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Remarks at the National Guard Bureau Change of Responsibility

Good morning, good morning fans of Frank and fans of Joe. Glad to have you all here, and I’m certainly one of you. Chairman Dunford, Ellyn, thank you for being here. General Milley, General Goldfein, General Neller, Admiral Michel, Adjutants General, international partners, friends and family, all of you, and Ambassador, thanks for joining us. It’s good to be with you all as we pass this critical responsibility between two of our military's most accomplished leaders, General Frank Grass and General Joe Lengyel.

Before I speak about the character and the contributions of these two extraordinary officers, I want to speak directly to all of the citizen warriors here today, and our entire National Guard family. I’m so proud of all of you, and we’re so grateful for your vital contributions to the security of our nation.  

You keep our skies free from danger. You respond to disaster with compassion and professionalism at a moment’s notice. You stand watch at home and around the world. You responded when we needed you during the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan all those years. You help keep our most solemn commitment as a military, which is to provide our citizens the security they need to dream their dreams, raise their children, and live full lives, even if that means sometimes putting your own lives on hold, or on the line.

That has been the spirit, the mission and enduring commitment of our national guard through the centuries, and never more so than over the past 15 years.  Since September 11th, the men and women of our Army and Air National Guard – and their families – have answered the nation’s call to deploy – get this – over 787,000 times.

And as a result, today’s Guard is battle tested – an agile, flexible, deployable force with combat experience and a broad range of skills gained both on the battlefield and in civilian life. The National Guard is a critical component of our total force, bringing to bear the experience and skills of our citizen warriors wherever and whenever needed to confront the challenges of a complex world. And we’ve got them.

Today our nation faces  – and the Guard is helping us to meet – no fewer than five major, immediate and evolving  challenges: countering the prospect of Russian aggression and coercion, especially in Europe; managing historic change in the vital Asia-Pacific region; where China is rising, which is fine, but behaving aggressively, which is not; strengthening our deterrent and defense forces in the face of North Korea’s nuclear and missile provocations; checking Iranian aggression and malign influence in the Gulf; and confronting terrorism, including accelerating the certain defeat of ISIL in its parent tumor in Iraq and Syria, and wherever it metastasizes. And as history has shown that we can never perfectly predict the strategic future – in fact it perfectly shows the opposite of that –we must also be flexible and agile in preparing for unknowns that we can’t anticipate today.

We don’t have the luxury of choosing among these challenges.  We have to do it all.  And all around the world, the Guard does it all – from Eastern Europe, where the North Carolina National Guard equipped with HIMARS participated in exercises with 24 nations in Poland, to the Pacific, where the Hawaii National Guard 204th Airlift Squadron stands ready to respond throughout Pacific rim, to the Middle East – where 8,000 National Guard members are currently deployed in the air and on the ground, including the Wisconsin National Guard as it supports the 101st Airborne’s mission to enable local forces to take on ISIL and defeat ISIL.  

And right here at home, cyberwarriors like the Washington National Guard’s 262nd Network Warfare Squadron, whom I met earlier this year – wonderful, wonderful folks – are using the skills and experience they’ve gained in America’s wonderfully innovative technology community to protect our networks and to do things like counter ISIL’s influence online.

The days of the National Guard serving exclusively as a strategic reserve – called up only in emergencies – are over. The post-9/11 environment has proven the Guard is an indispensable component of the Total Force, in day-to-day activities and large-scale operations, in planning and execution, and in conventional conflicts and novel threats.  The National Guard will remain critical to accomplishing all of our Nation’s security priorities.

And to ensure preparedness for existing threats, the Army will double the number of rotations to the national training centers for our Guard brigade combat teams. Further, the Guard will receive an increase in the number of helicopters over the next several years, enhancing its capability as a strategic reserve and providing more flexibility for missions in the here and now including over the homeland.

The Guard will be instrumental not only in fighting and winning on today’s battlefields, but also in shaping tomorrow’s conflicts, as well. As the cyber and space domains become increasingly contested, the Guard will be on the vanguard of these mission sets. By 2019, the National Guard will have over 30 cyber units in 34 states to support the services and US Cyber Command.

The more deeply integrated the Guard becomes in all facets of planning and execution, the better prepared the nation becomes.  The presence, skill and readiness of citizen warriors across the country give us the agility and flexibility to handle unexpected demands, both at home and abroad. It’s an essential component of our total force, and a lynchpin of our readiness.

That’s one of the reasons the position of Commander of the National Guard was elevated to the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 2012. And as the first National Guard Bureau Chief to serve a full term in the tank, General Frank Grass has led this historic transition with character and skill.

