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Remarks by Gen. Daniel R. Hokanson, Chief of the National Guard Bureau, at the 144th General Conference of the National Guard Association of the United States (As Prepared)

 Earlier this year, right here in Columbus, The Ohio State University
successfully trademarked the word "The."  And in The spirit of that victory
for The Ohio State, and perhaps much to the dismay of our folks from
Michigan and Pennsylvania, I'd like to welcome you to The 144th NGAUS
Conference.  I'd like to thank Major General Boyles and The Board of
Directors, and all The folks at NGAUS for giving us The chance to come
together, and for giving me The opportunity to speak with you.  

In all seriousness, thank you for taking the time to be part of this
weekend.  This is my third NGAUS conference as Chief, but only the second
one in person.  And it makes me realize how much has changed since I took
this job on August 3, 2020.  

The summer I started this job was the National Guard's largest mobilization
since World War II.  We were still serving in Afghanistan.  During hurricane
season, named storms stretched into the Greek alphabet.  Out west, wildfires
destroyed more than 10 million acres, razed more than 10,000 buildings, and
killed at least 37 people. We were involved in civil disturbance operations
in multiple communities, and there was no COVID vaccine.  On any given day,
over 60,000 Guardsmen were serving our communities, and our Nation, around
the globe.   

Fast-forward to today.  There is a new National Defense Strategy, which
names China as our pacing challenge.  Our mission in Afghanistan is over.
We are six months into Russia's brutal invasion of Ukraine, we are training
our Ukrainian counterparts, and providing them materiel support.  
There is a COVID vaccine-and the National Guard has helped vaccinate
millions of Americans across our country.  

Unfortunately, natural disasters persist, breaking records in all the worst
ways.  We've responded to wildfires in New Mexico and Yosemite, floods in
Kentucky and Montana, and tornadoes in New Orleans - just to name a few. 

And yet we still meet every mission.  We still met every deployment.  We
still uphold our promise to America: Always Ready, Always There.  

And that's where I find myself, halfway through my tenure as Chief of the
National Guard Bureau.  I am humbled by the dedication of our Soldiers and
Airmen, and their families. 

I am inspired by the difference we're making all around the world-the
Ukrainian soldiers we're training in Germany; the Afghan refugees we've
helped evacuate and then resettle; the souls we've saved from fires and
floods.  

I am proud to share our stories and represent our Guardsmen before members
of Congress, heads of state, and among the Joint Chiefs.

And. I'm shocked by how fast the time is going.how much we've managed to
accomplish.and how much more we have to do.  I'm at the halfway point in my
time as Chief-but that doesn't necessarily mean we're halfway to the finish
line.  

But I'm a runner, and I've always used a negative split strategy-running the
second half of my race stronger and faster than the first.  And with that in
mind, I want to give you a sense of what we've done since last year's
conference, the state of our current initiatives, and what we are working on
for the years ahead.  

Last year, I introduced our priorities: People, Readiness, Modernization,
and Reform.  These aren't aspirational messages or empty platitudes-they
came with real, concrete initiatives.  
And at the last conference, I promised I'd come back this year and give you
a report on what we've accomplished.  So, I want to take a few minutes to
talk about some of these initiatives-where we've made progress, and where we
still have work to do.  

I want to start with people, because that's where everything starts-the
Soldiers and Airmen in our formations who carry out our missions, and the
families who support them.  That means starting with the biggest initiative
of all-healthcare. 
 
Today, there are approximately 60,000 Guardsmen who don't have health
insurance-so they don't get the healthcare they need when they aren't in a
duty status.  

Even our Guardsmen who have healthcare coverage through their civilian
employer face challenges when they change duty status.  Moving between
civilian healthcare and Tricare can create gaps in coverage.  This can cause
stress and undue financial and medical hardships for our Soldiers and
Airmen, and their families.  All of these things impact our readiness-and
not in a good way.  

We carry this message everywhere, and a common response we hear is: "It
costs too much", or, "we can't afford healthcare for our part-time force."  

My response is: The National Guard is twenty percent of our Joint Force, and
our Nation cannot deter, or fight and win our wars, without the National
Guard.  And lost readiness costs more than the price of healthcare.  
My message to our elected leaders is clear: Our National Guardsmen need
healthcare, regardless of duty status.  We fight the same wars as our active
duty counterparts.  We spend weeks, months, even years away from our
families like our active duty counterparts.  But unlike our active duty
counterparts, we leave civilian careers behind to serve our Nation.  

