The U.S. Senate recently confirmed then Lt. Gen. Frank Grass as the next chief of the National Guard Bureau and then Air Force Maj. Gen. Joseph Lengyel to be vice chief.
Grass, who also will be a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will be promoted to four-star general and Lengyel will add a third star with his promotion to lieutenant general.
The Senate action July 26 followed Grass’ July 19 hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Grass told that committee the National Guard is an operational force at a historic peak of readiness, its ranks filled with seasoned citizen-soldiers and citizen-airmen, and a critical partner to the Army and Air Force at home and abroad.
"Your National Guard," Grass – then deputy commander, U.S. Northern Command, and vice commander, U.S. Element, North American Aerospace Command – told senators, "is more ready, more capable and rapidly deployable than ever before in our nation’s history and also ready to respond to disasters in our states, territories and the District of Columbia.
"The past decade," he said, "has also demonstrated that the National Guard is an operational force and a critical partner with the Army and the Air Force in all missions, all contingencies and on the North American continent."
He attributed the transformation of the National Guard to previous chiefs of the National Guard Bureau, directors of the Army and Air National Guard, adjutants general, senior enlisted and, he said, "Most importantly, the sacrifice and commitment of the citizen-soldiers, airmen and their families."
As chief of the National Guard Bureau, Grass told senators, "I will work to ensure the capabilities gained since 9/11 are not lost and the investment not squandered."
As the channel of communications to the adjutants general of the 50 states, three territories and the District of Columbia, Grass will also partner with Congress, the Army and the Air Force to ensure the guard’s readiness and availability, he said.
"To the men and women and families of the Army and the Air National Guard you can know that I will be your strongest advocate," Grass said.
Asked about the chief’s role on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Grass said, "As a member of the Joint Chiefs, I [will] definitely have to bring forward the adjutants generals’ and governors’ thoughts, concerns, on the homeland mission.
Adding "I also need to be able to balance that with the federal mission and deployable forces and be able to give my best military advice to the secretary of defense as well as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs."
Grass told senators he is an advocate of the National Guard’s 20-year-old, 64-nation State Partnership Program (SPP), which he was heavily exposed to during his tenure as director, mobilization and reserve component affairs, at U.S. European Command and at other points in his career.
"For a very small amount of money, it’s been a tremendous program around the map," Grass said, noting deployments by SPP partner countries and the enduring nature of both the partnerships themselves and individual, career-long relationships between Guard members and their partner country counterparts.
Adding, "[I] saw the value every day, saw the relationships that were built over the last 20 years, especially in what used to be Eastern Europe during the Cold War."
In 1969, Grass enlisted in the Missouri Army National Guard.
He served as a traditional citizen-soldier, juggling a civilian career with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and family life with monthly drills at a National Guard armory.
He was promoted to staff sergeant, and his awards include the Noncommissioned Officer Professional Development Ribbon.
Twelve years after enlistment, in 1981, he was commissioned.
On July 19, 2012 – almost 43 years after his initial enlistment and after a career that has seen full and part-time service in his local community, for his state and at the federal level; enlisted and commissioned; domestic and overseas – Grass was testifying before the Senate committee, nominated to be a four-star general, to be the 27th chief of the National Guard Bureau and a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
His wife, Patricia, sat among the spectators. The couple has five children and seven grandchildren.
"My service in the National Guard would not have been possible without her tremendous family support," Grass told the committee.
Grass succeeded Air Force Gen. Craig McKinley, the first four-star general and first to be appointed to the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the National Guard’s more than 375-year history.
Lengyel, the senior U.S. defense official in Egypt, will be the first three-star vice chief of the National Guard Bureau.
The position of vice chief was re-established and elevated to the three-star level by the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act.
Lengyel is a command pilot with more than 3,000 flying hours, mostly in the F-16 Fighting Falcon.
His 30-year career has included extensive service with the Texas Air National Guard and key assignments as commander, 455th Expeditionary Operations Group, Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan; commander of the Air National Guard Readiness Center at Joint Base Andrews, Md.; and vice commander, First Air Force, Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla. (National Guard Bureau)