Building on the good work of his predecessor, General Craig McKinley, who is here today, General Grass worked tirelessly with General Welsh and General Milley to form the most integrated and Total Force in our history. He’s helped increase our rapid deployment capability to respond to any crisis, and strengthened the Guard’s partnerships at the local, state, federal - and international - levels. He’s been a strong and steady voice at the table for the men and women of the National Guard, because for his entire career he has personified the finest qualities of our citizen warriors.

Frank Grass has been committed to the defense of this nation since he turned eighteen and enlisted with the Missouri National Guard as a private in 1969. It was another former Missouri National Guardsman, President Harry Truman, who said, “Progress occurs when courageous, skillful leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better.” 

Well Frank, you’ve changed things for the better at every stop in your career, from your first commission in the Engineering Corps, to your steadfast protection of our homeland as Deputy Commander of NORTHCOM. And as Chief of the National Guard these past four years, you’ve been a courageous and skillful leader, exactly the nation needed, and you’ve seized every opportunity to make progress, and our total force is stronger as a result.

Frank, you’ve said the three critical traits of the leaders you’ve admired most are that they are analytical, decisive and compassionate – remember that? In the time we’ve served together, I’ve seen the way you’ve met all three of these standards, and as you’ve built a legacy of strength and readiness that will continue to benefit us all long into the future.

Your analytical approach to homeland security and disaster situations has helped inform and advise the President, me and Chairman Dunford during times of challenge, and helped guide our national security planning to protect our nation at home against the threats of tomorrow.

Your decisive actions to prioritize skills, equipment and readiness through times of budget uncertainty have turned the National Guard from a post-9/11 operational reserve of necessity into an enduring, effective operational reserve by design.

And your compassionate dedication to our National Guard families has resulted in stronger community support networks, greater employer cooperation, and deeper connections to all who serve. You’ve never forgotten that families are the foundation of our force. I appreciate everything Pat has done for our National Guard families as well, and I also want to thank your children Amanda, Laura, Patrick and Mark – if you’re watching – and your many grandchildren, for their service through the years as well. 

So, Frank, as you and Pat begin your well-earned retirement, you can rest assured that the National Guard family is in the good hands of another proven strategic thinker and citizen warrior, the man who has served by your side as Vice Chief of the National Guard Bureau, General Joe Lengyel.

Joe knows what it means to serve, too. He’s logged over 3,000 hours behind the controls of an F-16. His 34 years of distinguished military service includes operational, staff and command assignments that included services in Desert Storm, Provide Comfort, Southern Watch, and Enduring Freedom among others.

But perhaps most importantly, Joe knows what it means to be a military family. He knows the meaning of service, sacrifice, and separation. When Joe’s father, here present, Sir, Lieutenant Colonel Lauren Lengyel, was shot down over Vietnam in August of 1967 and held as a prisoner of war for six years, it fell to Joe’s mother Margaret to raise Joe, his sister Dottie, and his brothers Dan and Greg, who’s now, himself a Major General in the Air Force.  

The poet John Milton once wrote, “They also serve who only stand and wait.” Well, Joe’s entire family served through those long years of uncertainty and strain, and they continued to serve when Joe’s dad returned to service in Vietnam in 1975, one of only two former POW pilots to do so. Joe’s parents are here today, as you all know, as is his brother, and I want to take a moment to thank them for their service and sacrifice.

We pray that no military family ever has to go through Joe’s experience growing up again, but we know that every deployment, every separation is a strain. And I’m confident that Joe will continue the good work Frank has done in strengthening community and employer support for our warriors, and particularly for our military families before, during and after deployments.

Our greatest resource is our people, and there’s no finer example than Joe’s family. Today we’re joined by his wife Sally – Sally, welcome aboard…you’ve been aboard for a while, but you’re stepping up here – an Air Force veteran herself, his daughter Katie, and sons Joe and Mike, who, like his father, is an F-16 pilot. I know that the men and women of our National Guard, and the families that stand by them, will be well served by General Joe Lengyel who is not only an accomplished pilot and experienced commander, but is also a military son, husband, brother and a father.

Now, it’s a big world out there, and we are a great nation, with extraordinary responsibilities, opportunities, and challenges around the world and around the block. We cannot predict how, or when, or where, the men and women of our National Guard will be called on to serve their fellow citizens. 

But we know that thanks to the strong and steady leadership of General Frank Grass, the National Guard of today is an indispensable force, trained and ready to respond wherever it’s needed.  And we know that General Lengyel will lead this force with certainty, clarity, and the full confidence and trust of myself and the President.

To General Lengyel, to General Grass, and to all the men and women of the National Guard, thank you for everything you do, and for always remaining, “Always Ready, Always There.”