The National Guard is an integral part of U.S. military might that is changing to remain effective for the future, Gen. Daniel R. Hokanson, chief of the National Guard Bureau, said last week.
Hokanson and Senior Enlisted Advisor Tony L. Whitehead, the NGB chief's SEA, discussed many topics during a Jan. 24 news conference at the Pentagon on the challenges facing the Guard and its 430,000 service members.
"Today's National Guard is ready and capable and a vital part of our national defense strategy," said Hokanson, a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
"As a combat reserve of the Army [and] the Air Force, our soldiers and airmen are built to fight our nation's wars,” he continued.
"It is manning, training and equipping for combat that allows us to also serve our communities in their time of need."
While the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are over, the Guard still has 22,000 service members deployed overseas, Hokanson said.
"In 2022, we provided ground and air forces to all of America's combatant commands," he said.
"That included Army formations in the Middle East and Europe; global tanker airlift and fighter aircraft support; and training with our allies and partners around the globe," Hokanson added.
With an eye on the future, Hokanson and Whitehead have started examining "people" programs since everything depends on the Guard's personnel and their families.
Hokanson said about 60,000 Guard soldiers and airmen have no medical coverage.
"That's why the Healthcare for Our Troops Act is on my radar," Hokanson said.
The Healthcare for Our Troops Act would provide premium-free medical insurance for members of the Guard and the other reserve components.
"This is the right thing to do for our service members and their families, who often bear undue financial and medical hardships as a result," Hokanson said.
"Yes, there is a cost to this, but I believe the lost readiness costs are more than the price of that health care," he added.
Hokanson is also adamant that Guardsmen performing the same duties as their active-duty counterparts should get the same pay and benefits.
"Just like them, we spend weeks, months, even years away from our families, but to be side-by-side performing the exact same mission and the same duties and not be treated the same is something that needs to be resolved," he said.
"Duty-status reform goes a long way to address this inequity, which is also vital to our recruiting and retention efforts," Hokanson added.
On the operational side, the Army Guard will modernize its brigades and divisions to produce all-domain combat forces divisionally aligned with the Army as soon as possible, Hokanson said.
"This will keep us seamlessly interoperable with the Army, make rotations more predictable and give our Guardsmen more leadership opportunities,” Hokanson said.
"Most of all, it will ensure we are ready whenever our nation calls,” he concluded.
The Guard also has a role in the readiness of military forces far from U.S. shores.
The Guard's State Partnership Program is in its 30th year. The SPP partners state Guard units with foreign militaries.
The SPP's most obvious example is California's long-term partnership with Ukraine, which has been instrumental in helping the Eastern European nation resist an invasion from Russia.
The Guard's final challenge is modernizing the force.
"We created a 25-year modernization road map for all our major weapons systems," Hokanson said.
"We're in lockstep with the Army on things like multi-domain operations, long-range precision fires, main battle tanks, air defense, future vertical lift and more,” he added.
The Guard cannot show up to tomorrow's fights with yesterday's equipment, Hokanson said.
"On the Air Force side, we have 25 fighter squadrons, and we need to keep all 25 fighter squadrons because our nation needs them,” he said.
“These squadrons need modernized fighters to provide the combat capability and strategic depth our nation needs to deter our adversaries," Hokanson argued.
The full video of Hokanson and Whitehead's press conference is available here.
A complete transcript of the event can be found here.
— By Jim Garamone