National Guard October 2012 : Page 28

C ONFERENCE WR AP-UP The Great Reno Balloon Race By Ron Jensen RENO, Nev. HE 134TH GENERAL Conference and Exhibition overlapped the fi nal day of the Great Reno Balloon Race, allowing early arriving NGAUS attendees the chance to see hot-air balloons decorate the morning sky. The conference was in many ways a celebration of another type of ascension, that of the National Guard, which has spent more than a decade proving its value. Seven four-star generals and a man who wants to be commander in chief tell the annual NGAUS gathering that the Guard has reached new heights 28 T | Na tional Guard Cathleen Allison Rare Air Cathleen Allison

Rare Air

Ron Jensen

Seven four-star generals and a man who wants to be commander in chief tell the annual NGAUS gathering that the Guard has reached new heights

THE 134TH GENERAL Conference and Exhibition overlapped the fi nal day of the Great Reno Balloon Race, allowing early arriving NGAUS attendees the chance to see hot-air balloons decorate the morning sky.

The conference was in many ways a celebration of another type of ascension, that of the National Guard, which has spent more than a decade proving its value.

“The attacks of 11 years ago today and the subsequent wars have thrust the National Guard into the front lines of our nation’s defense overnight,” said Gen. Frank J. Grass, the National Guard Bureau chief, speaking on Sept. 11. “We now have the most competent, relevant and battle-tested National Guard in the history of the nation.”

But just like the stiff winds that sometimes ground the colorful balloons, fiscal challenges are threatening to keep Guard hopes closer from reaching even greater heights.

“Either by sequestration or other means, budget cuts are coming to the Department of Defense,” said Grass, who spoke just five days after taking charge of the bureau.

This threat to the Guard’s stability became as much the theme of the conference as the official one, “Hometown Force, Global Reach.”

But in the conference’s opening hours, Maj. Gen. Frank Vavala, who presided over his second and final conference as NGAUS chairman of the board, ensured that the association will have a say in how the budget-cutting conversation goes on Capitol Hill.

He repeated an idea that would save money, increase the Guard’s status and help the country.

“Let’s bring the Army and Air Force reserve into our National Guard,” he announced during the chairman’s annual report, which opens the conference. “Our brothers and sisters in the Reserve could add immensely To our power, our relevance and our capabilities in the warfight and in our stateside missions.”

His idea, which has been bouncing around the nation’s capital for years without someone to champion it, resonated throughout the conference.

Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the Army chief of staff, commented on it (sidebar, page 32). Former Gov. Mitt Romney, the GOP candidate for president, was asked about it in an interview with National Guard (sidebar, page 31). And retired Gen. Ronald R. Fogleman, a former Air Force chief of staff, responded to a question about it during the Air Separate Session.

“If you would step back and look at it objectively,” Fogleman said, “it would make sense to have one reserve force.”

There was plenty more on tap at the association’s annual get-together, held this time in the Biggest Little City in the World, as Reno bills itself.

The trade show was a hit, benefiting by being just a few steps from the business sessions, a fact appreciated by the vendors.

“You get the traffic coming through,” said Jennifer Loproto, the marketing director of Kforce Government Solutions. “That set-up alone is beneficial to everyone here.”

The company was displaying a line of life-like mannequins designed to train combat medics. The realistic training devices are in use throughout the military and provide training as true as possible without going into a war zone.

They bleed. They have pulses. They thrash their arms as if in pain. But if they die, they can be brought back to life. And the booth was a popular spot in the sprawling exhibition hall. Loproto credited not only the product, but the show itself.

“This is the first one we’ve been to and we’re definitely coming back,” she said.

Gen. Carter F. Ham, the commander of U.S. Africa Command, gave a major pat on the back to the Guard On the conference’s first day.

“The greatest impact that the National Guard has on contributing to long-term stability in Africa is through the State Partnership Program,” he said. “It fosters enduring, sustainable relationships between a state and its national leaders. These partnerships transcend politics. They transcend boundaries. They open the door to engagements in other areas that might not be possible without the State Partnership Program.”

He admitted that he was once among those in the active components who believed in all the “worst generalizations of the National Guard” as poorly trained weekend warriors. Those days are gone, he said, and he hopes that the valuable relationships built over the last decade will continue.

Gen. Mark A. Welsh III, the chief of staff of the Air Force, spoke early on the second day, bringing a message of unity Guardsmen wanted to hear (sidebar, page 32).

