National Guard Leaders Highlight Mission Diversity

National Guard Leaders Highlight Mission Diversity

Photo by: AUSA

Army National Guard leaders offered insights on overcoming the challenges of maintaining readiness, and shared lessons learned from recent deployments during a panel discussion this week at the Association of the U.S. Army Annual Meeting and Exposition.

Leading the conversation was Lt. Gen. Timothy J. Kadavy, director of the Army National Guard, who outlined changes in the way Guard soldiers will train, mobilize and deploy. Called ARNG 4.0, the evolutionary shift is meant to ramp up the level of readiness to be close to that of the regular Army.

Highlighting the diversity of National Guard missions, panelists from general officers to battalion commanders shared experiences from recent deployments to areas of operation in Kosovo, Lithuania, Australia, Central America and the Middle East.

Maj. Gen. Blake Ortner, commander of the 29th Infantry Division headquartered at Fort Belvoir, Va., described the scramble to mobilize needing manning levels to establish a division headquarters in Kuwait for Operation Spartan Shield, an Army Central Command mission. He had only 90 days’ notice, and as planning began, he said, a readiness deficiency quickly arose.

“If you think that you as commanders are going to have time to get ready for a deployment, you’re kidding yourselves,” he said, pointing to manning as a top issue. The task force left with 150 positions unfilled.

“We ended up requiring a nationwide call for fillers. Despite tremendous efforts on the part of Virginia and Maryland to get us filled, we just didn’t have the manning to do that, so it went to all states and active duty, and what we discovered is we have got to get rid of nondeployables,” he said.

Meanwhile, for the New York National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 69th Infantry Regiment, 15 days in Australia offered an opportunity to train with and learn from an important ally and bolster interoperability. Battalion commander Lt. Col. Don Makay said early planning was a key to success, a part of which was building in a couple of days at the end for sightseeing.

A trip to Australia – a place many soldiers would probably never get the opportunity to go – would seem like going to any Army post without the benefit of sampling a little of the local culture with new friends, Makay said.

Across the world in Central America, Lt. Col. Slade McPherson, commander of the Arkansas National Guard’s 2nd Battalion, 153rd Infantry Regiment, relied on Spanish-speaking soldiers from the Puerto Rico National Guard to carry out a train-the-trainer and security cooperation mission in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

Calling it a “unique opportunity for us,” McPherson said it was rare for a battalion-level element to work directly with the U.S. Embassy and the partner-nation army. The battalion’s 180 soldiers worked closely with their Central American counterparts, who were embedded with the National Guard soldiers for training on a program of instruction approved through U.S. Army South.

Of greater value for U.S. soldiers, he said, was the simple joy of being deployed, something that soldiers at the rank of staff sergeant and below expect.

“They stay because they want to do those things, they want to deploy. It’s a culture thing,” McPherson said.

--Gina Cavallaro