It is both a strategic and moral imperative.  It is an essential component
of our readiness.  It is vital to our recruiting and retention efforts.  We
must provide healthcare coverage for every single person who serves in
uniform so they are always ready to fulfill our promise to America.

I have made healthcare a top priority of my time as Chief, and I will
continue to advocate for it every chance I can until we accomplish this
critically important initiative.   

Healthcare is not the only issue affecting our Soldiers and Airmen and their
readiness.  The fact is, the National Guard is a balancing act between our
civilian lives and families, and our military service.  And too often, our
service members find themselves out of balance.  Maybe they're part of a
family where both parents serve in the military, leaving no one to provide
childcare on a drill weekend.  Or maybe their spouse works on the weekends,
or maybe they're a single parent.  If we ask our service members to choose
between their careers and their families, in the long run, we're going to
lose.  

That's why the Army National Guard is piloting a drill weekend childcare
program across six states starting in October.  The drill weekend child care
initiative helps Soldiers with community-based childcare, so they can better
balance their family's needs with their military service.  No one in uniform
serves alone-and when we prioritize people, that includes prioritizing our
strongest supporters and our greatest advocates - our families.  

The second update I want to share is about readiness-how rapidly we respond
to Joint Force requirements, and the needs of our communities.  There are
clear and compelling reasons to prioritize readiness, not the least of which
are two nuclear-capable strategic competitors and a broad range of ongoing
operations.  But the truth is, readiness has taken a hit in the past two
years.  

There's hardly an institution in our society untouched by COVID-19.  It
changed how people worked, how kids went to school, how people spent their
time, and how the economy functioned.  The National Guard is no exception.
COVID affected our most important job-how we train to fight and win
America's wars.  Fewer in-person drill weekends, more demands at work and at
home, less time to PT.these all add up.  Our readiness atrophied-and we must
build it back.  

Fortunately, it's not all bad news.  Last year, I talked about Army Guard
division alignment, and mandatory training across our entire force.  These
initiatives will enhance our readiness as we prepare for the future and the
possibility of large-scale combat operations.  

Many of our Guardsmen have spent their entire careers training for and
fighting in a counterinsurgency environment.  Now the landscape is
different.  The threat is different.  And it requires a different approach.


By the fall of 2027, the Army National Guard will be divisionally aligned to
the greatest extent possible.  This will help us remain interoperable with
the Army and the Joint Force, make deployments and rotations more
predictable, and allow us to better manage our talent by providing
opportunities for leadership development.  But most of all, it will ensure
we are ready-ready to deter, ready to respond, ready to fight, and ready to
win.  

Last month, I had the opportunity to see division-aligned training in action
at the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk.  
The California National Guard's 79th Infantry Brigade Combat Team tested
their readiness during a demanding two-week exercise.  And, their higher
command, the California National Guard's 40th Infantry Division, supported
them with a division tactical command post.  Our Guardsmen gained experience
setting up and moving the command post, and providing information to the
commanding general-despite communication challenges and enemy threats.  

This makes all our Soldiers - active, guard and reserve - more efficient and
effective on the battlefield.  It also helps us develop future leaders,
build relationships, maximize training opportunities, and prepare for future
combat.  That's what our jobs are all about.  

Readiness is not just about rotations and deployments however - it's also
about how we train.  And given the strategic environment, we have to find
the right balance between building readiness and mandatory training
requirements.    

Since we spoke last year, NGB has worked closely with the 54 and the Army
and Air Force to reduce the annual training burden on our Soldiers and
Airmen.  Our objective: Fit annual training requirements into a single drill
weekend. And we're almost there!  The Army eliminated 16 mandatory
requirements and reduced 38 administrative burdens on our Soldiers.  The Air
Force eliminated 15 mandatory requirements, consolidated 16 training
courses, and established a process to evaluate training requirements.  

Thanks to those changes, Army Guard mandatory training can now be completed
in two IDT days, and the Air Guard is getting closer to that objective.  In
addition, the Air Guard continues to work with the Air Force to refine
training requirements.  They're also exploring an initiative that would
allow Airmen to "test out" of certain training events.  We're making real
progress, and that progress ultimately translates to readiness.  

But with all of these structural changes to improve readiness as an
organization, I need to say a few words about individual readiness-where it
all begins.  Your health and resilience-both physical and mental-is vital to
readiness.  It's not just about the miles you run or the ways you manage
stress, although both are very important.  It's about being ready to step
into your formation and do your job whenever the call comes.  And if you're
not trained, out of shape, sick or injured, it impacts the entire team.  

