As the 29th Chief of the National Guard Bureau, Gen. Daniel Hokanson ensures that more than 450,000 Army and Air National Guard personnel are accessible, capable, and ready. A graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point and an Army aviator, Hokanson previously served as Director of the Army National Guard and 11th Vice Chief of the National Guard Bureau. Just prior to his confirmation to become a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, we sat down to discuss the National Guard’s evolution for a changing environment.
Can you discuss the National Guard’s role in supporting the nationwide COVID-19 response effort?
The National Guard mobilized a peak of 47,000 Guardsmen and women, in all 50 states, 3 territories, and the District of Columbia, to support COVID-19 response operations. Soldiers and Airmen set up testing sites, assisted in long-term or alternate care facilities, and conducted testing operations. Our ability to rapidly mobilize a large number of Guard members showcased the capability and the capacity that resides in the Guard.
This mobilization also highlighted another of our inherent qualities—we are a part of the community. These are Soldiers and Airmen who are helping their friends, neighbors and community members battle a pandemic in the cities they also call home.
In Nashville, for example, the Tennessee National Guard partnered with a major corporation to manage the state supply of personal protective equipment (PPE). The corporation provided warehouse space while National Guard Soldiers provided their logistical expertise to track, allocate and distribute essential equipment to their communities. We were ready and there when our neighbors needed help.
How are you balancing current operations with ensuring readiness and responsiveness for the future?
The National Guard’s unprecedented response to the homeland has not diminished the need for Guard forces overseas. Deployments to combat theaters and in support of allies and partners have continued, unabated, throughout this response. At its peak in early June, 120,800 Guard men and women were supporting missions at home and abroad.
The need for sup-port at home has certainly made it more challenging for units to maintain their readiness for wartime missions; however, man units gain valuable training from homeland missions.
U.S. Army Forces Command and 1st Army have provided tremendous assistance in maintaining the readiness of National Guard units throughout this crisis. Additionally, Combat Training Center rotations and weekend drills continue to be critical components in building and preserving combat readiness.
The impact of COVID-19 has also been felt on these training events. Three of our four CTC rotations scheduled this year have been canceled because of COVID-19. Despite this, many Guard units have been able to persevere. The Minnesota Army National Guard’s 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division was able to deploy their entire brigade to the National Training Center and conduct readiness training immediately after mobilizing 7,000 Guard members in response to civil disturbance missions.
Throughout this unprecedented response, the Guard has been able to rise to the challenge of both requirements, but at a cost. The need to support civil authorities has required considerably more time from our part-time soldiers and airmen, putting additional stress on families and employers. In he long run these concurrent missions will require additional re-sources from states and from the Department of Defense to ensure the National Guard can continue to be ready for any mission.
How has the Guard continued to recruit in this environment?
Recruiting and retention has been an interesting challenge. Just prior to COVID-19, the National Guard experienced its best recruiting month in over five years. When COVID-19 set-in, our recruiting was impacted.
In order to adapt and overcome the challenges presented by COVID-19, the National Guard focused on two major efforts: training recruiters with on-going COVID-19 precautions and capitalizing on social media and virtual platforms.
To maintain the requisite number of recruiters, the National Guard developed a 79T (recruiter) distance learning program. We conducted three classes with this model, graduating 550 new recruiters. Despite the challenges, the schoolhouse stepped up and delivered.
By adapting and pivoting to virtual training, our newest recruiters focus more on social media and virtual platforms than before. As a byproduct, recruiters developed new avenues of approach to garner interest in the National Guard. I believe the infusion of virtual learning and social media into our recruiting efforts deliver better recruiters and unlocks greater access to potential National Guard recruits.
The adjustments made by recruiters to their training and approaches helped drive National Guard recruitment back up to 97 percent in June.
In what ways is the Guard evolving to prepare for large-scale combat operations (LSCO)?
Combat operations during the last 18 years have focused primarily on brigade and below formations; however, the future fight could involve near-peer competitors and potentially division-level operations.
The Army National Guard has eight divisions within its ranks. In 2019, the Army National Guard developed a plan to align the divisions across state lines, enabling them to be more ready for large-scale combat operations. This plan also supports a comprehensive training plan across the force that will build National Guard divisions able to integrate at any echelon into the Joint Force.
The concept is not new to the National Guard. In 1917, the National Guard deployed 17 divisions in support of WWI and grew to 19 divisions that deployed in support of WWII. By 1950, the National Guard had expanded to 27 divisions—two deployed in support of the Korean War.
Evolving the National Guard in this matter not only supports readiness across the force, it also provides better training and career progression opportunities for service members.
Why is this important?
It’s important because the future of the National Guard needs to adapt to a multi-domain threat. Our current efforts to align divisions within the National Guard facilitates continued relevance within the National Defense Strategy to meet evolving large-scale combat operations (LSCO) threats. Previously, the brigade was our largest organically task-organized formation capable of meeting the LSCO threat.
Division Alignment for Training provides a greater level of flexibility and support for Brigade Combat Teams (BCT). For example, the 41st BCT (ORNG) can be task-organized to the 40th ID (CANG) in support of Maneuver Training Center and Overseas Contingency Operation deployments. This directed alignment process assists in developing and building an enduring system of interoperability and functionality—qualities required to meet our multi-domain threat.
Senior leader development is a fortuitous byproduct of the division realignment process. Generally, Guard Soldiers seldom seek growth opportunities outside of their respective states. This lack of flexibility limits the growth potential of senior leaders within the National Guard.
The Division Alignment for Training concept creates opportunities for identified high performers to serve in positions that may not currently exist in states’ Force Structure. By investing in Human Capital Management tied to emergent opportunities, we will continue to build and leverage our growing pool of leadership talent. With a wealth of expanded and diverse windows to excel, we are producing senior leaders capable of answering the call for generations to come.
Arpi Dilanian is a strategic analyst in the Army Logistics Initiatives Group, Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff, G-4, Department of the Army. 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 Logistics Initiatives Group, Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff, G-4, Department of the Army. He holds bachelor's and master's degrees from Georgetown University
This article was published in the October-December 2020 issue of Army Sustainment.