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An exceptional year, which included responses to a global pandemic, multiple civil disturbances, cyber attacks and catastrophic wildfires, earned the Washington National Guard a visit from the Chief of the National Guard Bureau.
“When I get asked about what is the greatest part of being on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, I always say it is because I get to share the stories of our National Guard,” said Gen. Daniel Hokanson, Chief of the National Guard Bureau during a visit to Camp Murray on July 20, 2021. “All of these types of missions are what makes the National Guard so special.”
Hokanson, along with his wife Kelly and Chief Master Sgt. Tony Whitehead, the Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Chief of the National Guard Bureau, made a stop at Camp Murray during a trip through the Pacific Northwest that included stops in Idaho and Oregon.
“I get to tell our nation’s leaders about all the great things the National Guard is doing every day,” said Hokanson. “After this past year, if folks didn’t know what the National Guard was all about, they sure do now.”
In Washington, more than 2,200 Guard personnel have been activated since March 2020 in support of the state’s COVID-19 response, doing everything from working at food banks, supporting the state’s vaccination effort, assembling and administering COVID-19 test kits, transporting hospital equipment and ensuring Washingtonians receive unemployment benefits. At the high point, more than 50,000 Guardsmen were activated nationally in support of the COVID-19 response mission.
“The things you got to do here are truly phenomenal, getting to work with your communities directly,” said Hokanson. “It was your flexibility and professionalism that made what we have done possible.”
After receiving briefings about the wildfires burning across Washington and last year’s civil unrest support, Hokanson observed Cyber Shield 2021, the largest cyber exercise in the U.S. Army. For the last decade Washington has been considered a leader for the country in terms of the National Guard’s support to cyber security operations.
“I often use Washington as an example when I am in meetings,” said Hokanson. “Before I can finish I am often stopped and told, ‘we get it Washington, is the setting the standard.’ But that is a credit to what you all are doing.”
During the briefing, Hokanson spoke with public and private sector partners that also took part in Cyber Shield 2021. The group ranged from multiple Public Utility Districts and universities to the Coast Guard and Guardsmen who work full-time at Amazon.
“The beauty about the Guard is we mix that experience and education into everything that we do, and it is so critical that we continue to work with all of you (our partners),” said Hokanson.
Whitehead spent the majority of his visit talking with both senior and junior enlisted leaders from the Washington Army and Air National Guard during an engagement breakout.
“We need our enlisted leaders to provide feedback to what is working and what isn’t working in our ranks,” said Whitehead. “I want to provide your feedback to our leaders in Washington D.C. so we can continue to support you better.”
The engagement covered a number of topics, including how Guardsmen train for the new physical fitness tests when not on duty, promotion and manning issues as well as the orders process.
“The chance to talk directly with the senior enlisted advisor of the National Guard is an amazing opportunity,” said Command Sgt. Major Bruce Ecclestone, Washington National Guard Senior Enlisted Leader. “I know each person that was in that room got something out of that experience that they can take back to their units.”
Mrs. Hokanson, who often travels with her husband, received a briefing and conducted a breakout session with the Washington National Guard’s Joint Service Support. She learned about the programs offered in Washington as well as the family issues that the JSS often assists with.
“Having the ability to talk directly with Mrs. Hokanson, who is an amazing advocate for our National Guard families, was important for our staff,” said Carl Steele, director of the Washington National Guard’s JSS. “We appreciated the time we got with her and the ability to share what we see as important issues here in our state.”
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