Part of this is medical readiness, which includes vaccinations.  For some,
the COVID vaccine has become a symbol-a symbol of compassion, a symbol of
submission, a symbol of political affiliation.  But it's not a symbol-it's
essential to our readiness.  I've said it before: Vaccinating every eligible
member of our National Guard will improve readiness and help us keep our
promise to be Always Ready, Always There.  I don't say this to be
controversial-I say this because it is a requirement, and we have a job to
do, and it takes every single Guardsman do it.  That's why we get ready,
stay ready, and remain ready-so we can answer the call when it comes.  

Like when rainfall in eastern Kentucky turned into a deadly flash flood.
Just after 8:00 in the morning of Thursday, July 28, members of the Kentucky
Air National Guard's 123rd Special Tactics Squadron received news of the
disaster.  They hadn't yet been tasked to respond, but the team showed up
and began to prepare their gear.  By 9:00, their orders came in.  By 10:00,
they were out the door with a very special asset-Callie, the only
search-and-rescue-certified canine in the United States military.  

Seventeen members of the Special Tactics Squadron hit the road by truck and
by boat.  Another six members-and Callie-departed by helicopter.  Over the
next four days, they rescued 19 stranded people, directed operations that
rescued or assisted 40 others, coordinated 29 rotary aircraft missions, and
recovered four flood victims, helping give families' closure.   

They were joined in their lifesaving efforts by the Kentucky National
Guard's 63rd Theater Aviation Brigade, and aviation crews from the West
Virginia and Tennessee National Guards.  Together, they rescued more than
500 people from the flood.  In a county's darkest hours, these Soldiers and
Airmen lived up to their promise to be "Always Ready, Always There."  

Readiness begins with the individual, but modernization begins as an
enterprise.  We work in a system of systems-our states, our parent services,
the Joint Force, and our partnerships at every level.  All of these elements
affect modernization-personnel, equipment, training, processes, and more.   

Last year, I talked about our 25 year strategic plans and NGREA funding.  So
I want to give you an update.
The good news is we've successfully included the Army Guard, Air Guard, and
the Air Guard's space missions in their respective services' modernization
programs.  We've created a modernization roadmap for all the Guard's major
weapons systems.  And we've successfully linked NGREA to the National
Defense Strategy, Service and Combatant Command priorities, and Domestic
Operations requirements.  These are all positive developments-and they show
how far we've come as an operational force. 
 
The bad news is being included in a modernization program is not the same as
being integrated into future force design.  A roadmap is not a substitute
for a line item in a budget, and making the case for NGREA is not the same
as ensuring consistent, reliable NGREA funding.  
As a result, we continue to work with the senior leadership of the Army and
the Air Force, and continue to make our case on Capitol Hill.  NGAUS
continues to advocate for our most pressing modernization needs, from MILCON
to our fighter fleet, from Black Hawks to C-130s.  

NGREA continues to help provide off-the-shelf solutions we can use in
combat, and to help our communities.  But we must remain relentless in
pursuing our goal of deployable, sustainable and interoperable equipment and
force structure.  This will always be a vital priority.  

This is very evident in the Air National Guard, which  provides 30 percent
of the Air Force's operational capability.  Our 25 fighter squadrons are
critical to our Nation's defense.  But we have squadrons with older
aircraft-F-15Cs and Ds, pre-block F-16s, and A-10s.  
We need to recapitalize these squadrons.  We need new fighters.  Otherwise,
the capability and capacity the Air Guard provides to our Nation's air
readiness, air deterrence, and air interoperability, could be in jeopardy.  

We've proven the National Guard is an operational force-but that's not
enough.  We must be an operational force that is modernized so we are fully
interoperable with the Joint Force, and our partners and allies.  

But modernization is only as powerful as the organization that implements
it.  That's the driver behind my fourth priority, reform.  The National
Guard Bureau exists to maximize performance and accountability-to support
the 54 so our formations remain integral to our Nation's defense and the
Joint Force.  
The mission always comes first-and finding ways to be more efficient and
effective only makes us stronger.  

That's why I'm excited about the progress we've made in implementing the 10
percent telework initiative, which I discussed last year.  Since then, a
working group has been developing a policy to find the right mix of remote
work and telework opportunities for NGB positions.  In the coming months,
we'll finalize and implement an execution plan.  