“I have trouble seeing lines between components of the services because I believe on the air side we have an Air Force,” he said. “It has three components, but we all are working together. We have to or we can’t be successful.”

Gen. Craig R. McKinley, the former chief of the National Guard Bureau, was at his last conference before his retirement. Vavala introduced the man who was the Guard’s first four-star chief and first chief to sit on the Joint Chiefs of Staff as a “trailblazer” who handled his role with “class and dignity.”

“You made it easier for those who have the honor of following you,” Vavala said.

Modest as always, McKinley thanked the many people who helped him along the way.

Anne Armstrong, the deputy director of the National Guard Educational Foundation, introduced Legion de Lafayette members who had donated a total of $550,000 to the NGEF in the past year.

But that wasn’t the only contribution celebrated during her presentation. Retired Vice Adm. John Cotton of DRS Technologies provided a $100,000 check to fulfill the company’s initial pledge to underwrite the DRS Guardian Scholarship Fund, which awards college scholarships to the children of fallen Guardsmen.

Armstrong also noted that NGEF will unveil in November its 9/11 Era Gallery, the largest renovation to the National Guard Memorial Museum since 2003.

Retired Maj. Gen. Arnold L. Punaro, the chairman of the new reconstituted Reserve Forces Policy Board, followed with perhaps the fieriest speech of the conference.

A longtime advocate of the reserve components, the former Marine Corps Reserve officer recalled when he was a Senate Armed Forces Committee staff member in 1991 and President George H.W. Bush wanted to cut the reserve components to save money.

“We didn’t let it happen [then] and we shouldn’t let it happen now,” he thundered to applause.

He was referring to discussions now to cut reserve component pay, units and equipment.

Punaro warned that active-component leaders are looking for ways to take some homeland defense missions away from the Guard to replace their missions overseas, many of which are now winding down.

“The Guard and Reserve are forward deployed in the homeland, and active leaders should fall in on your formations, not in reverse,” he said. “This move by some in the Pentagon is a leading edge indicator that those in the Pentagon are examining downgrading the operational reserve that has performed so well.”

Former Gov. Mitt Romney was the highlight of the conference (sidebar, page 31). In a speech he said would not be political out of respect for the day, the Republican candidate for president told the assembled Guardsmen on the 11th anniversary of 9/11, “The nation has asked much of you.”

He pledged to build a military “so strong that no one would ever think of testing it.”

The Air Separate Session on the conference’s final morning gave airmen a chance to bid a fond farewell to “Bud from Oklahoma,” as Lt. Gen. Harry M. Wyatt III, the Air Guard director, calls himself.

Wyatt is due to retire when his replacement is named, but Brig. Gen. William Burks, the Nevada adjutant general and the NGAUS vice chair-Air, no doubt spoke for many when he said, “We don’t know when that will be announced, but we hope it’s in the next three or four years.”

In his remarks, Wyatt attempted to put behind the Air Guard some of the acrimony that has developed between it and the Air Force. He said it is time to “put that rhetoric away and start working with the United States Air Force.”

With Welsh as the Air Force chief of staff, he said, there is reason to believe that better days are ahead in the relationship between the two organizations.

At the Army Separate Session, Lt.

Gen. William E. Ingram Jr., the Army Guard director, spoke on the issue of the day. He said budget cuts must not threaten the top-notch operational force.

“We’re going to have to think a little smarter and figure out what our Army is going to look like,” he said. “Bottom line, we will still have to protect the nation.”

The Army Guard’s ability to respond quickly and efficiently to domestic missions is largely due to the investments made for the Guard’s federal mission. That must be maintained, he said.

Also speaking at the Army Separate Session, Gen. David M. Rodriguez, the commander of U.S. Army Forces Command, said the three components of the Army will have to adjust to smaller budgets.

FORSCOM will rely more on simulation. Training at the National Training Center will be replaced by gear such as the Exportable Combat Training Capability, which can be moved from location to location.

“This will require a mindset change for all of us, because the first thing we want to do is do it live with all the bells and whistles we’ve become comfortable with the last 10 years,” he said.

Back in the business sessions For the conference’s final afternoon, Maj. Gen. H. Michael Edwards, the Colorado adjutant general, presented the report of the Adjutants General Association of the United States. His point was familiar by this time.

“We know that the budget we face in the future … will be one of the top challenges,” he said.

