Guard serves bravely at home, abroad
By Air National Guard Gen. Craig McKinley
Chief of the National Guard Bureau
May 24, 2012
Six hundred ninety-three: That’s how many brave, selfless National
Guardsmen and women have paid the ultimate sacrifice in Iraq and
Afghanistan since 9/11 to ensure others a chance to enjoy freedom.
Memorial Day is once again upon us, and it is important to reflect upon
and honor those who have served in defense of our nation.
Memorial Day grew from a Civil War tradition of women’s groups gathering
each year to decorate the graves of those whose lives were lost. Believe
it or not, just two decades after that bloody conflict, some wondered
why the holiday was necessary. One of its veterans, Oliver Wendell
Holmes Jr. — later a Supreme Court justice — argued remembrance was not
only relevant, but a duty to the fallen. “It is for us to bear the
report to those who come after us,” Holmes stated.
In the last decade alone, the National Guard has supported more than
675,000 mobilizations in support of domestic and overseas missions.
Equally impressive are our reenlistment rates since 9/11. The 106,200
airmen and women of our Air National Guard boast the highest retention
rates of any active duty or reserve force. Further, more than 80 percent
of our 358,200 Army Guard members joined the National Guard after 9/11,
knowing full well they would be put in harm’s way.
More than 50 percent are now seasoned combat veterans. This decade has
been the first real test of the all-volunteer force, and it has worked
in spectacular fashion.
Odds are you know a Guardsman or woman. They are your neighbors,
co-workers, friends or relatives. There are more than 460,000 National
Guard members in more than 3,000 communities across all 50 states, three
territories — Guam, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands — and the
District of Columbia. In nearly every zip code, these citizen soldiers
and airmen are the connective tissue that links Main Street America to
our military. They are vital to ensuring public support for all of our
brave men and women in uniform.
Since the 9/11 attacks, our National Guard soldiers and airmen have
served on the frontlines at home and abroad. In 2011 alone our nation
encountered 14 natural disasters that caused at least $1 billion in
damage each. The National Guard provided critical life-saving, property
protection and recovery support for wildfires in the Southwest, a
blizzard in Chicago, floods along the Mississippi and Missouri rivers
and tornadoes. They also helped protect our borders from drug traffic
and ensure the sovereignty of our nation’s airspace. For more than 375
years the National Guard has protected our communities and the people
and property in them.
This generation of National Guardsmen, like past generations, is serving
in combat zones. Over the last decade the National Guard has faced the
enemy in Iraqi deserts and Afghani mountains.
Since 1636, when colonial citizens put down their ploughs and picked up
their muskets, America’s National Guard has been there. They have fought
and died in the Civil War, WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, the first Gulf War
Today, the National Guard provides roughly 40 percent of America’s total
military force for only 7 to 8 percent of the DOD budget. Just as
important, in these financially constrained times, nearly 85 percent of
the National Guard serves part time. In short, when citizen soldiers and
airmen are not deployed, their civilian employers — not the DOD — absorb
the bulk of their costs. The National Guard is security America can
on the National Guard’s future could be the best way to honor all of our
fallen. As America’s strategic hedge for unforeseen world events, it’s
important the National Guard remains an operational force. Investing in
the National Guard allows us to preserve our most experienced cadre of
battle-tested soldiers and airmen.
Further, the National Guard’s State Partnership Program (SPP),
approaching its 20th year, is a cornerstone of the new defense strategy.
Partnered with more than 60 foreign nations, we have forged enduring
alliances by strengthening our partner countries’ capacity and
competence. National Guard partner nations have reduced the demand for
U.S. forces — 25 partner nations contributed troops to Iraq and
Afghanistan, while 31,000 partner-nation personnel support U.N.
peacekeeping operations. Most telling, more than 85 countries —
one-third of the world — have requested to partner with the National
Guard as part of the SPP.
This Memorial Day, as you reflect on the sacrifices made by National
Guard members at home and abroad for nearly four centuries, also
consider the family members of our servicemen and women. They, too, have
made immeasurable sacrifices and contributions. Remembrance is our duty.
We owe it to the fallen members of the National Guard, Army and Air, who
paid the ultimate price.