CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait – Senior leadership from the National Guard visited Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, to talk to guardsmen about the way ahead for the bureau and challenges that need to be met during a town hall March 27.
Gen. Frank J. Grass, Chief of the NGB, and Command Chief Master Sgt. Mitchell Brush, Senior Enlisted Advisor for the NGB, each addressed a room full of guardsmen on a variety of topics to include budget constraints, mission types, sexual harassment and sexual assault awareness, and suicide prevention. They then welcomed questions from the guardsmen.
Grass outlined what he sees as the mission of the National Guard: be a militia to protect the homeland but prepared to deploy overseas. Within the mission, there are three basic elements: taking advantage of a Guard with a scalable force, preserving security within a budget and maintaining an operational force.
In regard to the scalable force, the general brought up a current catastrophe in Washington State, where a mudslide has taken out a neighborhood east of Seattle. In this scenario, the flexibility of the National Guard, calling up the appropriate number of Soldiers, allowed them to assist local law enforcement with search and rescue efforts to help locate approximately 178 missing citizens.
On the budget, he said, “The budgets are going to get tighter, but we think the National Guard has always been a real value for the nation, both for the governor as well as the president when called upon.” He stressed that resources must be allocated to the right places within the Guard.
When asked by a Soldier about "losing promised benefits," he noted that the National Guard entitlements piece of the Defense Budget was quite small. He said he understood that they had an obligation to keep promises met to Soldiers already serving. Generally, he felt that the National Guard would be much less affected than the Active Duty force.
As part of a commission working to address the way ahead for salaries, retirement benefits and healthcare costs, he did admit that things were untenable. “[In regard primarily to the Active Duty force] right now almost half of the Defense Budget goes out for compensation, healthcare and retirement. If we keep going, there are some projections that by 2025, 80 percent of the defense budget would be going toward salaries, healthcare and retirement. That leaves 20 percent for training, flight hours, acquisition of new equipment, research and development, and sustainment. We know we can’t keep going like that. We have to make some changes.”
As the senior enlisted advisor, Brush spoke on what he called “NCO Business.” He said it was necessary for noncommissioned officers to remain committed to stamping out sexual assault and harassment and improving suicide prevention within the ranks.
“There are three things I need from every guardsman. Number one: you can’t do drugs. Number two: you can’t break the law. Number three: you can’t kill yourself. I need you. We need everybody in this room to come back. We need everybody in this room for our federal responsibilities. We need everybody in this room need to take care of our states,” Brush said.
He shared a story from a Senior Airman serving out of South Dakota. He said the airman came home to find his roommate drunk and crying with a pistol in his hand. That airman made it is his duty to stay with his roommate for seven days, until he was able to get things better under control. On the seventh day, he said, the roommate told the airman that he had a pretty good day, and if he had not stuck by him, he never would have seen that day.
The key to addressing these types of issues, Brush said, is to increase personal relationships and leadership involvement beyond deployments.
“We still need to have that personal relationship with our subordinates. My kid, twenty-three years old, if I call him and he doesn’t answer, and he sends me a text. ‘What do you need, dad?’ I say, ‘I need you to call me. I need you to hear my tone, and more importantly, I need to hear your tone. I need to make sure that you have everything you need to be the best that you can be.’ With modern technology, we have lost that somewhat,” he said. “I need you to take care of the National Guard. I need you to take care of each other.”
The command team said they were committed to doing right by their guardsmen and promised to take their recommendations and concerns to heart as Grass testifies before Congress next month.
Finally, Grass said, that the National Guard would not return to a “strategic reserve” force as it was during the 1980s because it was too valuable an asset to the nation. For example, he noted many of the global partnerships the Guard supports with allied countries. It is his goal to maintain the type of Guard that Soldiers had signed up for and to keep it strong in the case of disaster scenarios.