WASHINGTON (1/10/14) – The chief of the National Guard Bureau discussed a myriad of topics with journalists today, emphasizing that the Guard is now trained and equipped at a level higher than he’s seen in nearly half a decade.
Army Gen. Frank J. Grass touched on the Guard’s future, its homeland mission, the Army and Air Force’s role within their federal mission and enduring partnerships abroad.
“For 377 years now, we’ve been rolling out of the gates of our armories whenever the governors call, in some cases even before the governors call,” he said.
“Just in the last 16 months since I’ve been here, Hurricane Sandy was the first event,” Grass said. “Twelve thousand Guardsmen rolled out of the gate, out of 22 states total.”
Guardsmen from other states, he said, seamlessly rolled in to assist New York, New Jersey and West Virginia during snow events.
“And that is who your Guard is, how it’s been always been,” he said. “And again, we don’t want to break that.”
Grass said he’s asked all the time about the National Guard’s federal mission – why does the National Guard need fighter jets, tanks and helicopters? Hesaid his response is they don’t always need tanks, Apaches and fighter jets, but the National Guard needs whatever the Army and Air Force need in their reserve.
“Our first mission – and our two missions are equal – is our mission to support the federal reserve of … the United States Air Force and the United States Army,” he said.
“So however the Army looks or however the Air Force looks, we’ve got to be interchangeable,” Grass said. “We’ll never be identical to them. We’re not going to be and not try to be.”
They will never be identical to the Guard either, he said, because of that homeland mission where “we roll out the gate.”
Grass said the bureau has to be complementary to each service so that when one needs an additional capability, the National Guard is ready to move. That means being similarly organized, trained and equipped.
“I can honestly tell you today, our readiness is higher than it’s ever been in the Army and Air National Guard,” he said.
“And we are organized, trained and equipped at a level higher than I’ve ever seen in my 44 years of service,” Grass said. “That’s because of a lot of great investment by the nation throughout the war.”
“The real challenge is how do you balance that now, in this fiscal environment, and not lose that edge, not lose that equipment,” he said.
The general noted each of the National Guard’s missions is “very unique” whether it’s an Air National Guard unit deploying overseas within 72 hours or Army engineers rescuing flood victims and repairing and re-opening roads “in record time.”
Grass pointed to the “unique” constitutional structure of the National Guard, which enables it to support the civilian government and support the president when called upon.
“We’ve created some opportunities in the future that will continue to grow in the homeland response that are unique from what we had [in the past],” he said.
“It’s hinged in a concept called the dual status commander,” Grass said. “We pre-train and pre-certify a National Guard one-star [general] who then can command and control active Guard reserve forces.”
The general said this idea came about during Colorado flooding when the state’s adjutant general, Air Force Maj. Gen. H. Michael Edwards, requested the establishment of a dual status command, through Grass and U.S. Northern Command’s Army Gen. Charles H. Jacoby Jr.
General Jacoby provided the staff for the Title 10 federal side of the mission, Grass said, and Colorado stood up their normal, Title 32 state mission. “And this one commander commanded all of those 23 helicopters and gave them direction,” he said.
Grass noted this dual status command required approval from Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, but it is now done “pretty routinely” for crises and planned events.
The general also noted the Guard is focused on partnership – both assisting homeland communities and internationally through the State Partnership Program, where 65 states partner with 71 countries, teaming up a state with a country for a military-to-military relationship.
“This started after the fall of the Soviet Union and Eastern bloc countries,” he said. “We aligned many of those countries with states 20 years ago.”
“In fact, a number of them have just celebrated their 20th anniversary in 2013,” Grass said. “We’re continuing to add. I think in 2014, we’ll probably add four more partnerships.”
Grass said there are well over 700 State Partnership Program events a year for a total annual cost of about $12 million – which jumps to just less than $20 million with added “training dollars.”
“And believe it or not,” he said, “that’s the one account nobody wants to mess with because it gives you so much great engagement.”
Some of those 71 countries, Grass said, have deployed with the U.S. on 89 rotations to Iraq and Afghanistan.
“We’re building capacity and capability for the future that will be able to help NATO,” he said.
“So partnerships are what we focus on,” he said, “and part of that partnership event occurs inside the Pentagon every day.”
“Being a member of the Joint Chiefs, I have access now to organizations that I probably never would have had as a three-star [general] and as just a chief, and not a member of the Joint Chiefs,” Grass said. “I get called into all the sessions as a member of the Joint Chiefs.”