This initiative has a number of benefits: It improves communication between
NGB and the states.  It helps retain highly-skilled, talented team
members-and helps us better manage our talent.  It increases skills,
knowledge, experience, and capabilities for both Title 10 and Title 32
Guardsmen.  
It makes our Guardsmen more competitive for senior positions and future
command opportunities.  It makes states more inclined to share their best
talent to support the 54 at NGB, knowing those service members can still be
part of their formations.  It helps our Guardsmen pursue valuable career
opportunities without uprooting their families.  It improves
readiness-another critical goal.  But most of all, it brings us closer to
being the agile, adaptable, integrated force we need to be, so we can remain
Always Ready, Always There.  

Reform also means empowering our people.  Each of you, our Soldiers and
Airmen, and our families, bring a wealth of talent, experience, and
abilities to our organization.  

Over the past two decades, the National Guard has grown in professionalism,
and we've taken on greater roles and responsibilities.  As a member of the
Joint Chiefs of Staff, the National Guard has decision-making
responsibilities at the Joint Force level.  But we need more opportunities
to integrate National Guard senior officers and senior NCOs throughout the
Joint enterprise.  This includes transforming the Vice Chief's position to a
four-star role.  We are not asking for special treatment-we're asking for
empowerment commensurate with all we do.  Our Guardsmen perform at the
highest levels - so we must represent and advocate for them at the highest
levels, too.  

We've done a lot to move forward on these priorities-but there are still
hurdles we've yet to clear.  Namely, there is not a clear future for Airmen
and our Air Guard formations performing space missions.  
The fact is, we're been doing important, valuable, difficult-to-replace work
in the space domain for over 25 years - and we, like many others here today,
continue to advocate for our space professionals. 

I know this is a list of ambitious goals-but there are actually many more
we're working on.  Chief among them is continuing to expand our State
Partnership Program.  The 2022 National Defense Strategy is clear:
Mutually-beneficial alliances and partnerships are an enduring strength.
They are critical for achieving our objectives, and we have been doing it
for almost 30 years.

In 1993, when the SPP began, the first three partner countries were Latvia,
Lithuania, and Estonia-Baltic nations who knew the brutality of Soviet rule.
I visited all three in July.  
In Estonia, who is partnered with Maryland, I visited a cyber defense
center; Estonia has become an international leader in cyber defense after
their nation was crippled by a Russian cyber-attack in 2007.   In Latvia,
who is partnered with Michigan, I visited a multination NATO division
headquarters.  
On my last day, in Lithuania, who is partnered with Pennsylvania, I visited
the Genocide and Resistance Research Center.  It's in a building that housed
the Gestapo during World War II, and the KGB during the Soviet era.  Within
its walls, countless Lithuanians were held, tortured, and killed.  

In those countries I heard the words:  "This is our war.", "Ukrainians are
defending our values."  "A Russian tank destroyed in Ukraine won't come
here." And "We would rather die than go back to Russian domination."   
Our partners know the stakes of defending democracy.  They know the value of
sovereignty and independence.  They know the importance of alliances, the
power of trust, the strength of cooperation-and the consequences of
isolation and complacency.  

The united outcry against Russia's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine-and the
unified response to it - demonstrates once again the importance of enduring
partnerships.  By working together, pooling our resources, and learning from
each other, we enhance readiness and interoperability.  We deepen enduring
friendships and further understanding, and we invest in our shared future. 

That's what makes the State Partnership Program one of the best, most
valuable security cooperation programs in the world.  And that is why we
must continue to expand it.  

Right now, 45 percent of the world's nations are SPP partners-and we're
looking to grow by 30 more countries in the next 10-15 years.  We're issuing
country recommendations this summer, working in concert with the State
Department and the Combatant Commands.  We continue to ask the Army, Air
Force, and Congress to provide stable, consistent, and adequate funding to
grow and refine this program-it is a strategic imperative in a
hyper-connected, competitive world.  

Through the State Partnership Program, we give Soldiers and Airmen
opportunities to experience the global environment in which we operate.  
But more importantly, we help ensure our Nation has trusted, capable,
interoperable allies and partners at our side.  

In a few minutes, I'll have time to take questions, but before I do, I want
to share a brief look back over my past two years.  

A lot has changed since I first took this job-and I anticipate much more
will change in the years ahead.  But there is one continual focus Kelly and
I keep in mind every day-and I ask you to keep it in mind as well.  And
that's the well-being of our fellow Soldiers, Airmen, and their families.  

