MAY 3, 2016, SANTA FE, N.M. – Gen. Frank J. Grass, Chief of the National Guard Bureau, visited New Mexico National Guard Airmen and Soldiers April 29-30. He toured much of the state via Army and Air Force aircraft crewed and piloted by Guard members and also attended the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve Freedom Awards Banquet. A common theme of collaboration among the services and the civilian counterparts ran thru his visit.
The New Mexico National Guard adjutant general, Brig. Gen. Andrew Salas, hosted the visit and shared some desired outcomes. Salas said, “We were very pleased to be able to communicate to Gen. Grass the unique contributions the state of New Mexico is providing to the national defense; especially with respect to our standing as a center of excellence for joint, inter-organizational and multinational training, testing, evaluation and assessment. As the operational reserve force of choice to our active-duty brothers and sisters, we are uniquely positioned here not only to provide operational support, but also surge and niche type activities the active duty cannot otherwise provide. Those were the big things we were interested in communicating to Gen. Grass, and he was very interested in hearing our story.”
Grass arrived at the Army Aviation Support Facility here and addressed the civilian employers receiving recognition for their support of Guard employees. Among the awardees was the Albuquerque Police Department, T-Mobile USA and Paul’s Veterinary Supply. Grass thanked the employers for their vital role in sustaining the livelihoods of the reserve service members and for going above and beyond the status quo.
“Gen. Grass has been a staunch supporter of the states and has done a wonderful job of leading the effort at the national level to integrate the National Guard in a more effective manner in support of our active duty brothers and sisters,” Salas said. “Mrs. Grass has been a tremendous first lady of the National Guard. She has a very strong personal concern about families and civilian employers of National Guardsmen. She has been an inspiration and a leader in making sure we do not forget about the entire team.”
Following the ceremony, Grass was flown via New Mexico Air National Guard RC-26 Metroliner to Deming, where he spoke with Salas; Customs and Border Patrol, Patrol Agent in Charge Ronald LeBlanc; Brig. Gen. Kurt S. Crytzer, Joint Task Force North Commander; Brig. Gen. Thomas Bump, Land Component Commander New Mexico National Guard; and members of New Mexico National Guard’s Joint Counterdrug Task Force.
“The U.S. CBP has primary responsibility under the Department of Homeland Security to take care of our border and ensure it is safe and secure,” Salas said. “However, they have shortfalls in their capability. The shortfalls are areas the National Guard is well suited to fill in until such time they have the capacity to do it for themselves. We were able to make the compelling case to Gen. Grass for modest additional resources to the National Guard of the Border States to help provide for those shortfalls.”
The discussion focused on the multi-tiered collaboration of the New Mexico National Guard, Customs and Border Patrol, and JTF North. A common thread shared is the need for a continuous source of funding for the Guard members in order to sustain a level of continuity. LeBlanc said the NMNG provides an array of compatible products to include air support, remote video surveillance systems, forward looking infrared vehicles and the personnel who augment and fill in law enforcement gaps. He said that the partnership has garnered many successes in securing the Southwestern border.
Salas said, “As the military considers the range of security concerns to the United States of America, paramount among those are the security concerns that present themselves here in our own neighborhood. Here in the western hemisphere we have a clear and present danger with transnational criminal organizations especially when it comes to the trafficking of illicit drugs. As one of four Southwest border states, N.M. plays a key role in defending the nation against that threat. While also helping defend the nations south of us from the corrupting influences of these drug cartels and transnational criminal organizations. When Gen. Grass visited the border he was able to see for himself just how remote the border is and how much access the drug cartels have for smuggling opportunities of drugs coming north and of illicit arms trafficking and laundered money heading south.”
Following the tabletop discussion, Grass boarded one of the New Mexico Army National Guard’s LUH-72 Lakota helicopters for an aerial view of the border. He was able to see how desolate a place the Southwestern border is while hearing accounts from the pilots and crew of their mission and capabilities.
“Hearing the dedication of the pilots and the crew flying along the border, you can tell how they are totally dedicated to that mission. Of course, we look at the numbers every day; how many hours we’re flying, what’s going on at the border. The security of our nation is what’s happening on the Southwest border,” said Grass.
Countless stories of quantifiable efforts were shared by LeBlanc, Crytzer, and Salas highlighting the necessity of ongoing cooperation among the civilian law enforcement, active duty Soldiers and Guardsmen in the defense of the homeland.
Grass began the final day of his tour at the 58th Special Operations Wing on Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque. He was given a snapshot of the daily collaboration and integration of active Air Force, embedded Air National Guardsmen and civilians in the multitude of training, war fighting and homeland defense operations occurring here. Representatives of the 377th Air Base Wing, 58th Special Operations Wing, 150th Special Operations Wing, Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center, Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center, Air Force Security, and the Joint Navigation Warfare Center shared brief remarks with Grass. Each one highlighted the inclusive nature of their operations and the ability to effectively meet their missions due in large part to the additions of the Guardsmen on staff or working in numerous behind-the-scenes support roles. All voiced a desire for continued, or enhanced, integration among the services and civilian roles in order to continue to provide the highest quality of products.
Grass’s final flight by the New Mexico Air National Guard was aboard the CV-22 Osprey. The 58th SOW, an active component of the Air Force, is the owner of the aircraft, but the pilots, crew, and maintenance include Guard members from the Air National Guard’s 150th SOW epitomizing the joint nature of the services in N.M. Under the Classic Association, the active duty owns the mission and the hardware and the Guard provides the manpower and expertise. According to the official U.S. Air Force fact sheet, the Osprey is a tilt-rotor aircraft used to conduct long-range infiltration, exfiltration and resupply missions for special operations forces. It is capable of a vertical takeoff, hover and vertical landing qualities of a helicopter with the long-range, fuel efficiency and speed characteristics of a turboprop aircraft.
During the flight the Air National Guard pilots and crew showed the passengers the full range of capabilities from 241 knots of cruising speed to perpendicular to the horizon turns to a full stop and hover while conducting a hoist operation. Grass was able to sit at the edge of the open ramp looking out over the New Mexico desert southwest while feeling the skill of the pilots in maneuvering the aircraft. He was grinning and giving thumbs up to the crewmember following a couple of sharp turns expertly conducted.
After landing back at KAFB, Grass addressed a small crowd of NMNG Soldiers and Airmen. He said, “There’s nothing like getting out on the ground with our Guardsmen and families. Seeing the employers yesterday, we know it is truly a special entity. I wish every American could see what we have in the Guard today. I think it’s just something unique in history right now that there’s nowhere else on the planet where you pay so little and get so much. We just have to keep telling our story so that people realize that part of the solution to our fiscal challenge in the nation is sitting in this room right here.”