By Staff Sgt. Jim Greenhill
National Guard Bureau
ST. LOUIS – Airmen are an integral part of fulfilling an increasingly joint National Guard’s domestic and overseas missions, the director of the Air National Guard said here Wednesday.
Lt. Gen. Craig McKinley told a record-breaking audience of 1,500 gathered for the National Guard Bureau Joint Family Program Volunteer Workshop and Youth Symposium that the Air National Guard is doing a better job of taking care of families than in the past.
“The Air National Guard was lagging in the fight,” McKinley said. “We weren’t quite as far along in family support as the Army National Guard. We had not committed enough resources to it. We did not have the right staff in Washington to support the operation.”
That has changed, McKinley said. And, he said, it has not been necessary to reinvent the wheel – the Air National Guard has improved family support in part by emulating successful programs used by other military services:
Airmen serve different lengths of deployments from Soldiers, and Airmen often serve as individuals or in small numbers. “We come home as individuals,” McKinley said. “We have to tailor our programs to make sure we don’t disrespect the Airmen and their families just because a member or two from each unit has been gone.”
Listing accomplishments by individual Air Guard units and outstanding Airmen, McKinley said the Air Guard plays a key role in a more joint National Guard.
“Our Airmen fly, fight and win together, and our families support the home front together,” McKinley said, quoting from a statement developed by the family coordinator of the 153rd Airlift Wing that the director keeps near his Pentagon desk. “Service knows no boundaries. We are one team, and in the fight together.”
He said adjutants general, the National Guard Bureau and the Army and Air Guards have increased the Guard’s jointness.
“What I’ve seen in my 2½-years as the director of the Air National Guard is a far more connected National Guard,” he said. “A Guard that the adjutants general have brought together so that the talents of both Soldiers and Airmen can be brought to a mission and operate seamlessly.”
The Air National Guard has been flying missions in Iraq since 1991, he said, referring to the enforcement of no-fly zones that began after the first Gulf War. “We never really got home and stopped,” he said. “We’ve been in a nonstop, steady state. … The ‘new norm’ has been in existence for us for about 17 years.”
Airmen have proven resilient and flexible in the face of constant rotations and multiple deployments. “It’s a significant contribution to our nation’s wartime effort,” he said.
“That service doesn’t just mean fighting overseas,” McKinley said, citing Air National Guard contributions to fighting wildfires in California and floods in the Midwest and Airmen’s contributions to Operation Noble Eagle.
“Over 50,000 sorties flown since Sept. 11th, 2001, supporting our nation’s intense desire to prevent another attack of our nation from the air,” McKinley noted. Every state and territory has contributed to the mission, he said.
“We secure the homefront, and we defend the nation,” McKinley said. “That’s what the Air National Guard does in the joint fight.”
On July 16, the secretary of defense recommended McKinley for nomination to be the next chief of the National Guard Bureau and the Guard’s first four-star general. LTG H Steven Blum, the current chief, was recommended for nomination to be the first National Guard general to be deputy commander of a combatant command, U.S. Northern Command. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff called the historic nominations, which are subject to Senate approval, significant events for the National Guard and the nation.