ARLINGTON, Va. -- For Army Lt. Gen. Dan Hokanson, the unpredictable environment we live in today means that Guard members need to embrace their motto "Always Ready, Always There" now more than ever.

"As an operational reserve and integral part of the Total Force," said Hokanson, the vice chief of the National Guard Bureau, "we need to take every opportunity to increase our readiness.

"As professional Soldiers, Airmen and Civilians, we must uphold the Army and Air Force standards and values, and leverage our Citizen-Soldier and Airmen roots … always," added Hokanson, who was confirmed as vice chief by the U.S. Senate in September.

Hokanson recently returned from Kuwait, where he attended the transfer of authority between the 29th and 35th Infantry Divisions, and visited numerous National Guard units. The units conveyed to him their pride in having the opportunity to support operations throughout the region, and briefed him on their mission, accomplishments, and goals for their deployment.

"They"re not just supporting the warfight, they are in the warfight -- completely focused on their mission," said Hokanson, adding that he returned from the visit energized. "Everything we are doing here [at the National Guard Bureau] is to support them and their ability to perform their mission overseas."

Before visiting Kuwait, Hokanson also had the opportunity to visit Antarctica, where the Guard supports the National Science Foundation's research programs. He praised the work of the New York Air Guard's 109th Airlift Wing, the only unit in the DOD that flies the LC-130 Hercules transport aircraft equipped with skis.

"When you look at the importance of the science and research taking place in Antarctica, the Guard plays a critical role in helping facilitate the accomplishment of the National Science Foundation's mission," he said.

Hokanson also highlighted the State Partnership Program (SPP), a National Guard-managed, Department of Defense initiative that pairs Guard states with foreign nations in an effort to bolster global security through long-term, mutually beneficial relationships.

"The program creates enduring partnerships, provides opportunities to train and conduct subject matter expert exchanges, and increases partner capabilities while we learn from them as well," Hokanson said.

The National Guard"s 79 state partnerships, he added, also provide great value to combatant commanders by supporting their theater security cooperation goals.

While the SPP serves its purpose at the international level, Hokanson also noted Guard members continue to build enduring partnerships in their communities and states every day.

"As Citizen-Soldiers and -Airmen," he said, "Guard members should continue to be active members of their communities, maintain the high standards we expect of our organizations, and inspire others to join the incredible National Guard team."

This also pertains to leveraging the innovative spirit our service men and women bring to the National Guard from their civilian jobs and experiences, he added.

He highlighted an example of how a deployed Army National Guard enlisted member, whose civilian employer was a delivery services company, observed issues with a convoy route system and made recommendations based on his civilian experience and expertise.

"His input streamlined operations," Hokanson said, "helping improve our convoy route system."

The National Guard"s state and federal missions, and the unique requirements to support them, are reasons why the chief of the National Guard Bureau is working hard for NGB representation on the Joint Requirements Oversight Council, or JROC. Members of this body, which is comprised of the Vice Chiefs of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, review DOD acquisitions that support the war effort.

"Our military equipment, much of which is fielded in the National Guard, often has dual-use capabilities that can be used in our communities and states when responding to natural or man-made disasters," Hokanson said.

The ability to represent the non-federalized National Guard on the JROC, and advocate for how our equipment is often leveraged in the homeland, he added, would be a great benefit to the Total Force.

The service the National Guard provides to our communities, states and nation does not rely solely on our military assets and resources, however, noted Hokanson.

"Our greatest resource is our people. We have to take care of our service members and their families, and identify and develop our future leaders," he said. "Serving our states and nation is an incredible honor and an experience all National Guard members should be proud of."

Looking ahead, the vice chief challenges every member of the National Guard to focus on their individual and unit readiness, so when the call comes, "we will be 'Always Ready, Always There.'"