WASHINGTON — Taking care of those serving on the front lines both at home and abroad is critical as the National Guard meets its mission, the force's top leaders said today.
Army Gen. Daniel R. Hokanson, chief of the National Guard Bureau, said that as the global security landscape has become increasingly complex, the National Guard continues to fill its role as an indispensable warfighting force, while at the same time responding in times of crisis at home.
"With an aggressive China asserting influence in the Indo-Pacific and around the globe, a belligerent Russia invading a peaceful neighbor, North Korea developing long-range offensive weapons, and numerous violent nonstate actors at work in the Middle East and beyond, the mission of the National Guard and the capabilities we bring to the fight have never been more important," Hokanson said during a briefing at the Pentagon.
Hokanson was joined by Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Chief of the National Guard Bureau Tony L. Whitehead in laying out the National Guard's priorities for 2024. The leaders underscored the impact that the Soldiers and airmen who comprise the force have every day across the globe and in their communities.
"To be clear, our National Guard exists to fight and win our nation's wars," Hokanson said. "That is the primary mission for our 430,000 Soldiers and airmen across all 50 states, three territories and the District of Columbia."
He added that those warfighters bring critical capabilities to the fight across domains and in theaters throughout the world.
"We do everything from deploying combat formations around the globe to missile defense of the homeland, protecting cyberspace, and conducting space operations — and, at the same time, we respond to disasters in our communities," Hokanson said. "Today, nearly 45,000 Army and Air guardsmen are mobilized performing missions in support of our combatant commanders, and more than 27,000 of them are serving overseas."
"Simply put: America cannot execute its National Defense Strategy without the National Guard," he said.
Hokanson said the National Guard's warfighting capabilities have been on full display over the past year, highlighting a recent trip to the U.S. European Command area of responsibility where he met with Ukrainian troops who were training with National Guardsmen.
"They were just the latest of over 7,500 Soldiers from 19 different Ukrainian battalions receiving training from our [National] Guardsmen," he said.
He noted that the Mississippi National Guard recently replaced the Arkansas National Guard in continuing to build Ukraine's combat capability amid Russia's ongoing invasion.
In addition to maintaining their warfighting focus, the Guard continues to fulfill its critical humanitarian mission in local communities throughout the U.S.
"As you see in the headlines from California this week, the National Guard is making a difference and helping save lives in our communities every single day," he said. "In the National Guard, this is business as usual. Our communities expect it, and so do we."
Both leaders noted the sacrifices National Guard members and their families make in meeting the mission.
Whitehouse said he remains laser focused on ensuring service members have access to the resources they need to remain resilient in the face of the demands of their service. That includes efforts to reduce the stigma that surrounds seeking mental health services.
"Deployed service members often face traumatic experiences and daily struggles, which can adversely affect their mental health," he said. "These experiences may not show their effects until the service member returns home and tries adjusting back to their everyday lives.
Whitehead said he remains committed to ensuring all National Guardsmen who face traumatic experiences as part of their service receive the assistance they need.
Hokanson said supporting those on the front lines is foundational to the National Guard meeting its mission.
"Our leaders wake up each day ever mindful of the responsibility to ensure our more than 430,000 National Guardsmen are the best-trained and most ready combat reserve our nation can muster," Hokanson said. "By taking care of our people, maintaining our readiness, modernizing, and embracing reform, we will do just that and continue to keep our promise to America to be ‘always ready, always there.'"
The dedication and sacrifice by the women and men who meet that mission day in and day out became tragically clear last month when a deadly drone attack launched by an Iran-backed militant group against U.S. forces in Jordan killed three service members and injured dozens more.
Among those injured in the attack were 41 National Guard service members, 30 of whom have been cleared to return to active duty.
Hokanson and Whitehead expressed their deepest sympathies to the families of those killed and injured in the attack.
"It is a reminder the National Guard serves alongside our active duty and reserve teammates on the front lines as an operational force in a turbulent and ever-changing global security environment," Hokanson said.