ARLINGTON, Va. - The National Guard’s footprint on domestic and international events continued in 2022, highlighting its transformation from a Cold War strategic reserve to the combat reserve of the Army and the Air Force.
“People don’t realize just how large the National Guard is,” said Army Gen. Daniel Hokanson, chief of the National Guard Bureau. “We have 445,000 Soldiers and Airmen, and because we are manned, trained and equipped to fight our nation’s wars, we can do about anything we’ve been asked to do.”
In 2022, the National Guard responded to emergencies and large-scale disasters, participated in various training exercises, built lasting partnerships, and tirelessly supported a nation in need.
Within 30 minutes of the start of Russia’s unjust invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, Army Maj. Gen. David Baldwin, then adjutant general of California, received a call from senior Ukrainian leaders.
“The first calls were, ‘Hey, we’re under attack,’ and then the calls throughout that night were, ‘Here’s the help that we desperately need,’” Baldwin recalled.
Not long after that first call, the California Guard activated its Joint Operations Center to help facilitate requests and requirements from the Ukrainians.
It was an effort, Baldwin added, to break down bureaucracy and streamline processes to get the Ukrainians what they needed.
“Within 24 hours, we had a pretty comprehensive list of all of their requirements for military equipment – both lethal and non-lethal,” Baldwin said.
The timely communication between the California Guard and Ukraine resulted from nearly 30 years of mutually beneficial cooperation made possible by the Defense Department’s State Partnership Program. SPP pairs Guard organizations with a partner nation’s military, security forces and disaster response agencies in more than 45% of the world’s countries.
“The Ukrainians are very proud people and very tough. They have a lot of recent military experience going back to 2014. They are going to fight to the bitter end,” said Baldwin, who has since retired from the California Guard.
Though not SPP partners with Ukraine, Soldiers with infantry brigade combat teams from the New York and Florida National Guard oversaw the Joint Multinational Training Group-Ukraine in 2022. A training command in Grafenwoehr, Germany, the JMTG-U allows Ukrainian soldiers to take the lead during combat training.
As 2022 drew to a close, fighting remained intense in the war, especially in the eastern part of the country, according to senior military officials.
Back in the United States, at the beginning of the year, hundreds of Guard members responded to an onslaught of winter weather in Alaska, North and South Carolina, Pennsylvania and Virginia.
Guard members worked with civil authorities and local law enforcement by providing logistical support and communications, clearing trees along power line routes and roads, and assisting with evacuations.
Positioning Soldiers, Airmen and the equipment they used to respond to the storm was vital.
“When we have advance notice of possible severe weather, it enables us to stage personnel at key locations for a more rapid response,” said Army Brig. Gen. James W. Ring, director of the joint staff for the Virginia National Guard.
While Guard members were responding to snowstorms that blanketed much of the East Coast, wildfires raged in the South and Midwest. Texas Army National Guard members and Soldiers from the 36th Combat Aviation Brigade stood ready with UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters and collapsible buckets to drop water on the fires.
“We got a call about 3 o’clock, [got] on station about 4 o’clock, and spent about an hour firefighting with local agencies out there,” said Army Staff Sgt. Michael Penrose, a Black Hawk crew chief with the brigade.
Guard units took on wildfires from Nebraska to Florida, where a weekend training assembly for aircrew members turned into an actual operation to fight the Chipola Complex wildfires.
“We train for it and stay ready to respond, but this is the first time I’ve ever had to put it into practice,” said Army 1st Lt. Isaiah Carlton, pilot and commander of the Florida Army Guard’s Company B, 1st Battalion, 111th Aviation Regiment.
Some weeks later, the New Mexico National Guard would face the Hermit’s Peak Fire, the largest fire in state history, scorching over 340,000 acres.
“It opened our eyes to the seriousness that the fire season could hold,” said Army Capt. Dustin Offret, a pilot with the New Mexico Army Guard’s Company G, 1st Battalion, 168th Aviation Regiment. “Performing flight duties in hot temperatures and high altitudes takes hours of training to become proficient, (and) these types of missions with Bambi buckets take the skill of the whole flight crew to be successful.”
In addition to helicopters dropping water on burning areas, New Mexico Guard units delivered non-potable and bottled water to first responders, rendered medical assistance and performed wellness checks for civil responders, volunteers and others.
As wildfires raged throughout several Western states, heavy rains in Eastern Kentucky set the stage for catastrophic flooding. Guard members from Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia came together to conduct search and rescue operations in late July.
“The mission of the National Guard is to be ready at a moment’s notice to help our citizens in need, and right now, our neighbors in Kentucky need our help,” said Army Maj. Gen. Bill Crane, the adjutant general of West Virginia.
That help came from UH-60 Black Hawk and UH-72 Lakota helicopters providing medical evacuation and hoist capabilities. On the ground, Guard units dispatched boat crews and high-wheeled vehicles to conduct search and rescue and supply distribution operations.
