ALI AL SALEM AIR BASE, Kuwait - The men and women of Det. 2, 385th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron found new perspective on their contribution to national security here recently.

Unit members said a visit by Air Force Gen. Joseph Lengyel, the chief of the National Guard Bureau, gave them new insight into how their deployment here builds readiness and increases lethality, directly supporting the National Defense Strategy.

"I felt re-motivated," said Air Force Senior Airman Martin Escobar, 23, a combat systems specialist whose work includes maintaining aircraft navigation systems, radar, radio and electronic countermeasures. "It reinforces why we're here: My job - if I don't do it correctly, that plane doesn't get off the ground."

If the C-130 Hercules military transport aircraft the 385th maintains don't fly, people and cargo don't move around the U.S. Central Command theater of operations.

And that matters if, for example, you're the unit in an austere location depending on one of those C-130s to drop a resupply of Meals Ready to Eat on the eve of Thanksgiving.

Gen. Lengyel and Army Command Sgt. Maj. Christopher Kepner, senior enlisted advisor to the chief, visited the 385th and numerous other National Guard units during a Thanksgiving swing through Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan to thank troops for their service and help them understand how each service member plays a vital role in supporting the national strategy.

"It's very grounding to see our leaders out here supporting us, to find out our work doesn't go unnoticed," said Air Force Senior Airman Victoria Stapledon, 22, a crew chief.

"It shows they care," said Air Force Capt. Andrew Adduchio, 36, detachment commander. "They know we're out here and want to be with us on the holiday."

During a weeklong trip, Lengyel saw a fraction of the 30,000 Army National Guard and Air National Guard members who were contributing to the Joint Force around the world and in the homeland through the holiday.

"There is nowhere I would rather be and no one I would rather be with," said Lengyel, spending his third consecutive Thanksgiving with deployed troops.

Guard members he visited in the three countries are flying or maintaining aircraft; keeping cyber operations running; tapping America's space resources in real time to provide critical support to ongoing operations; performing ground route clearance; providing medical evacuations; defusing bombs; analyzing intelligence; and fulfilling numerous other functions essential to Joint Force success.

"We're part of this awesome operational force - part of the Army, part of the Air Force - out here just doing what America needs us to do," Lengyel told members of the 155th Armored Brigade Combat Team.

Dozens of members of the 155th gathered in a horseshoe on the desert sand in front of their vehicles to hear the National Guard's most senior general officer explain how their Mississippi National Guard unit and their deployment contribute to the big picture of Defense Department priorities.

"These are all great pieces of equipment," Lengyel said, gesturing to the 155th's hulking sand-colored vehicles. "But they're not the most important thing. The most important thing is you - you are the most important weapons system we've got. We can't run any of these machines without trained, disciplined professionals. It takes every one of you.

"This is lethality. This is what Secretary Mattis talks about when he says, 'I need you to be ready, I need you to be out there, to do your job.' You build readiness here: When you go home, you'll be better than when you got here."

Lengyel and Kepner met with service members in groups and one-on-one, in part to hear comments on all aspects of the troops' deployment experiences, including the mobilization process, training and equipment and ongoing support.

"The only reason we exist is to support our Soldiers and Airmen and the National Guard in their states and territories so they can come here and perform our nation's work outstandingly," Kepner said.

"To be able to do my job in support of a real world mission is incredible," said Air Force Senior Airman Josh McMarrow, 23, a crew chief. "I couldn't ask for a more worthy cause to be in support of."

The Guard members Lengyel and Kepner visited with are as diverse as America. Some were full-time troops back home. The majority were traditional Guard members, balancing civilian lives with military responsibilities.

Stapledon, McMarrow and Escobar, the three senior airmen with the 385th, each were drawn to the National Guard for different reasons. Stapledon said she liked the benefits offered with service and the ability to serve much of the time right in her home community. McMarrow wanted to pursue college at the same time as serving. Escobar felt in a rut in school and was drawn by the idea of doing more with his life.

"You have so many different kinds of people in the Guard," Escobar said. "That's what I love."

The three have just begun their military careers and for each this was their first deployment.

Over at the C-12 Regional Flight Center, Chief Warrant Officer Steve Knight had lost count of how many times he had deployed. At the end of a 39-year military career, the 60-year-old successfully sought an extension beyond normal retirement age so he could deploy as unit commander.

"We only see a little piece of the pie," Knight said. When senior leaders visit, they not only assess ongoing operations, ascertain morale and address any issues but they also offer troops in the field a clearer perspective on their roles. "They're looking at the whole bakery," Knight said.

"I return to the Pentagon heartened by what we saw in Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan," Lengyel said. "The professionalism, caliber and attitude of our troops is the best I've seen in my career. It is humbling and uplifting to see their spirit for service to our nation, their eagerness to contribute to something bigger than any of us are individually and their willingness to sacrifice to accomplish that.

"We're also extraordinarily lucky to have supportive families, friends, communities and employers - we couldn't do what we do without them."

Lengyel is the 28th Chief of the National Guard Bureau and a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He ensures the 453,000 Army and Air National Guard Soldiers and Airman are accessible, capable and ready to protect the homeland and to provide combat forces to the Army and the Air Force.

The most senior enlisted member of the National Guard, Army Command Sgt. Maj. Christopher Kepner is the chief's principal military advisor on all enlisted matters affecting training, utilization, health of the force, and enlisted professional development.