NEW YORK - Leaders of the Army National Guard's eight division headquarters met here in lower Manhattan June 5 to discuss future roles and missions of their Citizen Soldiers in homeland security and overseas contingency operations as the National Guard remains in the forefront of the nation's "home and away games."
Hosted by New York's 42nd Infantry Division, the conference provided an opportunity to share best practices, insight and build greater inter-state cooperation for the Army National Guard's most senior combat headquarters.
"We've each come together with really different situations from division to division," said Brig. Gen. Steven Wickstrom, commander of the 42nd Infantry Division, "but there are many things we share."
"Defending America is our recognized home game and our away games are those missions in theaters overseas," Wickstrom said. "With regard to the home game, this weekend can provide a good appreciation of the complex terrain here in New York City, comparable to the major cities in the home states of each of these division headquarters."
Homeland Defense - the Army National Guard Home Game
As a military introduction to the terrain of New York, division commanders and command sergeants major boarded two New York Naval Militia patrol boats, part of the state's Military Emergency Boat Service.
The maritime security assessment provided commanders with an overview of the complexity of the homeland security mission in New York. Naval Militia sailors provided information about their interagency security missions in support of the U.S. Coast Guard in New York City's harbors and waterways and how they are integrated with state security missions with the Army and Air National Guard military service partners.
The patrol boats also train and operate regularly with members of Joint Task Force Empire Shield, the New York State standing task force that employs Army and Air National Guard members for enhanced security and interagency crisis planning with the City of New York.
During the conference, The Adjutant General for New York State, Brig. Gen. Patrick Murphy, stressed the important role that Army National Guard divisions play in defense support to civil authorities.
"We put a lot of emphasis on domestic operations in New York State," Murphy told the group. "And the 42nd Infantry Division is a big part of that. The division has always been a key player in our response."
"One thing we are united on as TAGs (Adjutants General), we are advocating for the division structure - to have relevance, meaning and purpose. The division headquarters' leadership and staff bring order to chaos," Murphy said.
Part of that role for Army National Guard division headquarters is the new Domestic All-Hazards Response Team (DART) mission. The DART mission designates two Guard divisions, every two years, as planners and command and control in the event of an emergency in the United States.
DART planning helps Guard leaders know what military resources are available in one state to assist with emergency relief in another. Most importantly, National Guard resources are provided only at the request of, in support of and under the command of the governor of the state where the emergency exists.
The 42nd Infantry Division will assume the mission for the Domestic All Hazards Response Team on the east coast in October and command and control the response force for the next two years. The 40th Division from California will also take the mission for the west coast this fall.
"We needed this a long time ago," said Maj. Gen. Wayne Pierson, commander of the 35th Infantry Division from Kansas.
The Guard's 28th and 35th Infantry Divisions have built the initial standards and joint mission tasks for the response headquarters this year. The two units have also been travelling through their supported states to provide information about the mission to their respective Adjutants General and state leaders.
"The states have been very receptive and the momentum is there for the success of this mission," said Maj. Gen. Randall Marchi from Pennsylvania's 28th Infantry Division.
The commander's conference in lower Manhattan gave the senior leaders an opportunity to meet in the shadow of the former World Trade Center Twin Towers and hear from the former Adjutant General for New York, retired Maj. Gen. Thomas Maguire.
The armory hosting the conference at Lexington Avenue is the home of the Army National Guard's 1st Battalion, 69th Infantry Regiment, whose Soldiers were among the first at the World Trade Center in support of first responders, providing initial rescue assistance and security support.
Maguire spoke to the group about the response of New York's military forces on September 11, 2001 and in the days, weeks and months following the attack in New York City. He stressed the important role that junior leaders at the company and battalion level played in the Guard's success in supporting the New York City Police Department, Port Authority Police Department, New York City Fire Department and the host of emergency response personnel from city, state and federal agencies.
"What our NCOs and enlisted personnel did in the days and weeks after the attack of September 11th was amazing to me," Maguire said.
Overseas Contingency Operations - The Away Game
Key to the daylong conference was a discussion of the way ahead for overseas contingency operations, where both the 42nd Infantry Division and 34th Infantry Division Headquarters have successfully deployed for combat tours in Iraq.
Addressing the group was Lt. Gen. Frank Helmick, commander of the 18th Airborne Corps and Fort Bragg since November 2009. Helmick previously commanded the Multi-National Security Transition Command in Iraq in mid-2008 and 2009. He spoke to the division commanders about the National Guard's role as an operational force and as full partners in the warfight since 2001.
"There are more similarities than differences between us now than in 2001," Helmick said. Today the Army truly is a single team."
"There is no stronger bond than we have today between our two components, active and Guard," Hemick said. "We've been together in sustained combat operations for eight years, the longest time in our nation's history."
Helmick recognized that there was a time when active Army leaders once questioned the relevance or reliability of Army National Guard combat forces. Not anymore, he said.
"You provide the link, the bridge between the American people and the Army. You haven't missed a beat, you haven't failed in any mission given to the Guard," Helmick said.
"You routinely mobilize and deploy brigade combat teams, separate battalions and even smaller organizations for the fight. As leaders, we must ensure that they are manned, trained equipped and led properly."
Helmick provided similar praise for the individual Army National Guard Soldiers he has led.
"When I walked into the armory this morning and saw Soldiers on the drill floor, I had to go join these new recruits and just talk to them," he said. "As I talked to the recruits, I asked them what they did in their civilian careers and let me tell you, the men and women who join our force today have very, very impressive credentials."
"It is amazing the kind of people we're bringing into our force," he said.
Helmick stressed that Army leaders do not distinguish which component, Active, Army Reserve or Army National Guard that Soldiers come from when deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan or other contingencies. Performance is what matters most.
"I want you to know how much I admire you guys in the Army National Guard. It's important for me to listen to what you are talking about here," Helmick said.
"We don't have the luxury of not working together anymore. There's just not enough money and not enough force structure for that."
The leaders from all eight Guard divisions agreed that the conference is a great benefit and agreed to support continuing conferences.
"We've been able to get better definition of our roles in the homeland defense and warfighter roles," Wickstrom said, "And we need to have those assigned roles and responsibilities."
"This conference benefits not just our Guard leaders, but the Soldiers back in the home states of all of the brigade combat teams are aligned for training with the eight division headquarters," Wickstrom said. "We're better able to do our jobs as leaders when we come together." "