For Army Staff Sgt. Matthew Dyal, with the Kentucky Army National Guard’s 577th Engineer Company, 149th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, responding to the disaster took on personal importance.
“My grandparents, uncles, aunts and pretty much that whole side of my family live in Letcher County and they had their road completely wiped out in four different locations,” Dyal said.
Drawing on his knowledge of the area where he grew up, Dyal managed sites that served as ground zero for the distribution of water and supplies.
“I know where those hard-to-reach areas were, so I could send my mobile team up and prioritize better,” he said, adding his team was able to “carry out supply missions and find people who hadn’t had contact for days faster than what normally would have happened if we had done it in sectors.”
Two months later, Southwest Florida would bear the brunt of the hurricane season for 2022.
About 5,000 Florida National Guard troops stood ready to respond, positioned in armories and bases as Hurricane Ian made landfall Sept. 28. With 16 helicopters, 1,640 high-wheeled vehicles, seven boats, 36 fuel tankers and generators, Soldiers and Airmen were ready to conduct search and rescue operations, clear roads and support law enforcement.
“Florida Guardsmen will be providing emergency assistance to safeguard people and property alongside other first responders,” said Army Maj. Gen. James O. Eifert, adjutant general of Florida.
However, the Florida Guard’s response to the hurricane was not a solo act. Along with several other states, the Louisiana National Guard answered the call to support response operations.
“It’s a team effort from all states across the nation to develop plans to fill those games and provide a comprehensive National Guard response to the citizens in the affected areas,” said Army Lt. Col. Kevin Middleton, deputy director of the Louisiana Guard’s joint force development.
That response came in the form of nearly 80 Louisiana Guard members, 30 tactical vehicles and a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter – all to assist search and rescue operations and distribute commodities and supplies.
“That’s what it’s about – people helping people,” said Army Capt. Harry James, executive officer for the Louisiana Army National Guard’s 199th Brigade Support Battalion, 256th Infantry Brigade Combat Team.
The storm’s strength would ultimately have residual effects as far north as Virginia.
But natural disasters weren’t the only domestic operation the Guard actively supported.
In Southwest Texas, Guard members continued to help secure the border in support of Operation Lone Star, a state-led mission that began in March 2021.
Senior Enlisted Advisor Tony Whitehead, the SEA for the chief of the National Guard Bureau, visited the area in November.
“They’re Guardsmen, and I wanted to make sure that we had an opportunity to speak to them about their thoughts and ideas about the mission, how they were doing, how they felt about how the mission was going and any ideas that I needed to take back to the chief of the National Guard Bureau,” Whitehead said.
On the cyber front, Guard members supported cyberspace operations for election systems, providing nonpartisan validity to the process in a mission growing in importance every election year.
“From a National Guard standpoint, we treat this like any sort of domestic operation, with partnerships, because we are Citizen-Soldiers (and -Airmen),” said Army Maj. Gen. Todd Hunt, adjutant general of North Carolina, who provided Guard members to bolster the cyber defenses of state agencies.
Elsewhere, Air National Guard members worked alongside their active-duty counterparts supporting a task force attached to the U.S. Cyber Command’s Cyber National Mission Force at Fort Meade, Maryland.
“It was a lot of excitement to finally see the fruits of our labor when [our task force] delivered its first offensive cyber effects operations during this mobilization,” said Air Force Maj. Corley Bradford, a director of cyberspace operations at the Maryland Air National Guard’s 175th Wing. “It took many years of blood, sweat and tears to get to this point.”
To help make Guard cyber warriors, several Soldiers and Airmen participated in national and international cybersecurity exercises.
In Little Rock, Arkansas, over 800 Guard Soldiers and Airmen participated in Cyber Shield, the nation’s premier unclassified cyber training exercise. In April, West Virginia and North Carolina National Guard field cyber teams joined Locked Shields, the world’s largest international cyber defense exercise, hosted by the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence in Tallinn, Estonia.
The Vermont Air National Guard supported a real-world NATO mission – employing the F-35A Lightning II.
Taking over the organization’s enhanced air policing mission from an active-duty Air Force wing, eight F-35s from the Vermont Air Guard’s 158th Fighter Wing arrived at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, in May.
The mission, designed to build up Europe’s Eastern Flank defenses, allowed Air Guard members to “continue the regular touchpoints and routine training integration with U.S. allies and partners throughout Europe,” according to U.S. Air Forces in Europe – Air Force Africa officials.
The State Partnership Program grew to 87 partnerships with 95 countries with the addition of the Arizona National Guard and Oman and the New Jersey National Guard and Cyprus.
SPP exercises and training events helped solidify alliances.
In Niger, elements from the country’s armed forces and the Indiana National Guard teamed up to train on tactical combat casualty care and behavioral health.
