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National Guard Connects Military, American People, Gates Says

By Army Staff Sgt. Jim Greenhill
Special to American Forces Press Service

ARLINGTON, Va. , April 16, 2009 – The National Guard is one of the best connections between the armed forces and the public, the secretary of defense said yesterday.

“Our best connection to the American people and to communities is, in fact, the reserve component – the National Guard and the Reserves,” Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates told an Air War College audience at Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala. “The fact that they have been turned into an operational reserve and have served in Iraq and Afghanistan and go back to their communities … has had a huge impact.”

Gates said that’s easy to see in any newspaper around the country. “All you have to do is read about what happens in towns and cities when our fallen come home, where the whole town turns out … with flags and lining the streets and so on.”

Gates was responding to a question that suggested that Americans are more likely to know who has won “American Idol” than who has earned the Medal of Honor.

Some people were concerned that an all-volunteer force would create an elite force unconnected to the country, he said. But, in fact, “the all-volunteer force is the best military the United States has ever had” – and the National Guard is a vital link between men and women in uniform and civilians.

Calling the all-volunteer force “America’s greatest strategic asset,” Gates talked about changes in the direction of the Defense Department.

“Starting with the roll-out of the Iraq surge, my overriding priority has been getting troops at the front everything they need to fight, to win and to survive, while making sure that they and their families are properly cared for when they return,” he said.

Among key changes Gates cited: fixing outpatient care, getting better armored vehicles and sending more intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capability into the combat theater.

Getting such capabilities into the hands of warfighters is a focus of Gate’s request in the fiscal 2010 Defense Department budget. “While the military has made great strides in operating jointly over the last two decades,” he said, “procurement remains overwhelmingly service-centric. … It’s so important to look across the services for joint procurement and joint capability so that a single service doesn’t bear the full burden of completing a mission that actually will involve all of the services.”

The secretary also stressed the importance of partnerships, using the recent spate of piracy off Somalia’s coast as an example in noting that the key difference between dealing with piracy in Southeast Asia and dealing with it in Somalia has been partnership capacity.

“There was a huge piracy problem in the Strait of Malacca, and hijackings were almost as frequent as they are now off of Somalia,” he said. But partnerships with other governments have significantly reduced piracy in Asia.

“The problem is that in the Somalia area, we don’t have governments like we had in Southeast Asia to be able to deal with the problem,” he said. “That’s what makes Somalia a particularly difficult issue.”

The National Guard contributes to building partnership capacity through its State Partnership Program, which pairs 61 countries worldwide with states and territories.

Partnership activities include exchanges by high-level military and civilian leaders. Military-to-military contacts bring state National Guard members together with foreign troops. Military-to-civilian activities focus on homeland defense, homeland security and military support to civilian authorities, including disaster preparedness, emergency response and consequence management.

(Army Staff Sgt. Jim Greenhill serves at the National Guard Bureau.)

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Robert M. Gates

Related Sites:
Special Report: Gates Visits U.S. War Colleges
National Guard Bureau

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