When Soldiers with the Minnesota Army National Guard's 34th
Combat Aviation Brigade departed for a yearlong deployment to Kuwait
in May 2014, for many, it wasn't their first deployment. Some had
served in Iraq, others in Afghanistan and Kosovo. Once in Kuwait
they quickly settled into flying cargo and troops between bases, as
well as other security and general support aviation missions.
Four months later, their mission changed dramatically.
address the rise of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS,
attacks at numerous locations throughout Iraq, elements of the
brigade were shifted to forward locations to fly combat missions in
direct support of Iraqi, U.S. and British forces.
Soldiers with the Vermont Army National Guard's Company A, 3rd
Battalion, 172nd Infantry Regiment prepares to assault an objective
during training at Fort Drum, N.Y., June 24, 2015. The training
represents one way that National Guard Soldiers and Airmen are
involved in many components of America's warfight. Soldiers from the
172nd Inf. Regt. Have deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan and have taken
part in a number of large-scale training exercises. (U.S. Air Force
photo by Tech. Sgt. Sarah Mattison)
The brigade's ability to quickly and adeptly transition
from flying routine cargo missions to flying
rapidly-changing combat missions represents just one way the
Guard is engaged in combat operations, said National Guard
leaders, adding the unit's ability to do that was a result
of experience, modern equipment, extensive training and
"With nearly 780,000 individual
overseas mobilizations since 9/11, the National Guard has
proven, time and again, its readiness and
warfighting capabilities," said Army Gen. Frank Grass, the
chief of the National Guard Bureau. That includes
deployments conducting complex combat operations in Iraq and
Afghanistan as well as other missions in Kuwait, the Sinai
and numerous locations around the globe.
That role as
an operational force differs from how many viewed the
Guard's combat role in the past, said Christopher Swadener,
the associate director of air operations at the Air National
Guard Readiness Center.
"The Air National Guard, much
like the Army Guard, used to be thought of as a strategic
reserve," he said, adding the Guard's combat capability was
often viewed as a back-up to the active component, rather
than as a frontline partner.
That, too, has changed
"We participate in every mission set,"
said Swadener, of both the Air and Army Guard. "I'm not sure
you could find anything we don't participate in. We're doing
it all, in every theatre simultaneously."
something that shows in the real-world experience many in
the Guard bring with them. According to Guard officials,
nearly half of those currently serving in the Guard have
Soldiers and Airmen in the Guard
have conducted missions from aerial refueling and close-air
support for ground troops to convoy security operations,
presence and security patrols -- the full spectrum of combat
operations, said Grass.
More than 8,300 Soldiers from
the Army Guard supported operations in Afghanistan in fiscal
year 2015 alone, while the Air Guard supported more than
9,000 deployment requirements to 56 countries on every
continent, said Guard officials.
When operations in
Iraq and Afghanistan were at a high point, Guard members
were deployed in higher numbers.
"We were in the fight
and we were in deep," said Swadener of the Air Guard. "We
were deploying 25,000-plus people a year and cycling through
different places. We were definitely engaged."
many in those units, it's all simply part of the job.
lot of those in the Air Guard have the expectation that
they're going to deploy," said Swadener, adding the Air
Guard contains roughly one-third of the combat power of the
"We're inseparable in what we bring in
terms of experience, in terms of stability with mission sets
and maturity," Swadener said. "It has now become the
culture. The Air Force just can't afford to not have us
The Army Guard is equally as inseparable
from Army operations. According to the Army, the Army Guard
contains roughly 40 percent of the Army's combat capability,
including 43 percent of the Army's manned and unmanned
"Simply stated, the Army National Guard
plays an essential role in our Army's ability to go to war
or engage in sustained operations," said Army Lt. Gen.
Timothy Kadavy, the director of the Army Guard.
large-scale deployments - such as those seen during the
height of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan - have been
down throughout the services, the Guard has continued to
deploy as part of current operations and has played a role
in multiple worldwide training events and annual exercises.
Last year saw more than 13,000 Army Guard Soldiers
support combatant command exercises and engagements,
including training events in Africa, Europe and the Pacific.
Air Guard members participated as well, providing fighter,
airlift and aerial refueling capabilities for many of those
exercises. Those training opportunities often included
partnerships developed through the Guard's State Partnership
Program, which links National Guard elements with partner
"Our State Partnership Program -
linking [the] National Guard with the armed forces of a
partner country in a cooperative, mutually beneficial
relationship - is an outstandingly successful example of the
wisdom of partnerships," said Grass.
program currently includes 76 partnerships. Guard units have
also taken part in nearly 80 deployments to Iraq and
Afghanistan with their SPP partners, said Grass. Many of
those partner countries, Grass added, have transitioned from
security consumers to security providers.
maintain that combat edge, more than 70 Army Guard units
honed their combat skills in 2015 in training exercises at
the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., and
other training venues using full-scale immersion in
sustained, realistic, multi-echelon combat scenarios
designed to build proficiency and mission readiness.
"Everything we do in the Army National Guard is focused
toward building and sustaining readiness," said Kadavy.
"Reducing the time it takes for Soldiers and units to be
ready for deployment is the primary concern for all Army
National Guard leaders and is a goal toward which we are
For some Guard members, however,
taking part in combat missions means staying at home
"The Air National Guard has kept its
fighter missions," said Swadener. "It's kept its aerial
refueling and airlift missions, but now it's gotten heavily
into flying remotely piloted aircraft."
That's been a
"That spectrum of the Air Guard has
changed dramatically," said Swadener. "You could now have a
home station Air National Guard unit in, say, Terre Haute,
Indiana, yet it is doing work overseas. We just hadn't done
Additionally, Air Guard members have
also provided intelligence analysis at home station in
support of combat operations overseas, said Swadener.
While Guard members continue to deploy worldwide, they
also provide training to ensure others are just as
The Air Guard-run Advanced Airlift
Tactics Training Center in St. Joseph, Missouri, teaches
students from throughout the Air Force and allied countries
aspects of planning and employment of mobility aircraft and
other tactics, techniques and procedures related to moving
people, supplies and cargo via airlift.
the Vermont Army National Guard runs the Army Mountain
Warfare School, the Army's only mountain warfare training
center and the Army's executive agency for military
mountaineering. The Army National Guard also runs the
Warrior Training Center at Fort Benning, Ga., where more
than 5,000 Soldiers from all Army components trained in
FY15. Soldiers from the WTC run the Air Assault, Rappel
Master and Pre-Ranger Courses as well as provide a variety
of other tactical, combat and master fitness training.
Continued training, coupled with real-world combat
missions, is the way ahead to maintain the operational
capability of the Guard, said Kadavy.
"For the Army
National Guard, a key component of leader development is
experience in real-world deployments and realistic
collective training," he said. "This is a critical reason
why consistent utilization, as well as planned rotations
within the Army's sustainable readiness process, are
essential to Army National Guard readiness."
similar in the Air Guard, said Swadener.
National Guard, given the training, task and the
mobilization authority to accompany it, can support
operations for the long term," he said.
Much of that
simply comes down to those that make up the force.
"There are a lot of people that talk about the 'Greatest
Generation' -- the World War II folks," said Swadener. "Not
to take anything away from them, but we've got some great
people out there now doing some great things."
By U.S. Army SFC Jon Soucy
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