“Everyone broke down barriers and sought a connection,” said Sgt. 1st Class Jonathan Lewis, noncommissioned officer in charge of a medical team with the Indiana Army National Guard. “(The Nigeriens) want the knowledge, and they want to share. The strides made in this partnership and the cohesiveness is amazing.”
In July, Soldiers with the Connecticut Army National Guard traveled to Uruguay to conduct counter-improvised explosive device training with the country’s Army.
The significance of the training wasn’t lost on Army Staff Sgt. Nathan Carrasquillo, a communications specialist with the Connecticut Army National Guard’s 192nd Engineer Battalion.
“It was awesome to see this side of the Guard,” said Carrasquillo. “When we were over there, we represented the U.S. and the Army – filling a bigger role and doing something bigger than ourselves.”
The Washington National Guard and the Malaysian Armed Forces held the eighth annual Bersama Warrior exercise focused on command and control operations during military conflicts.
Bersama Warrior was sponsored by the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, the combatant command in charge of a region identified as a top priority in the 2022 National Defense Strategy amid concerns with the People’s Republic of China.
“Our dedication to a free and open Pacific is not just for a few of us – it’s for all of us,” said Army Brig. Gen. Bryan J. Grenon, commander of the Land Component Command for the Washington National Guard’s Joint Force Headquarters.
As the Guard’s global partnerships flourished in 2022, it continued to play an integral part in operations above the sky: space missions.
Currently, the Guard has about 2,000 members embedded with space and missile defense units.
Assigned to the Air Force’s 7th Space Warning Squadron, Air Force 2nd Lt. Roy Davis, an intelligence officer with the California Air National Guard, received recognition from the Space Operations Command as Company Grade Officer of the Year.
“I have really enjoyed helping to integrate intelligence support into the space mission,” said Davis, who provides space officials with details that drive planning and execution. “Our warfighting imperative in space demands this.”
In June, Guard operations directorates from nine states helped coordinate the transportation of a German satellite from Baltimore to California.
“(The National Guard’s) unique support enabled the U.S. Space Force and one of our closest international partners to demonstrate responsive space launch during a crisis, avoiding significant delays,” said Garrett Haslem, associate director of global partnerships for the U.S. Space Force.
This year, there were also leadership changes within the Army National Guard. It welcomed its 13th command sergeant major, Command Sgt. Maj. John Raines.
“My job here is to be flexible,” said Raines, the Army Guard’s senior enlisted leader and principal adviser to the director of the Army National Guard on all matters concerning enlisted members. “I understand the expectations and the demand of this assignment, and I have a great respect for the complexity of this position.”
There were also some historic firsts and milestones from across the 54 in 2022.
Aircrew members with the New Hampshire Air National Guard’s 157th Air Refueling Wing were part of a record-breaking endurance mission that took them halfway around the globe and back in a KC-46A Pegasus, the Air Force’s latest air tanker. On Nov. 16, the Pegasus left the East Coast, making its way to Guam, then returning to Pease Air National Guard Base, New Hampshire, covering 16,000 miles in 36 hours.
The flight was the longest such mission in the history of the Air Mobility Command, an Air Force major command under which the 157th Wing falls as an operational element.
Air Force Maj. Bill Daley, the mission’s aircraft commander, said the flight demonstrated its operational effectiveness in providing a global reach for the joint force – as it received fuel three times and delivered it to F-22 Raptor fighters during the flight.
“We have a healthy fleet and demonstrated full mission-readiness with onload and offload capabilities,” said Daley. “We could execute tomorrow if we had to.”
Other milestones included an Air Guard test center facilitating the first live-fire weapons test from an F-15EX Eagle II and a B-2 Spirit pilot surpassing 1,500 hours in the stealth bomber.
“I think it’s truly an honor just to be in the same category as some of the other really high-time B-2 pilots that I’ve looked up to throughout my career,” said Air Force Lt. Col. Drew Irmischer, the B-2 pilot with the 131st Bomb Wing who got his start in the bomber with the regular Air Force. “It’s been a great opportunity to be with the B-2 community, especially the 131st.”
Like many Guard units, some Soldiers with the New York Army National Guard’s 27th Infantry Brigade Combat Team took some time on Dec. 13 to celebrate the National Guard’s 386th birthday.
“The National Guard birthday is important because it’s the beginning,” Army Col. William Murphy, a senior leader in the 27th IBCT, told Soldiers. “It aligns with the beginning of our nation. It aligns with ordinary citizens standing up for what’s right and what’s just.”
Murphy spoke in Grafenwoehr, Germany, home to the training command responsible for maximizing the combat effectiveness of Ukrainian soldiers as they continue to engage Russians on the battlefield.
“It’s reminding us that a community of people stood up, and they took all the skills and abilities they had within their communities and brought it forward to make the world a better place,” Murphy added. “The same thing (they) did back then is the same thing that we’re doing today.”
As the year comes to a close, the National Guard remains ready to meet state and federal missions and satisfy overseas security requirements.