MOURMELON, France (May 15, 2014) -- Secretary of the Army John M. McHugh said Thursday that continuing to offer challenging NATO exercises to National Guard units is key to maintaining the component as the nation's operational reserve.He also said young military leaders who have exercised authority in combat and peacekeeping deployments have to be offered realistic training opportunities so they stay in the service and develop into tomorrow's leaders.To see firsthand the grafting of a National Guard unit into a multi-national exercise, McHugh toured the tactical operations center of the 28th Infantry Division headquarters, a Pennsylvania Army National Guard unit serving in France for the three-week Rochambeau 2014 NATO exercise. While there he received a briefing about the multiple deployments in which division units have participated and said the Reserve Component cannot be allowed to revert back to pre-2001 strength levels."While we have a significant challenge in diminishing resources, we've built up a tremendous capacity and capability in the National Guard," McHugh said. "It's these types of exercises that combine NATO forces with active duty and Reserve Components that will keep us challenged and trained and ready to do freedom's work when called upon."Nearly 300 Soldiers from 28th Infantry Division are participating in the French-led exercise. Brig. Gen. John Gronski, division commander, believes taking part in the training strengthens the unit's ability to operate in a multi-national environment. He told McHugh during a tour of the operations center that the division became involved in Rochambeau by looking for challenging training events for its Soldiers."We aggressively want to seek these overseas training opportunities to increase our readiness," Gronski said. "Our focus is on maintaining readiness so when our country needs us we can spend as little time as possible at the mobilization station and get to where we're needed. This is the first time 28 ID has done an exercise like this with a NATO force."Gronski explained that division planners began seeking a challenging training exercise based on a Europe-Asia scenario more than a year ago. He said the division was "fortunate" to find an opening in Rochambeau 2014."You're more than fortunate. You're very impressive," McHugh said. "You have a very proud history and you're making some history for tomorrow."Soldiers of the "Iron Division" are participating in the NATO exercise with the French Rapid Reaction Corps. Rochambeau 2014 is intended to prepare a French division for commanding and controlling as a French/British Land Component Command, deployed as a Combined Joint Expeditionary Force. Military leaders from Poland, Belgium, Italy and Canada are participating in the exercise.The exercise is based on notional countries with fictitious names. Real maps (of the Horn of Africa for this exercise) are used in this scenario. Planning for Rochambeau 2014 began nearly two years ago. Participants have the opportunity to gain an understanding of the terms and procedures other militaries use.NATO counterparts to 28th Infantry Division staff participated in planning at Fort Indiantown Gap, Pa., in the months leading up to the exercise.Gronski noted that the 28th Infantry Division is unique in that it is the only Guard division to have its headquarters and the headquarters of its brigades and battalions all contained in one state."Our division is over 100 percent strength," he added.The28th Infantry Division is the oldest continuously-serving U.S. Army division. The Pennsylvania Army National Guard is one of the nation's largest and most-deployed Guard forces.