General Praises NAACP for Making National Guard Better
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jul. 19, 2006 The chief of the National Guard Bureau thanked the NAACP here last night for its help in recruiting minorities and for making the National Guard better.
Army Lt. Gen. H Steven Blum's remarks came during the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's 31st annual Armed Services and Veterans Affairs Awards.
"Today, minorities account for about 20 percent of our total Guard force, and females account for about 14 percent of our total Guard force," said Blum, who received the 2006 NAACP Meritorious Service Award at last night's event. Established in 1975 by the NAACP's Armed Services Veterans Affairs Department, the award is presented annually to a serviceman or -woman in a policy-making position for the highest achievement in military equal opportunity.
"The NAACP helped us reach out into American communities and helped many understand the myriad benefits and opportunities in service with the National Guard," Blum told the more than 400 military and civilian attendees. "As I stand before you here this evening, we owe you a debt of gratitude and need your continued support. It's critically important that the Guard look like America. If it does not, it is not truly America's National Guard.
"We need your help in continuing to keep our young men and women free of drugs, violence and other activities that would prevent them from joining the National Guard," said Blum, who holds a master's degree from Baltimore's Morgan State University, a historically black university.
He said the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard offer the greatest opportunity for the youth of America. "You put them in there and there's great pressure to keep them drug-free, not to abuse alcohol, and they teach them character and values," Blum said.
Blum likened the military services' capabilities to the strength of diversity in America. He said when the services work individually, they're good, but when they work together, they're unbeatable.
"That's the same thing with race and diversity," Blum noted. "The strength of this nation is that it's not homogeneous. We don't all look alike. We don't all think alike. We don't all play alike. We don't all have the same physical attributes."
The smooth-headed general drew laughter and applause when he said, "Some of us are taller, and some of us can grow hair."
But more applause erupted when he introduced six wounded veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan. "They would go back and do it again," Blum said. "Some have lost eyes and limbs, and they would go back and do it again.
"That's the kind of young men and women you're getting in the armed forces today," he continued. "It's an all-volunteer force; nobody has had to serve in the last 35 years that didn't want to serve. And in the last five years, anybody that has joined the Guard or any of the armed forces know it's not a question of if you're going, it's when you're going and how often you're going and to what new place am I going to."
Blum noted that the National Guard is deployed worldwide, continuing to fight the global war on terrorism, helping to protect the Southwest border and preparing for a pandemic, hurricanes and disaster relief.
He said the Guard is better prepared today than it was last year for Hurricane Katrina. "We are constantly applying lessons learned, and we have more troops available, more equipment and a wealth of more experience," the general noted.
Blum reported that the National Guard is agile, accessible and ready to simultaneously perform operational missions across the full spectrum of military operations, from military support to civil authorities and support to homeland security to homeland defense at home and abroad.
Pointing out that the Army and Air National Guard represent every walk of life, race, creed and color, Blum said soldiers and airmen have a single focus: to support and defend the U.S. Constitution. "There is no finer institution of people in the world," he added.
However, Blum emphasized, the American taxpayer has got to ante up and make sure the military has the equipment it needs to fight the war overseas today and 10 years from now, so it remains the best force in the world.
"That's because we're going to get challenged," the general noted. "Our Navy has got to stay modernized, and our Air Force has got to get recapitalized and modernized so we have the very best airplanes, equipment, radios, weapons systems so we can defeat armies that are far larger than us and want to do this nation harm."
He said it's also necessary not to underfund the National Guard, so that when the next Katrina hits, the Guard has the trucks, radios, night-vision goggles, helicopters and the heavy equipment and engineer equipment need to respond to such an emergency.
If the Guard and other armed forces were equipped properly, Blum said they would be able to save more than 48,000 lives during the next Katrina. "We lost more lives in Katrina than we did on 9/11, or in war over the last five years fighting overseas," he said.
"We're the richest country in the world, and there's no excuse for not equipping the armed forces the way they need to be equipped," said Blum, who received thunderous applause.
As for the military's diversity, Blum said, the battlefield might be the greatest equalizer. "Agnostics, atheists and bigots suddenly lose all that when their life is on the line," Blum said. "Something that they lived their whole life believing gets thrown out the door, and they grasp the comrade next to them, and they don't care what color their skin is, and they don't care where they pray. They just care,'Can you save them? Can I trust you? Are you going to cover my back? Are you going to get me out of this?'"
Blum expressed pride in the organization's focus during Katrina.
"When Katrina struck New Orleans and America saw the suffering of poor black people on the Gulf Coast, I had a conference call with 54 state adjutants general - from 50 states, Virgin Islands, Guam, District of Columbia and Puerto Rico," he said. "I said, 'We have Americans in trouble, and this is what we need.'
"With that one phone call, 54 governors and adjutants general put aside their politics and their differences and sent anything and everything until they had anything and everything that Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, Alabama and Florida requested," Blum said. "And they kept sending it until we said stop."
He said the defense secretary defense didn't mobilize those forces; no formal orders were given from the Pentagon until six days after the Guard was there. "Nobody asked how we were being paid or how long are we going to be there," Blum said.
"That's why I'm proud to be the chief of the National Guard Bureau, because I don't think there's a finer organization wearing the uniform of this nation," he said. "We're second to none, and proud to serve right alongside the rest of the other services."