That's what drives our priorities.  That's what keeps me up at night.  

People, readiness, modernization, and reform-they aren't top-down
priorities; they belong to all of us.  And we all have a role in making them
possible. 
 
You can make a difference by committing to your individual readiness - from
maintaining physical and medical fitness, to your military occupation and
education, to making sure your family is prepared when you have to respond
with little to no warning.    

You can make a difference by investing in your relationships every day -
with your family, your employer, your fellow Soldiers and Airmen, and by
developing the relationships with your partners at every level, from local
first responders to your state partner counterparts. 

And you can make a difference by looking out for each other-by noticing and
helping whose who are struggling, whether personally, or with balancing
their family, or their military or civilian career choices. 
 
We must support each other - because none of us serve alone - and together
we have shown we can accomplish almost anything.   

[Q&As NOT TRANSCRIBED]

I've been thinking about the theme for this year's NGAUS conference-The
National Guard: At the Heart of It All.  Or would it be THE National Guard:
At THE Heart of It All?  It's hard to say.  

But it's not hard to believe it's true.  You can find the National Guard in
the heart of almost every one of our communities.  Earlier this summer, a
500-year flood event devastated areas around Yellowstone National Park.  The
water ripped houses from their foundations and trees from their roots.  It
tore away bridges and erased streets.  Thousands of people evacuated, while
others were stranded as the waters continued to rise.  

For more than 40 hours, the Montana National Guard conducted search and
rescue missions.  
They flew through snow to get to the flooding areas, pushing our aircrews to
the limits.  But one by one, they lifted children, grandparents, cats,
dogs-entire families! - into the helicopters, out of harm's way.  They saved
87 people from the floodwaters.  Trained to fly into danger, rescue those in
peril, and return safely - the skills we have honed to fight our Nation's
wars, also provide an invaluable service to our communities.  

You can find the National Guard in the heart of human experience.  The
floods in Kentucky are a story of destruction-lives lost and families
destroyed.  It is a story of climate change and the power of nature.  But it
is also a story of hope.  It is the story of people-the Soldiers and Airmen
of the National Guard, and the families that support them - who were able to
save so many lives.  

It is a story of selflessness, a story of readiness, and a story of our
commitment to our fellow Americans.  It is a reminder of who we are, what we
stand for, and all we can accomplish together.  
 
You can find the National Guard in the heart of world events.  Right now,
members of the New York National Guard are training Ukrainian troops.
They're carrying on efforts the Florida National Guard began on a mission in
Ukraine last year, and the numerous other National Guard units that did
before them.  But as Russia began their unprovoked invasion in February, the
Florida Guardsmen were ordered to evacuate the country.  It was a difficult
conversation with their Ukrainian partners-many Guardsmen felt invested in
the relationships they'd built and believed strongly in the work they were
there to do.  
The Florida National Guardsmen were among the last Americans to leave
Ukraine.  

However, their work wasn't done.  Just a few weeks later, 160 members of the
53rd IBCT reunited with their Ukrainian partners to continue the
training-this time, in Germany.  Now, the New York National Guard has taken
the baton and continues this vital effort.  

You can find the National Guard in the heart of our Joint Force: The 4,500
Guard Soldiers from 21 states who battled through the JRTC.  The 4,500
Pennsylvania Guardsmen with the 56 Stryker Brigade Combat Team, who prepared
for the NTC in just 13 months-far fewer training days than a typical
rotation preparation.  

And as I stand before you right now, there are more than 22,000 Guardsmen
serving far from home-among them the Ohio National Guard's 178th Wing in
CENTCOM.the California National Guard's 1st Battalion, 185th Infantry
Regiment in EUCOM.the Virginia National Guard's 1st Battalion, 116th
Infantry Regiment, and 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team in AFRICOM, and
numerous other small formations and individuals around the world. 

The families and friends who kissed them and said goodbye, are counting the
days until they return.  We say a prayer for them and their families, and
are thankful for their service and sacrifices, large and small - they are
never far from our minds.  

You can find the National Guard in the hearts of countless people around the
world.  The state partners we train alongside.  
The grateful hikers rescued from wildfires.  The children who high-fived you
during a deployment.  The families who support us, who hold you as their
hero.  

Yes, the National Guard is at the heart of it all.  And at the heart of the
National Guard is you.  I am honored, proud, and humbled to serve beside
you-Always Ready, Always There.  

Thank you.