News: 3,700 Guardsmen come to Reno for 134th annual NGAUS conference
Story by Spc. James Pierce
RENO, Nevada - The 134th National Guard Association of the United States conference concluded Wednesday at the Reno-Sparks Convention Center as speakers emphasized the importance of the citizen-soldiers in meeting global challenges while still serving their communities.
The conference, which began Sunday, hosted about 4,000 Army and Air National Guard officers and retirees from all 50 states, including Guam, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the District of Columbia. The conference had visits from nationally-known individuals such as Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Raymond Odierno.
Using data from the Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority, the economic impact to the Reno-Sparks area was an estimated $11.8 million from revenue generated from hotels, shopping, dining and entertainment.
The goal of NGAUS is to provide unified representation in Washington, elect a chairman and showcase trade show products designed by defense contractors from around the nation.
On Tuesday, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney spoke at the conference. He emphasized the importance of the National Guard and the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Center.
"As you know too well, our world is a dangerous place and the attack on our homeland and citizens on September 11 of 2001 reminds us that the mission of the Guard is ever more critical and ever more deserving of our support and honor," Romney said. "More than a decade has now passed since that tragic day, but the visions and the events are seared in the memory of every American."
Since the attack, the National Guard has supported more than 667,000 mobilizations around the world, said Gen. Frank Grass, chief of the National Guard Bureau.
"For the last 11 years the National Guard has seen its role in our nation’s defense evolve from a strategic reserve to operational force," said Grass, the incoming chief replacing Gen. Craig McKinley. "The attacks 11 years ago today, and the subsequent wars, thrust the National Guard to the front lines of our nation’s defense overnight. As a result we now have the most competent and battle-tested National Guard in the history of the nation."
McKinley, in his outgoing address Tuesday, spoke on the importance of a reserve military component.
"Our nation doesn’t really have existential threats today, but I think we have existential doubt," McKinley said. "And when we have existential doubt, where do we turn? We turn to great organizations that have great breadth and depth, and the National Guard is such an organization."
Odierno, who was the former commander of U.S. troops in Iraq before becoming Army Chief of Staff, discussed the importance of the National Guard in his keynote address on Monday. He said Guardsmen were the first to respond after passenger jets crashed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. He also noted the role of the National Guard in providing assistance after Hurricanes Isaac and Katrina struck the Gulf Coast.
Impending budget cuts have some government agencies worried, Grass said. But the Guard's responsibility serves as a cost-cutting measure that reaps benefits at home and abroad, he said.
"The National Guard is a model for innovative, low-cost, small-footprint, high-impact approaches to international security engagement," he said. "And perhaps the greatest example of the National Guard’s ability to build relationships is our state partnership program."
Odierno said the active Army will take the majority of reductions as the Pentagon enacts $487 billion in worldwide cuts. He drew applause from Guardsmen when he vowed to be transparent when looking at the National Guard budget.
A new NGAUS chairman, Maj. Gen. Stephen Danner, the adjutant general of Missouri, was elected chairman on Wednesday by the delegation.
Along with electing a chairman, delegates also attended a trade show that showcased about 400 vendors from around the nation.
"We were able to accomplish what we wanted to do with some key folks," said Todd Glenn, a salesperson for FAAC Inc., from Ann Arbor, Mich. "We already have a contract with the National Guard Bureau to produce the Army National Guard operator driving simulators."
"This week has probably been the best event that we've been to so far," said Randy Newbold, a salesperson from Wornic Foods of Cincinnati, Ohio. "We've made some really good contacts and had some good conversations with folks and we think both we can help and they can help us improve our service to the Guard."
Wornic Foods sells Meals, Ready-to-Eat (MREs) to the Defense Logistics Agency, Newbold said.
"Our goal is to expand awareness of the totem program," Newbold said, "which are training meals that can be used in lieu of the MRE at lower cost and lower calorie content."
The conference theme was "The National Guard: Hometown Force, Global Reach." Speakers including Romney emphasized that point throughout the week.
"It’s an honor to be among those whose sense of duty and love of country lift our hearts and our spirits." Romney said. "We are blessed to live in a country where freedom is so highly cherished; where it is so protected and where it is so admirably defended by the men and women of the National Guard. You are a great force for good in America and in the world."