Soldiers of the 34th Combat Aviation Brigade said goodbye to their families in May 2014 as they departed for what they anticipated would be a routine deployment to Kuwait. These Minnesota National Guard soldiers expected to perform a general support aviation mission, including transportation and security duties. They encountered much more.The rise of the Islamic State group forced the 34th Combat Aviation Brigade and other units under U.S. Central Command to assume expanded roles. Only four months into their deployment, these soldiers were key players in the campaign to defeat and degrade this barbaric enemy. By September 2014, the brigade was supporting Iraqi and British military units as well as U.S. Army, Navy, Marine,Air Force, Coast Guard and special operations forces. The team included active component soldiers and soldiers from the U.S. Army Reserve and the Army National Guard (ARNG).Several subordinate elements of the brigade moved from Kuwait to various locations in Iraq where operations were occurring. They did all of this while simultaneously conducting partnership-capacity missions with Kuwait, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.Such an unexpected change of mission epitomizes the uncertainty and complexity of today’s battlefield. This distinguished unit succeeded because it was staffed with versatile and adaptive leaders, equipped with modernized Army aircraft, and trained extensively during the pre-mobilization and predeployment processes.In 2014, the ARNG enjoyed peak levels of equipment and modernization, personnel and medical readiness—none of which would have been possible without sufficient resourcing. During the past decade, many of the soldiers in units such as the 34th Combat Aviation Brigade performed essential missions in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere around the globe. These soldiers take pride in being part of a ready and accessible Army.The world is growing increasingly interconnected and complex, making national security problems more difficult. We no longer live in an era in which the nation has the luxury of time and distance to respond to emerging threats. We face a diverse range of opponents seeking to identify and take advantage of our vulnerabilities and operating across multiple domains. We cannot rest on our accomplishments while our enemies are rapidly changing and adapting. In the coming years, we must prepare our soldiers to operate on new battlefields against unconventional threats.The Guard of 2025My effort is to prepare the ARNG, as part of the operational Army, to dominate across the full spectrum of unified land operations on an unpredictable, modern battlefield—just as the 34th Combat Aviation Brigade did. The ARNG of 2025 must be trained, manned and equipped as part of the operational Army to win in a complex world.Shortly after I assumed my duties as director, my transition team and I assessed the ARNG across our 54 states and territories and looked toward the force of the future. The ARNG of 2025 must be part of the Army’s operational force, made up of disciplined soldiers and ready units that are led by competent leaders of character. As the combat reserve of the Army, we must be organized, equipped and trained to fight and win in the multifaceted operating environment of tomorrow. We will retain our combat arms heritage while optimizing resources to achieve an adaptable, accountable and balanced force prepared to respond to the nation and its governors.To achieve this vision, I established five strategic priorities and corresponding lines of effort:- Leader development. The highest priority for the ARNG of 2025 is leader development in support of Army and joint forces. We must develop and retain qualified Army and joint leaders who inspire, plan and execute on the battlefield, in defense of the homeland, and in the halls of the Pentagon—leaders who understand the art and science of building readiness. The ARNG embraces the Army Leader Development Strategy. It is indeed a shared responsibility among the institutional Army (education and training institutions), the operational force (organizations and units) and the individual. Army Guard soldiers and civilians at all levels must be trained, educated and experienced to progressively develop leaders to prevail in unified land operations and lead the ARNG in a 21st-century environment.- Operational capability. Congress, the Army, our governors and the American people expect an ARNG with the capacity and capabilities to respond when needed. Under the Army’s rotational readiness policies, a portion of the ARNG force is always available for combat missions, support to civil authorities, humanitarian assistance and theater security cooperation efforts. I do not believe the term operational describes a threshold. Rather, the term refers to a continuum. The ARNG can, and should, continue serving as part of the operational force. When adequately resourced, units will be available and should be utilized on a recurring basis in support of Army operational needs, named operations or otherwise.- Resourced and modern. To support Force 2025 and Beyond, the ARNG must maintain a viable investment strategy for both equipment and facilities. The Army Guard is currently benefitting from the highest levels of modernized equipment in our history. This equipment is vital to maintaining interoperability with the total force, achieving meaningful training, and ensuring effective domestic responses when required. As a community-based force, we have facilities in nearly 2,600 communities, making it the most dispersed military component of our armed services.- Full-time support. Full-time support personnel provide the ARNG with its foundational capacity to generate readiness—similar to an installation command. Full-time support personnel generate readiness, manage training, recruit and retain quality soldiers, and field and maintain equipment to the Army standard. Without our full-time support personnel, it would be impossible to deliver critical Army programs to our soldiers and their families across the ARNG.We grew the number of ARNG soldiers in temporary active duty for operational support status to support mobilizations and other war-related tasks, but our full-time support personnel always provided the foundational/installation-like support that was critical to success. Reductions to current full-time support levels will negatively impact foundational and unit readiness and diminish our ability to serve as part of the operational force and conduct operations in support of civil authorities.- Ready soldiers and families. Our soldiers, families, communities and employers all understand, support and are prepared for the ARNG’s role in the nation’s defense. The Ready and Resilient Campaign is both a strategic and holistic approach to our ready and resilient initiatives. We have many separate existing programs aimed at improving soldier, family, Army civilian and unit readiness such as suicide prevention, Sexual Harassment/Assault Response & Prevention, behavioral health, resilience training, the Strong Bonds program and family programs. The purpose of the campaign is to break down stovepipes and integrate training and resources to better serve our soldiers and families.Always Ready, Always ThereIn the face of historic geopolitical instability, our dual mission remains constant. As the Army’s primary combat reserve, the ARNG serves as part of the operational Army to dominate in unified land operations as directed by combatant commanders. As directed by the president or governors, we respond to the needs of our neighbors, communities and states. Last year, the ARNG performed approximately 700,000 duty days in support of civil authorities. This included responses to 46 winter storms, 25 wildfires, 16 floods and 15 tornadoes. We provide capacity and capabilities for these domestic missions by maintaining our warfighting capabilities and equipment. This provides the nation’s governors with rapidly employable forces that are manned, trained, equipped and geographically dispersed to maintain a presence in local communities.With a keen eye toward the future, we will ensure our forces are postured for operational success. Our nation depends upon a professionally trained, equipped, ready and accessible National Guard to respond to everything from local floods to a nuclear weapon detonation, and everything in between. I believe the nation needs this dual-missioned force. As a key contributor to the Total Army, the ARNG will remain focused on our core competencies: Win the nation’s wars, build partner capacity, and defend the homeland.