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We need to appreciate the National Guard now more than ever

We need to appreciate the National Guard now more than ever
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Crises test us all. We are being tested now. In such trying times, America has learned to depend upon, trust and call on its National Guard. 

Strategically positioned to meet the test in more than 3,000 locations, the National Guard has capable citizen soldiers and airmen distributed nationwide. The Guard’s unique ability to operate in three distinct legal statuses ensures that they are readily accessible to leaders at the federal, state and local levels.  

Much of the National Guard’s units are already “multipurpose” — ground and air transportation, medical, security, communications, logistics, engineer, military police, CBRNE, cyber and more. Each year, these superb locally based soldiers and airmen perform thousands of missions supporting our state and local authorities.  

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Nearly 15 years ago, America was hit hard by a monster, Hurricane Katrina. As the National Guard’s senior officer at that time, I had a unique perspective of our nation’s response to the storm. Key lessons from that time apply today.  

Throughout the affected region, the National Guard, under state authority, was seen as a steadying force. Guard soldiers and airmen rescued thousands, assisted law enforcement, provided shelter and delivered much needed food, water, fuel and medical care to places where none could be found.   

At that very same time 70,000 Guardsmen were deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, the National Guard, on no notice, mustered and sent more than 50,000 citizen soldiers and airmen from every corner of our nation to the ravaged Gulf region to help their fellow citizens. 

Selflessly, they placed their fellow citizens’ needs above their own. Initially, many of the Guardsmen and their families were not fully medically covered. 

Today, we find ourselves in another monster storm — a combination of a persistent pandemic and resurgent social unrest. What began as lawful protests expressing rightful indignation and the need to address needed reforms has too often morphed into destructive violence

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Again, the Guard was needed and it answered the call. Sadly, some are once again the frontlines of this complex crisis without the same medical coverage as their other service counterparts.   

Under state authorities, Guard soldiers and airmen have been assigned an ever-expanding list of missions, including security missions, delivering protective equipment, staffing COVID-19 testing centers, distributing food and helping clear unemployment application backlogs. And thousands more deployed to places where radiating violence cost lives, destroyed public and private property and threatened civil rights and civic order.

At one point in early June, more than 90,000 Guard soldiers and airmen were on duty right here on U.S. soil, after being called upon by several state governors. That’s almost twice the number that responded to Katrina. Never has the National Guard been busier with domestic response missions. 

This pandemic is not yet over. We are now in the hurricane season. Meanwhile, many cities are powder kegs of emotion with police departments pushed to the brink. The National Guard will surely remain engaged and essential to address these challenges.

The National Guard also continues to provide thousands of soldiers and airmen overseas. They are in places like Afghanistan, Iraq, Kosovo, Kuwait, the Sinai Peninsula and Ukraine, and they often operate with less than our nation’s best vehicles, aircraft and other equipment.      

As in Katrina, the National Guard is once again stepping up to reassure and protect our communities, maintain peace and help our nation persevere and recover. Guard personnel are unsung volunteers, often forgotten when crises pass. At this moment, many young Guardsmen and their families serving on state orders do not have proper medical coverage. They also lack modern technology afforded other military components. 

The time has come to fix this. As Congress looks to make things right, they should finally fully resource the National Guard commensurate with their immense domestic response responsibilities.

America has only one National Guard. We have come to appreciate these magnificent men and women. They truly are a national treasure and have proven their worth. We need to ensure that they are properly equipped and protected. Their readiness is our security. Congress must ensure they keep the Guard “Always Ready, Always There”. 

Lt. Gen. H Steven Blum was chief of the National Guard Bureau from 2003 to 2008.