WASHINGTON -- When Harry Shank stepped on the stage to accept an award at Small Business Training Week in New Orleans this past spring, he was caught off guard. And it showed.

Shank, the acting associate director of the National Guard Bureau at the time, accepted the Army Part-time Small Business Professional of the Year award on behalf of Army Col. Alan K. Dorow. Nice award, Shank thought.

Moments later he traveled to the stage again -- this time for the Army Small Business Program of the Year Award. Shank was in shock -- more for his lack of awareness of the program than the talents of those working at the NGB. So Shank knew it was a wake up call to find out just what kind of outfit he inherited.

What he found was an NGB record that speaks for itself. In addition to the two awards he accepted, the National Guard -- colloquially known as the "54" for the number of states, territories, and the District of Columbia that have a National Guard presence -- have achieved the following:

� National Veteran Small Business Coalition Champion of Veteran Enterprise Award Exceptional Support of Service-Disabled Veteran Owned Small Business (SDVOSB) for FY17, FY14, FY11
� U.S. Army Office of Small Business Programs Superior Performance Award for Small Business (SB) and Woman-Owned Small Business (WOSB) Programs for FY17
� U.S. Army Office of Small Business Programs Exceptional Program Support Award for HUBZone (HZ) Small Business, SDVOSB, WOSB for FY14
� U.S. Army Office of Small Business Programs Outstanding Program Support Award for SDVOSB, WOSB FY11
� U.S. Army Office of Small Business Programs Outstanding Performance Program Support Award Small Disadvantaged Business (SDB)/8(a) FY09, FY08

And the 54's numbers back up its accolades. In the last decade from fiscal years 2008-2017, the National Guard contracting enterprise has awarded more than $16.4 billion to small businesses. Unprecedented? Shank won't go that far. Prolific? Most definitely. As one of the Army's four major buying commands, the NGB's numbers speak to economic impact.

"Over 390,000 contract actions go to small business," Shank said. "But we're not just meeting goals. We're building the industrial base, building cities and towns in economically depressed areas."

One of the NGB's greatest achievements is awarding $1.7 billion to Historically Underutilized Business or HUBZone requirements. Those dollars awarded amount to performing 6.83 percent of its DOD goal. The FY18 goal for HUBZone across all of DOD is 3 percent.

But despite its success, the "54" isn't resting on its laurels, as evidenced by the South Carolina National Guard receiving the state's Federal Procurement Agency of the Year Award. And events like the Head of Contracting Agency Acquisition Training Summit mesh Soldiers, Airmen and civilians alike to address critical areas of justification and approvals (J&A), subcontracting, source selection, policy and eBiz updates and market research.

"I was on active duty and you would hear things about the Guard," Air Force 2nd Lt. Heather Kitay said during the HCA acquisition summit. As contracting officer in charge at the West Virginia National Guard's 167th Airlift Wing, the Danville, Virginia, native is assisting the unit in meeting end of fiscal year requirements. Kitay quickly saw the commitment and professionalism needed for NGB to be mobile and ready. "I think the contracting officers here are doing more with less than the active duty."

With a small business specialist in every state, the "54" has 147 (to include 92 Air National Guard Buying Office) federal buying offices 50 states, the District of Columbia and the territories of Guam, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. As a critical part of the Army's total force structure, as well as the Defense Department's enhancement of lethality, the National Guard Bureau buys practically everything to carry out its unique mission. From equipment to support its State Partnership Program in 81 nations around the globe, to natural disaster assistance in New Orleans, to professional services support for unit infrastructure, every aspect of mobilization is addressed so the NGB remains true to its motto.

For one Guardsmen, small business success can be found in the process and local support.

"A new Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) representative just moved to the area in 2016," Army Lt. Col. Robinson, supervisory contract specialist for the South Carolina Army National Guard, said. "She is a highly motivated person and things have improved greatly with her being in that position. Basically with the right personnel in those positions, things will work great."

For others the Guard's secret to its success lies in plain sight -- the Guard community.

Almost every time you walk down the street and [people] see a uniform, they automatically think Guard," said Army Col. Robert M. Nugent, U.S. Property and Fiscal Officer (USPFO) at the Connecticut National Guard. "When you go cut your grass you see your neighbor's in the Guard. We live here."