KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan (11/13/13) – Gen. Frank Grass, chief of the National Guard Bureau, visited Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, Nov. 7, 2013, during an overseas trip to meet with deployed Guard members and Regional Command (South) leadership.
During the visit, Grass, who is the highest-ranking officer in the National Guard and a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, conducted a town hall with more than 200 Guard members at KAF.
During the town hall, which took place after Grass met with Maj. Gen. Paul J. LaCamera, RC(S) and 4th Infantry Division commanding general, Grass answered several questions asked by deployed Citizen-Soldiers, and addressed problems facing Guard members.
“We have dealt with some tough issues in the National Guard … whether it’s sexual assault, sexual harassment, suicide prevention, long deployments, you name it,” Grass said. “But we’re a very healthy force today. Our personnel readiness is at the highest it’s ever been. But we have to keep looking out for each other.”
Grass said it was an important priority to visit troops overseas. More than 17,000 Citizen-Soldiers are serving overseas, including more than 6,000 in Afghanistan, Grass said.
“Part of it is to get information [and] understand what’s happening out there in the field,” he said. “I get a good sense from the commands of how [soldiers] are doing. I can carry that information back to the Pentagon, to Capitol Hill and talk about the National Guard.”
Chief Master Sgt. Mitchell O. Brush, senior enlisted adviser for NGB, also answered questions at the town hall. He spoke of the different experiences that Guard members, many of whom have civilian jobs outside of the military, bring to the table.
“As I was sitting at dinner tonight, I got to sit next to a lawyer, a chaplain, a [banker], a provision officer, a dual-status technician … you want to talk about the skill set they bring to the fight, I’m just amazed,” he said.
Pfc. Kendrix Conley, a combat engineer with the 848th Engineer Company, Georgia Natonal Guard, was recognized as the youngest service member in attendance at the town hall. When Grass asked who the youngest service member in attendance was, Conley stood up as the only 19-year-old in the crowd, and Grass awarded him a challenge coin.
Conley, who did not know he would be recognized, said it was an “indescribable” experience and that he appreciates the opportunity to serve on a deployment.
“I’m doing it for my family – my little brother, my nephew and my mom,” he said.
Spc. Richard Ryan Johnson, a motor transport operator with the 1710th Transportation Company, Virginia National Guard, said it was special to have Grass visit deployed Guard members.
“It shows me personally we are being thought about when times really matter,” he said.
At the end of the town hall, Guard members represented their states by shouting “Hooah” when their states were called out. Citizen-Soldiers from California, Oklahoma, Maryland, Virginia, Delaware, Minnesota, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Georgia, Texas, New York, Guam, South Dakota, Hawaii, Kansas, North Carolina, Oregon and Arizona were present at the KAF town hall.
Grass said the National Guard has done an outstanding job in performing its dual state-federal mission.
“I couldn’t be prouder of the National Guard,” Grass said.