By Sgt. 1st Class Jim GreenhillMay 8, 2018
FAIRBANKS, Alaska - Cutting short troop visits to return to the East Coast to honor nine Puerto Rico National Guard members killed in a plane crash, the chief of the National Guard Bureau told military supporters here Friday it will take a community to help those affected.
"I only know as bad as that pain is today for the Puerto Rico National Guard, it is because of families and friends and community support that runs deep that they will recover," Air Force Gen. Joseph Lengyel said. "Things will get better - the pain will never go away - but this wound will heal."
Lengyel stopped here to address community members attending the city's 50th Annual Military Appreciation Banquet. En route from troop visits throughout South Korea, the general had been scheduled to continue to the National Training Center in California to visit with Tennessee National Guard members preparing for an overseas deployment.
Instead, he cancelled the visit to attend the dignified transfer at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware of the nine Puerto Rico National Guard members killed in Wednesday's crash of a C-130 Hercules military transport aircraft.
"It is a stark reminder that what we do in the United States military is inherently complex and dangerous work," Lengyel said. "That even things that appear routine such as a flight to Arizona to retire an aging aircraft can change the lives of friends and family and community forever."
Community support will be critical to Puerto Rico's recovery from the impact of the crash - and it's critical to all the military does, Lengyel said.
"[T]he support, the trust, and the confidence of the American people ... may well be the most important weapon in our nation's arsenal," he said.
In the case of the National Guard - because of the unique dual role played by Guard members as both citizens and warriors - community support is especially important: Guard members cannot do what they do without supportive families and employers.
"Thanks to employers who hire National Guard Soldiers and Airmen and allow then to serve their nation in the National Guard, or in the Reserves," Lengyel said. "Our force is predominantly a force made up of men and women that have civilian careers ... that when mobilized by the president or the governor, we come to serve our nation or our state - but we can only do it if the communities and the employers who support them remain our partners in national defense."