By Arpi Dilanian and Matthew HowardOctober 1, 2019
Throughout his 33-year career, Director of the Army National Guard Lt. Gen. Daniel Hokanson has been making a difference across the Total Army. A graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point, Hokanson served as an Army aviator on active duty for nearly a decade before joining the Oregon National Guard. Most recently, he served as the 11th Vice Chief of the National Guard Bureau; Deputy Commander, U.S. Northern Command; and the Adjutant General of Oregon. Here, he discusses the Guard's support to mission success.
What role does the National Guard play in sustaining readiness for the future fight?
Our total force structure in the Army National Guard is 335,500 Soldiers, and we have a good balance between our combat, combat support, and combat service support capabilities. When we look specifically at sustainment, three-quarters of the Total Army's capabilities are in the reserve component. In terms of sustainment formations within the National Guard, we have a theater sustainment command, two expeditionary sustainment commands, 10 sustainment brigades, and more than 100 supporting battalions. That equates to about 40,000 Soldiers who conduct sustainment operations during drill, at annual training (AT), or while deployed.
Readiness is the No. 1 priority. When I look at our sustainers, I'm focused on making sure they're a relevant part of the Total Army. To be relevant, there are three principles we talk about.
First: deployability. Our Soldiers and their equipment need to be ready and capable to deploy whenever the Army needs us.
Second: sustainability. We know the Army is going to modernize, but as it does, we have to make sure we can still maintain and get repair parts for our equipment so it is operational and can perform its assigned missions.
Both of those go into the third principle: interoperability. In modernizing, we can't buy everything we need at one time; it will be fielded over time. As new equipment is fielded, we need to keep everything interoperable so we can communicate and work together to accomplish the mission. Not only is this important between our three components, it's also critical for our allies and partners.
An amazing thing about the National Guard is the civilian experience our Soldiers bring with them. In 2009, when I was an infantry brigade combat team commander, our mission set was to escort convoys across two-thirds of Iraq. When we arrived in theater, we looked closely at the convoy routes as we used them. One of our operations sergeants major at the time was Ed Carlson, who worked for Federal Express. One day I asked Ed how would FedEx do it and he responded, "We wouldn't do it like this."
Ed knew other Soldiers across the brigade who worked for other delivery or trucking companies, so we put a team together. They took six MRAPS and drove the numerous convoy routes around Iraq for three weeks. When they came back, Ed and his team had a plan. Sure, there were some things FedEx did that could never happen in Iraq; but because he was in the Guard and worked for FedEx, he was able see a lot of areas where their practices could be applied.
We had the opportunity to brief the plan to Gen. Raymond Odierno, commander of forces in Iraq at the time. After, listening to the entire proposal, he said, "make it happen."
With a series of relatively minor changes, Ed streamlined routes and optimized how often we did convoys. The end result was reduced time on the road, which ultimately saved lives and property. He was able to leverage his civilian experience, and his plan made a difference.
Can you expand on modernization, and how the Guard ties into Army Futures Command (AFC)?
As we look to 2028 and beyond, we realize the Army can't afford to modernize everybody at the same time, nor can industry produce it fast enough. Our senior leaders have said we're going to modernize the units most likely to be in contact first, and I am in full agreement. Unfortunately, we can't always pick who is going to be in contact first.
As Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville has said, it's critical we modernize the total Army, not exclusively the active component before the reserve component. Especially with our role in sustainment, we must be relevant--and again, that means our units need to remain deployable, sustainable, and interoperable throughout the modernization process.
We also have several ARNG Soldiers at AFC, and that number may grow over time because we see such value there. As leaders decide on modernization and fielding schedules, our involvement makes the process transparent and gives us a chance to advocate where we should be in the process to ensure we remain relevant. They are great conversations and we're doing everything we can to leverage our resources to modernize as part of the Total Army.
How is training evolving to ensure the Total Army is integrated to meet short-notice or unpredictable requirements?
The National Guard now has four combat training center (CTC) rotations every year. Throughout those four weeks, our Soldiers are conducting sustainment operations every day under combat conditions. For our battalions and below, this is the best training experience they can get.
For us to be successful at the National Training Center (NTC) or Joint Readiness Training Center, we need to leverage our drill periods and annual training. The learning curve is incredibly steep at the CTCs, so we need to work with our leaders to give our Soldiers every opportunity to get those repetitions, do those sets, and practice. Anything and everything we can do on a regular drill weekend to give them a running start makes a huge difference.
At the tactical level, the 30th Armored Brigade Combat Team out of North Carolina finished an NTC rotation in mid-July. From the time they came out, they had 35 days to get their equipment fully mission capable so it could go to port for deployment, which was almost unprecedented. Our folks rolled off NTC's battlefield and utilized the California National Guard's Maneuver Area Training Equipment Site to make repairs as quickly and efficiently as possible to meet that timeline.
It was a huge effort when you look at the number of vehicles, but what an experience! Our Soldiers trained and conducted a successful CTC rotation, repaired their equipment in a very short time, and then deployed--truly incredible work between the North Carolina National Guard, the many states that supported them, Forces Command, First Army, Army Material Command, and the Army G-4.
At the strategic level--the echelons above brigade--the focus is on the National Defense Strategy, great power competition, and large-scale combat operations. Through exercises like Army Materiel Command's Patriot Press, we're helping redistribute ammunition throughout the United States. Exercises like this provide our Soldiers and their units a chance to do the things they'll be asked to do in a future conflict.
Can you discuss the State Partnership Program (SPP)?
This is an incredible program that links a state's National Guard with the armed forces of another country to support defense security goals, to leverage relationships, and to facilitate broader cooperation. The program has been building readiness for 25 years, and we now have more than 75 of these partnerships across the globe.
An example of a recent SPP event is Operation Hydrocarbon that took place in Niger. The Indiana National Guard trained with Nigerien forces and shared best practices in fuel distribution, maintenance, management, and safety. Not only did it give our Soldiers a chance to share their knowledge and experience, they also learned from their partners as we operated in their unique environment. In the end, we learn from each other, and we both become better as we build enduring partnerships.
What are you doing to help the Guard's citizen-warriors balance civilian employment with their service?
Without our people, we couldn't do anything. Recruiting new Soldiers to be part of our formations is fundamental to our success, but retaining those already serving is also critical. In the reserve component--and this is both the National Guard and the Army Reserve--we face a triad: helping our Soldiers balance their civilian career, military career, and family. We never want them to have to choose between them.
We work very closely with our leaders at all levels on this. Whether it's a change in family situation, employment, or a CTC rotation plan, we try to be cognizant and help our Soldiers through those times so we can retain their experience and capabilities.
A lot of our Soldiers came into the Army National Guard to serve their country and they want to deploy. One of the most important things we can do is give them predictability, so they can prepare their families and work with their employers so everyone knows when they will be away from home and when they will return.
What is the most important thing you tell Soldiers today?
Every Soldier is important to the Army! Whether Active, Guard, or Reserve, our Army is the force it is because of you. We need you to stay on the Army team and to help us recruit the next generation of Army leaders. If you decide to leave the active component, please contact an Army National Guard unit wherever you end up. We'd love to give you the opportunity to stay on the Total Army team and to continue to serve our great nation!
Arpi Dilanian is a strategic analyst in the Army G-4's Logistics Initiatives Group. She holds a bachelor's degree from American University and a master's degree from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
Matthew Howard is a strategic analyst in the Army G-4's Logistics Initiatives Group. He holds bachelor's and master's degrees from Georgetown University.
This article appears in the October-December 2019 issue of Army Sustainment.