WASHINGTON -- During a late July visit to the National Training Center in California, the Army’s chief of staff said he met a Soldier who embodied what the National Guard is all about.Assigned to the 34th Infantry Division’s 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, the Soldier had been with his unit as part of the first NTC rotation under COVID-19 conditions, said Gen. James C. McConville.As a civilian, the Guardsman managed several grocery stores in Minnesota. Despite one of his stores being damaged following the death of George Floyd in May, he remained committed to his unit, which had responded to the civil unrest, the COVID-19 pandemic and now prepared for a deployment to the Middle East.“These are the incredible people you have in your formations,” McConville said Friday during the U.S. National Guard Association’s annual conference. “They’re proving the purpose of the National Guard is to protect your fellow neighbors and communities, while also defending the nation.“The Army could absolutely not do what it does without the National Guard, and I would say this year that is even more true.”In early June, nearly 100,000 Guardsmen were activated to support homeland operations -- almost twice as many than the previous record during the 2005 Hurricane Katrina response, according to the National Guard Bureau.At the height of the pandemic, McConville and other senior leaders visited many of these Soldiers as they quickly mobilized to alternate care sites and civilian hospitals to provide medical and logistics support for overburdened health care workers.At one point, Guardsmen even came to the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke, Massachusetts, to help staff care for retirees and veterans, McConville said.“Throughout the entire country, you went to the toughest places at very difficult times,” he said. “When you were needed, you were there. And you should be very proud of that, because we certainly are.”Talent managementThe general also credited the National Guard for completing the roll out of the new Integrated Personnel and Pay System-Army. IPPS-A will eventually unite all three components on the 21st century talent management system, making it easier for leaders to track and manage talent.“We’re going to take the lessons that were learned from this and apply it to the Reserves and regular Army,” he said.McConville believes the new system will remedy the pay and personnel issues that some Guardsmen had when they were activated.“I can envision where Soldiers are moving from components [more efficiently] when we need certain skill sets,” he said.State Partnership ProgramThrough the State Partnership Program, many Guardsmen have also been able to use their military and civilian skills to strengthen bonds with allies and partners.When he meets with other chiefs of staff from foreign armies, McConville said they “rave” about the program and how it enhances the capacity and capability of their formations.The Washington National Guard, for instance, recently conducted virtual engagements with the Thai military amid the pandemic. The Texas Guard also established a relationship with Egypt’s military, and combat engineers from the Wisconsin Guard deployed to Afghanistan with Romanian soldiers, he said.One of the Army’s six Security Force Assistance Brigades, the 54th SFAB -- which includes Guardsmen from Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Georgia and Texas -- also officially activated in March. The specialized units are part of a refocused train, assist and advise strategy that envisions them working with allies and partners around the world.“And many other units are deployed across the world serving shoulder-to-shoulder with our allies and partners,” McConville said. “Thank you for your hard work building and maintaining these important connections.”Related linksArmy.mil: Chief of Staff of the ArmyArmy.mil: National Guard NewsArmy News ServiceARNEWS Archives