ROCHESTER, Minn. – National Guard Bureau leaders emphasized the importance of empowering enlisted personnel during the 52nd Annual Enlisted Association of the National Guard of the United States conference Aug. 13-17.
In an opening statement, Air Force Lt. Gen. Marc H. Sasseville, vice chief of the National Guard Bureau, stressed the enlisted force’s crucial impact on military combat power.
“You [enlisted force] are the envy of militaries worldwide. The American senior NCO, the National Guard NCO, is the envy of every foreign senior leader I talk to,” said Sasseville.
Sasseville recounted a tale of a Ukrainian soldier striving to protect his homeland from the Russian invasion. Faced with a task to target a Russian tank, the Ukrainian soldier found himself with two pieces of equipment: one operational, the other not. In this dire situation, he dialed an American colleague from the Washington National Guard, a contact made during a training exchange the previous year as part of the National Guard’s State Partnership Program. After a brief discussion about troubleshooting the misfire, the Ukrainian soldier accomplished the mission. About a half hour later, the Washington Guardsmen received an image of a destroyed Russian tank from the Ukrainian soldier.
Quoting the senior enlisted leader of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, Sasseville said: “In war, it doesn’t matter what technique or technology we use. People are still crucial. Modern warfare needs responsible, competent and motivated NCOs.”
“In other words,” said Sasseville, “Modern warfare needs you. The [combat] kit doesn’t matter without somebody to operate it.”
The National Guard has about 440,000 members serving across the 50 states, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories Guam, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
Senior Enlisted Advisor Tony Whitehead, SEA to the chief of the National Guard Bureau, underscored that the National Guard constitutes 20% percent of the Joint Force, emphasizing its indispensable role in deterring threats and warfighting.
“We’re aware of the looming challenges,” said Whitehead. “We discuss them frequently, and now they’re evident in the news, highlighted in briefings, and accentuated by the escalating threats from Russia and China. However, we’re confident in our uniformed personnel, who uphold their duties with unwavering commitment. They are mission-focused and prepared. They will execute their assigned tasks, leveraging their training, and stand firm in their responsibilities.”
Whitehead is the chief’s primary military counsel on training, force health, utilization, and enlisted professional growth. Holding the pinnacle position in enlisted leadership, he offers guidance to the enlisted community and champions their concerns.
During the conference, Whitehead relayed a pivotal message to the enlisted force: “Advocate for the needs and concerns of our enlisted members before reaching E-9. Every voice counts, and every perspective is invaluable. Collectively, we can instigate change and amplify your voices.”
EANGUS represents enlisted Airmen, Soldiers, family members, and retirees. The association, based in Alexandria, Virginia, maintains a full-time staff to advocate for the interests of enlisted Guardsmen on legislative matters at the Pentagon and Capitol Hill.
Beyond legislative concerns, the national conference serves as a vital forum where senior National Guard leaders can engage in dialogue with enlisted members, fostering understanding and a stronger bond between the ranks.
The 2023 conference agenda featured speed mentoring sessions, breakout discussions, and panels led by senior enlisted leaders. These sessions focused on professional advancement, enhancing skills and methods to tap into one’s innate potential.
“Engaged leadership — we didn’t get in these seats without being engaged, and we didn’t get here alone,” said Command Chief Master Sgt. Lisa Erikson, command senior enlisted leader, Minnesota National Guard.
“A team has worked with us, beside us, and behind us the entire way. Always surround yourself with those that challenge you and lift you. That is part of being an engaged leader.”
While briefly reflecting on the National Guard’s global and domestic contributions in recent years, Whitehead encouraged enlisted leaders to remain focused on charting the path forward.
Whitehead said about recruiting: “We will reach those numbers — maybe not this year. With our devoted teams actively engaging on the ground, connecting through social media, and interacting in schools and colleges, I have no doubt we’ll excel. The right candidates will robustly represent the National Guard.”