The chief of the National Guard Bureau emphasized the Guard’s readiness to support overseas operations is also a key element in homeland defense and emergency response missions at home.
“My motto is: ‘The answer is yes, what’s the question?’ If our nation needs the National Guard to do anything, we will find a way to do it,” Army Gen. Daniel Hokanson said during a discussion July 14 at the North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command’s inaugural Homeland Defense Awareness Symposium at the U.S. Air Force Academy.
At a strength of roughly 450,000 members, the National Guard represents about 20% of the Department of Defense joint force. There are currently some 20,000 Guard members mobilized to support missions overseas. Hokanson said the National Guard plays a role in every element of the National Defense Strategy, including defending the homeland.
“We want to deter any adversaries from trying to do anything to the United States,” he said. “We’re here to fight and win our nation’s wars. At the end of the day, that’s why the National Guard exists. But because we’re manned, trained and equipped to address threats to our nation, we can do so many things to help at home when emergencies arise.”
Hokanson’s background includes serving as adjutant general for the Oregon National Guard, a role in which he also oversaw the Oregon Department of Emergency Management. He said there are 17 such adjutants general across the country that serve in a similar, dual role.
When a state calls on its National Guard to respond to emergencies, that response is coordinated through the governor’s office. Guard units are then activated and assigned specific duties where they work closely with local civilian agencies to meet the needs of residents.
From COVID response in every state, territory and the District of Columbia to a yearly rhythm that includes wildfire, hurricane and flood response missions, Hokanson said the National Guard continues to prove its value to American citizens.
“That’s the story that I tell these formations when I show up on a drill weekend,” he said. “I explain to them the importance of finding that balance between their civilian career, military career and family. The fact that they train to be ready to perform their mission is noticed by our adversaries and by the people here at home.”
The National Guard is in 2,800 communities across the country. When it comes to disaster and emergency situations, Guard members are often among the first to respond because of the connections they have made within their communities and their local proximity.
“We often say the National Guard is the connection to the fabric of America, because Guardsmen are really almost in every town,” Hokanson said.
However, the National Guard’s role in homeland defense is not limited to disaster assistance. Hokanson said the Guard is on the frontlines of missile defense, space and cyber operations to defend U.S. citizens.
“When it comes to homeland defense, there are many things Guardsmen are doing every hour of every day that many Americans are not aware of,” he said. “The ground-based missile defense mission to defend our country from ballistic missile attacks is performed by National Guardsmen. Also, a lot of our satellite communications that we rely on every single day are manned by Guardsmen.”
Hokanson also pointed to the National Guard’s efforts in the cyber realm, protecting critical infrastructure to ensure voting systems were secure in 2016, 2018 and 2020.
While National Guard members receive the same training as active-duty Army and Air Force counterparts, part of what makes the Guard unique is the variety of skills Guardsmen bring from their civilian careers, especially in these expanding domains. Hokanson said it is his goal to ensure formations and equipment are modernized and ready to mobilize to meet any need.
Hokanson said when he talks to young Guard members, such as during the Hurricane Ida response in Louisiana last year, he gets the sense they are excited to help their communities and serve overseas or wherever they are needed.
“One of the young men from the Kansas Guard I talked to said, ‘Sir, I signed up for this. This is my first time in New Orleans, and we’re delivering food and water to people that can’t get out of their homes.’
“We have some amazing young men and women in our formations,” Hokanson said. “When you look at all we’ve asked them to do over the last few years, they did it and I am so proud of their efforts.”