The National Guard is in a transition period of sorts. After two decades of high operational pace during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that made guard service sometimes as much a commitment as an active duty situation, the component is taking stock of what it does and what it can provide.
High on the National Guard Bureau chief’s priority list is covering rangers Military health insurance at no costregardless of their employment status, plus pay and training that would put them on par with their active-duty counterparts. Today, 60,000 guards are uninsured, and receive no health benefits from their civilian employers.
“There will be some cost to that, but I think the lost readiness costs more than that health care price,” General Hokanson told reporters Tuesday, adding that providing the benefit “is the right thing at the end of the day, both morally and for the medical readiness of our force.”
Made a bipartisan group of senators Our Troops Health Care Act in December, which will make Tricare Reserve Select, an insurance plan already available to the National Guard and Reserve Forces for a fee, available for free.
Fix duty status Another top priority, which would streamline the dozens of different pay and benefit schemes that eligible guards are subject to while on active duty orders, would result in many guards receiving lower compensation than their active duty counterparts.
“We spend weeks, months and even years apart from our families, but to have them side by side doing the same job and the same duties and not being treated the same way is something that needs to be resolved,” Hokanson said.
While keeping up with the active ingredient, Guard also plans more big workouts, and more Training courses and updating its battalions and divisions to more closely reflect the active duty army.
“This will keep us interoperable with the Army, make rotation more predictable and give our Rangers more opportunities for leadership,” Hokanson said. “Most of all, he will ensure that we are ready whenever our nation calls.”
This is also the goal of the upcoming fitness challenge at the component level.
“Starting in March, we will be starting a monthly fitness challenge for our troops,” he said. “The challenges focus not just on exercise, but on things like nutrition and total fitness to encourage our Soldiers, Airmen and their families to focus on looking after themselves, becoming more resilient, building individual readiness and hopefully having fun in the process.”
These moves brought the National Guard more closely aligned with the active-duty Army and Air Force at a time when their missions were starting to look more separate. Regular deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan marked active duty and guard duty between 2001 and 2021, but These days the Guard spends more time on domestic mobilization.
For example, tens of thousands of guards were activated to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021, and many have spent months working in hospitals or public screening and vaccination centers.
“And so what we’re really trying to do is encourage our guards and our coaches at every level of command to make sure we focus on getting ready, because we don’t know how long we’re going to have to get ready,” Hokanson said. “So everything we can do at the individual level, at the small unit level to build that readiness, so that we’re ready on call, or if it’s a large-scale mobilization — we’ve got that foundational readiness that can reduce the amount of organizational readiness that we need to build.” “.
These moves also serve a dual purpose, at a time when the entire army is finding it difficult to recruit.
“It’s really twofold. Obviously the first is that they’re making a huge investment in giving up a big part of their lives to go through their training and then giving up one weekend a month — and many times beyond that,” Hokanson said. “So we want to make sure that whenever we call them, they can step on the field and play their positions. And if they get medical care, they can provide preventative care, or if they get injured at any time, they are ready to go and medically prepared.”
But at the same time, Hokanson added, wages and benefits are a great recruiting and retention tool.
“When you look at the current environment right now, there’s a lot of things that we’ve traditionally relied on to get people to join the Guard — educational benefits, training, that kind of thing — a lot of companies are now doing that as well… so we need to stay on top of that.” A connection and harmony with that environment to provide those things that encourage people to join our organization and then stay in it,” Hokanson said.
“The only good thing is that once we get people into the organization, our retention rates are very high. But the key is getting them into that front door, and showing them what we have to offer.”
Megan Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. They cover operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.