Some programs will survive; others will not, Edwards said. He added that the 54 adjutants general may not always agree, but “when we collectively come together on issues, we have been able to do the impossible.”

The president of the Enlisted Association of the National Guard of the United States, Command Sgt. Major John F. Helbert of Massachusetts, presented the EANGUS report.

He said EANGUS is committed to asking young officers to join NGAUS. It may be wrong for upper ranks to ask lower ranks to join, but there’s nothing against doing it the other way around.

The final speaker of the conference was Jessica Wright, the assistant secretary of defense for reserve affairs, and she wasted no time getting to the message of the week.

“There’s a point in time where we’re going to have to confront this nation’s debt,” she said.

When that time comes, the Pentagon will “take a hit,” added Wright, a former Pennsylvania adjutant general and NGAUS vice chair-Army.

But the key will be to absorb the cuts without reducing quality, she said.

In the last bit of business for the conference, the election results were accepted. Maj. Gen. Stephen L. Danner, the Missouri adjutant general, won a hotly contest election for chairman of the board and accepted the gavel from Vavala (sidebar, below).

At the States Dinner, the conference’s final event, Danner spoke about the previous three days.

“The speakers were first rate. The social events were superb,” he said. “And the hospitality of the Nevada National Guard was second to none.”

And that was not just a lot of hot air.

Andrew Waldman contributed to this report. Ron Jensen can be contacted at 202- 408-5885 or at

NGB Chief: Guard at Its Zenith

Less than one week after becoming the 27th chief of the National Guard Bureau, Gen. Frank J. Grass told the 134th General Conference and Exhibition that the Guard is essential to maintaining national security in times of fiscal challenges.

“The key to reducing the overall size of the armed forces while maintaining capabilities and readiness is the National Guard,” he said while speaking on the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Grass followed Gen. Craig R. McKinley in the chief’s spot. Like McKinley, who was the Guard’s first four-star chief, Grass received a fourth star to go with his promotion. And, like McKinley, he now sits on the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

McKinely spoke before Grass and thanked many people who took a chance on a young airman many years before. Several of them were in attendance.

“It’s a new day. It’s a new place,” he said. “And I thank each of you for your dedication because you brought us to this place.”

Grass said those attacks of 9/11 pushed the Guard to the front lines of two wars and has created “the most competent, relevant and battletested National Guard in the history of the nation.”

But now, he said, the nation has bills to pay for 11 years of war, most of it in two countries. The budget has grown by one-third during that time and has become unsustainable.

This is where the Guard can be a great benefit as the Defense Department leadership looks for a smaller and leaner force with no reduced capability, he said.

But, he noted, there is a cost for the high tempo of the last 11 years that has given the Guard the high profile it now enjoys. The issues of unemployment and suicide have become challenges to overcome.

“These problems are not self-correcting,” he said. “They will not just go away.”

The Defense Department has to be involved in the solution, he said.

—By Ron Jensen

Romney Promises ‘Greater’ Reliance on The National Guard

The sudden presence of four metal detectors and other security outside the hall where business sessions were being held for the 134th General Conference and Exhibition offered evidence that an upcoming visitor was more than just another Pentagon official or member of Congress.

And despite the long lines that formed in the hallway, attendees were able to enter with modest dispatch to hear the conference’s most prominent speaker on the 11th anniversary of 9/11.

“With less than two months to go before Election Day, I would normally speak to a gathering like this about the differences between my and my opponent’s plans for our military and for our national security,” said former Gov. Mitt Romney, the Republican candidate for president.

“There is a time and a place for that, but this day is not it.”

Instead, Romney offered kudos to the National Guard for its many efforts since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and promised a strong military and an effective Department of Veterans Affairs under a Romney presidency.

“Our world is a dangerous place. And the attack on our homeland and citizens on Sept. 11, 2001, reminds us that the mission of the Guard is ever more critical, and ever more deserving of our support and honor.”

He told of visiting Guardsmen in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2006 while he was governor of Massachusetts. He came home with 63 telephone numbers of spouses and family members to call, a task he expected to take several days.

Starting the calls early on Memorial Day, he soon learned that word has spread and that each person on his list was expecting his call.

“So, I made 63 calls on Memorial Day,” he said to cheers and laughter.

In an interview with NATIONAL GUARD after his speech, he promised that reliance on the Guard would be “greater, not lesser” during his administration.

