serve. He himself served in the active Army. He had a brother in the Army who fought in Korea, another who was in the Navy and another who was in the Marine Corps who served in Vietnam.

I also have a younger brother, Sean, who was a military intelligence officer in the active Army. He served all over the world, including at the NATO headquarters in Belgium and in South Korea.

So, I come from a service family, but it was never an expectation. It was never even counseled. It was never, Hey, why don’t you consider doing this? It was something I did on my own for the education benefits. And then once I got in, I found that I enjoyed the service and enjoyed the camaraderie and enjoyed the people that I served with.

You mentioned your dad and your uncles. They all served on active duty. You picked the Guard. Why?

As I mentioned, one reason was the education benefits. That was the initial draw for me. I wanted to go to college, but I didn’t want to burden my parents with paying for it. And I didn’t want to pay for it myself. But then, I also wanted to have a civilian career in law enforcement. The Guard offers the best of both worlds. You can serve, yet you can have a full civilian career. And I think it was the best option for me. And I think it’s a great option for young people today.

McGinn Grew Up in ‘City of Generals’


Many American cities are known for what they produce. Detroit builds cars. Milwaukee brews beer. Nashville makes music. Quincy, Massachusetts, retired Maj. Gen. Francis M. McGinn’s hometown, raises military leaders.

Quincy (pronounced Qwin-zee), a Boston suburb of approximately 100,000 people, has produced 18 U.S. general officers since the 1700s.

The list includes retired Gen. James C. McConville, the chief of staff of the Army from 2019 to 2023; retired Marine Corps Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 2015 to 2019; and the late Gen. Gordon S. Sullivan, the Army chief of staff from 1991 to 1995.

It also includes the late Maj. Gen. Charles Sweeney, who piloted the aircraft that dropped the atomic bomb on Nagasaki, Japan, that helped end World War II. He later joined the Massachusetts Air Guard.

Militia Gen. John Hancock is also among the 18, but he’s more famous for his large signature on the 1776 Declaration of Independence as president of the Second Continental Congress.

The living among the 18 know each other. Dunford and McConville sent letters of recommendation to the NGAUS board of directors in support of McGinn’s candidacy for association president.

Quincy is proud of its role in the nation’s defense. City officials built a bridge and park to honor the 18. Generals Park features 7-foot bronze statues of Dunford, McConville and Sullivan. There are also busts of McGinn, Sweeney, the late Air Force Maj. Gen. Stephen Keefe and retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Ronald Rand. The names of the other Quincy generals are engraved in the park’s commemorative stonework.

Mayor Thomas Koch officially dedicated the park Sept. 11, 2021. Many of the honored or their surviving relatives participated in the ceremony.

McConville told the gathered crowd that he is often asked, “What’s in the water in Quincy?” that produces so many military leaders. “What I tell them is, ‘It’s not what’s in the water, it’s what’s in the people,’” he said.

McGinn agrees.

“Quincy is such a patriotic city; so much history, so many statues, so many flags and parades,” he says. “Former Presidents John Adams and John Quincy Adams are from Quincy. But nobody there tells you that you need to serve. Growing up there, you just want to serve.”

“When I enlisted in 81,” McGinn adds, “a lot of my friends followed. Some went in the Guard. At least two went active duty. One in a Ranger battalion and one in the Special Forces. So, just in my small neighborhood of maybe 30 or so kids my age, at least four or five of us went on to serve.”

And one went on to become a general officer and now the NGAUS president.

— By John Goheen

AT A GLANCE: Maj. Gen. Francis M. McGinn (Ret.)


BORN: Francis Michael McGinn, May 5, 1963 (Boston, Massachusetts)

FAMILY: Wife (Kerry), two children

EDUCATION: University of Massachusetts-Boston, B.S. Criminal Justice, 1992; Anna Maria College, Paxton, Mass., M.A. Criminal Justice, 1995; U.S. Army War College, Carlisle, Pa., M.S.S. Strategic Studies, 2005

COMMISSIONING SOURCE: Officer Candidate School, 1984

MILITARY SERVICE: Massachusetts Army National Guard, 1981–2021

RECENT ASSIGNMENTS: Mobilization Assistant to the Director, Defense Intelligence Agency, Washington, D.C., 2018-2021; Deputy Commanding General, Army National Guard, U.S. Army Cyber Center of Excellence, Fort Gordon, Ga., 2018; Assistance Division Commander-Support, 42nd Infantry Division, Troy, N.J., 2015-2018; Assistant Adjutant General-Army, Joint Force Headquarters, Hanscom Air Force Base, Mass., 2014-2015.

OVERSEAS OPERATIONS: Iraqi Freedom, 2004-2005

AWARDS & DECORATIONS: Defense Superior Service Medal, Legion of Merit (2), Bronze Star


CIVILIAN EMPLOYMENT HISTORY: Massachusetts State Police (assignments included aviation security, internal affairs, homicide and general investigations, narcotics and organized crime investigations); Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority Police Department

ALSO NOTABLE: Enlisted in 1981 as a wheeled-vehicle mechanic; Member, NGAUS board of directors, 2009-2023; Member, National Guard Educational Foundation Legion de Lafayette; Former President, National Guard Association of Massachusetts; completed 1995, 1996 and 1997 Boston Marathons