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Army Guard Improves Readiness, Supports National Defense Strategy

Oct. 11, 2019 | BY Jim Garamone
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The Army National Guard is adapting manning and force structure to the National Defense Strategy, the head of the Army National Guard said.

Army Lt. Gen. Daniel R. Hokanson, the director of the Army National Guard, said the Army National Guard met its end strength and recruiting numbers over the past year, thanks to the efforts of recruiters and leaders at every level. 

Because of the nature of the National Guard — with forces in all 50 states, three territories and the District of Columbia — it is a challenging process. Recruiters brought in more than 39,000 new Army Guard soldiers this year, with 335,500 as the end strength, he said. "It's one of those things you can never take your eye off," he added.

One soldier examines an artillery piece as three others look on.
Artillery Training
Soldiers from the North Carolina and Alabama National Guard learn more about Moldovan artillery training and tactics during Operation Fire Shield 2019 in Moldova, Sept. 17, 2019.
Photo By: Army National Guard Sgt. 1st Class Robert Jordan
VIRIN: 190917-Z-OU450-1013

The majority of Guard soldiers come in off the street, he said, with others transferring after active duty service, but there is no overriding reason for young men and women to join the National Guard. Many come in for the educational benefits, others join for the training, while many come in because it is a way to serve their country and their communities, Hokanson said. "There is no generic answer," he said.

In certain communities — for example, in hurricane-prone states — guardsmen are viewed as a supplement to the community's emergency services. Guardsmen are on the streets protecting their fellow citizens and helping them recover.

And Hokanson said that's what they want. "That's what they signed up for," he said. "They are an integral part of the community, and the community expects that support. To them, they see it as a chance to make a difference."

While the domestic mission is important, that is not why the National Guard exists, Hokanson said. It's a warfighting organization with service members serving alongside active duty personnel and partner nations.

Soldiers dig a hole; some stand next to a howitzer.
Howitzer Prep
National Guardsmen set up an M777 howitzer during training at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., Oct. 4, 2019.
Photo By: Air Force Master Sgt. Matt Hecht
VIRIN: 191004-Z-NI803-0282C

"We exist because of our wartime mission," the general said. "It just so happens because we are trained to fight a war that we have the training, the personnel and the leaders that can respond to virtually anything. A disaster to them is 'we are just doing another mission set.'"

The Army National Guard has 27,700 soldiers activated now, with roughly 20,000 deployed overseas. "When I look at the 20,000 deployed overseas, I see there are 20,000 getting ready to go and 20,000 who have just gotten back, so we are really talking about 60,000, which is still just about one-fifth of our force," the general said.

He noted that in 2005, when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, the Army Guard had roughly 80,000 soldiers deployed overseas. A crisis like Katrina was an all-hands-on-deck effort, the general said. He later added that 40,000 Army National Guardsmen were on duty in the affected area within days of the hurricane making landfall.

A guardsman standing in waist-high water works with other service members to place sandbags on a levee.
Sandbag Barrier
A guardsman standing in waist-high water works with other Illinois National Guardsmen to place sandbags along a levee in East Cape Girardeau, Ill., June 26, 2019.
Photo By: Air Force Tech. Sgt. Robert R. Adams
VIRIN: 190626-A-FI215-914

The Guardsmen could see the difference they were making in the lives of their countrymen. "Our soldiers love to do that," Hokanson said. "That's what keeps a lot of them in uniform."

Given the end-strength today, that level is not sustainable, he said, but it can be done for short periods of time. The Guard must find the balance so soldiers can have civilian careers, Guard careers and family time, he noted. Hokanson said he has asked leaders at all levels to work with their soldiers to identify where the friction is.

We have opportunities in every ZIP code in the United States."
Army Lt. Gen. Daniel R. Hokanson, director of the Army National Guard

"Soldiers come in with the expectation that they will deploy at some point," he said, "and working up to that deployment will take more than one weekend a month." Still, he added, overall the Guard is approaching the 1-to-5 dwell time ratio, with some high-demand capabilities at about a 1-to-1 ratio. The dwell time ratio quantifies time spent at home station compared to time spent on deployments.

And once the units deploy, Hokanson said, they must be able to operate with service members from the other services, components and allies. 

Hokanson, a pilot, said he remembers when the active-duty pilots were flying Apache helicopters, reservists were learning on Cobras and the guardsmen were flying old Huey gunships. "Now, the move is to modernize the Army as a whole, not just the active component," he said.

Infantry fighting vehicle maneuvers.
Cavalry Scouts
Cavalry scouts from the Nevada Army National Guard’s 1-221st Cavalry Regiment, 116th Brigade Combat Team, rehearse tactical movements in an M3A2 Bradley fighting vehicle at the National Training Center, Fort Irwin, Calif., for upcoming live-fire missions, June 11, 2019.
Photo By: Army Spc. Dominic Trujillo
VIRIN: 190611-A-QC301-153

"The Army has to be deployable. It has to be sustainable. We've got to be interoperable," the general said. "Whatever legacy equipment we have has to be able to talk to newer equipment and operate with new formations."

The Guard is changing to bring more teeth to the National Defense Strategy, Hokanson said, and is in the process of realigning eight full National Guard divisions for the Army. 

"What we are getting back to is those large-scale formations — not just for capability, but deterrence," he said. "With eight new Guard divisions, you could create two additional corps in the service. It helps the Army with capabilities, and it helps the Guard."

The Guard also has to operate in a new warfighting domain: cyberspace. Hokanson said the United States is already at war online, and the Guard has formed units to defend the country and the states from internet threats. And these citizen-soldiers provide a unique capability to the armed forces and the country, he added, noting that one unit in Washington state is made up of people who work at Microsoft.

A soldier crouched in field of tall grass aims a weapon.
Tactical Training
Army Pfc. Brandon Benedicks, a soldier with the New Jersey National Guard’s Battery C, 3-112th Field Artillery Regiment, performs tactical training on Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., Oct. 4, 2019.
Photo By: Air National Guard Master Sgt. Matt Hecht
VIRIN: 191004-Z-NI803-0876

"Go to the parking lot, and there are some really nice cars on a drill weekend," Hokanson said. "They [join the Army National Guard] because they can do stuff on the military side that they can't do in their civilian jobs. They bring the knowledge and skill set and the abilities that are unmatched."

In August, the governors of Louisiana and Texas called up guardsmen when the states were victims of a large-scale ransomware attack. The guardsmen were instrumental in blunting the attack and getting school children back in classes. They also worked with officials in law enforcement and local governments to free their computers.

These National Guard cyber response teams will be extremely valuable moving forward, Hokanson said. "We really want service members who complete their active duty enlistments in any service and who have computer skills to think about joining the National Guard," the general said.

Service members and civilians sit at computers.
Cyber Training
Texas Army National Guard Sgt. Michael Russel analyzes network traffic during a Cyber Shield 19 training week class at Camp Atterbury, Ind., April 7, 2019.
Photo By: Army Staff Sgt. George B. Davis
VIRIN: 190407-Z-XR817-009F

Hokanson said he wants to make it easier for soldiers to transfer among the Army components. "We want to facilitate people continuing the spectrum of service, and if they are getting out, I want to encourage them to reach out to the National Guard," he said. 

"We have a lot of community-based forces, and we rely on those people who want to serve and be part of the community," he added. "Anybody in uniform who wants to continue to serve, we would love to have them. We have opportunities in every ZIP code in the United States."