He also was asked about an idea renewed at the conference by Maj. Gen. Frank Vavala, the association’s chairman of the board for the past two years, to merge the Army and Air Force Reserve into the Guard.

“It’s something we’ve discussed,” Romney said, “but it’s not something I’ll take a definitive position on until it’s been thoroughly discussed, reviewed by the Joint Chiefs, [and] considered by governors and members of Congress.

“I realize that these institutions were established with different missions in mind and it’s important that those missions are able to be fulfilled.”

He was also asked about leveraging the efficiency of the Guard by growing its size while reducing the size of the more costly active component.

“There are a number of things I will have a chance to study if and when I become president,” he said. “But I’m not at this stage going to opine on the force structure of the National Guard. I can tell you that the National Guard is a relative bargain.”

In his speech, Romney endorsed President Barack Obama’s plan of ending the war in Afghanistan by the end of 2014, but only if conditions on the ground allow it and commanders support it.

“Of course, the return of our troops cannot and must not be used as an excuse to hollow out our military through devastating defense budget cuts,” he said.

He said corners cannot be cut in training and equipment and that programs cannot be canceled that would jeopardize the critical missions of the U.S. armed forces.

—By Ron Jensen

Service Chiefs Emphasize Unity

Shortly after Maj. Gen. Frank Vavala, the NGAUS chairman, gave an impassioned speech about merging the Army and Air Force reserve into the National Guard, Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the Army chief of staff, had a response to that call to action.

“I heard you talking about that,” he said with a halting tone. “I’ll have to think about that a little bit.”

While Odierno’s feelings on such a merger are ambiguous, he and his Air Force counterpart gave a united message to the Guard during their speeches at the 134th General Conference and Exhibition.

The Guard is part of the team, they said, and remains relevant today.

“The only way we can move forward successfully is together,” said Gen. Mark A. Welsh III, the Air Force chief of staff.

During a question and answer session, Odierno discussed the federal budget sequestration that could be triggered by the Budget Control Act of 2011 (story, page 22). He urged the leaders of formations to continue to plan to do their jobs and let him do the rest.

“What I tell our tactical and operational leaders is, although it’s hanging over our heads to not be concerned with it,” he said. “It’s up to me and others to make sure you get the resources.”

While commanders may not find that to be the most reassuring answer, Odierno said, budget cuts this year will miss the Guard and mostly hit the active component.

He also said the Army was continuing to work toward creating a one-year deployment per five-years of service cycle for Guardsmen to increase predictability for soldiers, families and employers.

Welsh praised the Air Guard for its ability to execute missions both at home and overseas. He said discussions regarding the future of the Total Air Force should happen among all members of the Air Force, not just among Guardsmen or active-component airmen in separate rooms.

“There has to more transparency,” he said “We have to include Title 32 and state requirements at the front of this process and not at the end. We have to understand that we won’t agree on everything … but we have got to have the debate.” —By Andrew Waldman

Missouri Adjutant General Elected NGAUS Chairman

Maj. Gen. Stephen L. Danner, the Missouri adjutant general, now leads NGAUS.

Delegates to the 134th General Conference and Exhibition selected him from a trio of candidates to serve as the association chairman of the board for the next two years. He succeeds Maj. Gen. Frank Vavala of Delaware.

Elections for several other positions on the 29-member NGAUS board were held at the conference.

Delegates selected Maj. Gen. Deborah A. Ashenhurst, the Ohio adjutant general, to be new vice chairman-Army and Maj. Gen. Donald P. Dunbar, the Wisconsin adjutant general, as vice chairman-Air.

Retired Brig. Gen. Kenneth L. Ross of Louisiana will continue as treasurer after running unopposed. Col. Murray Hansen of Georgia will remain as secretary. He, too, had no opponent in the election.

In other election results, Area III returns to the board all three sitting representatives, Maj. Gen. Emmett R. Titshaw Jr. Of Florida, Lt. Col. Jimmie Cole of Tennessee and Brig. Gen. Robert Hamrick of Alabama.

Area VI delegates returned Maj. Gen. Raymond F. Rees of Oregon and retired Maj. Gen. Daniel B. O’Hollaren of Oregon to the board, while tapping Col. John Lathrop of California to be their third representative.

Warrant officers returned Chief Warrant Officer 5 Howard E. Touchstone of Mississippi to the board for another term and company-grade officers elected Capt. Benjamin Ruffner of Florida to be their Army Guard representative.

—By Ron Jensen

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