NEW YORK FOREIGN PRESS CENTER, 799 UNITED NATIONS PLAZA, 10TH FLOOR
MODERATOR: Okay, good morning, everyone. Welcome to the New York Foreign Press Center’s briefing on the U.S. National Guard’s domestic and global engagement. I’m very honored to welcome General Daniel R. Hokanson, Chief of the National Guard Bureau, and a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. My name is Melissa Waheibi, and I’m the moderator for today’s event.
This briefing is on the record. We’ll post a transcript and video of this event later today on our website, which is fpc.state.gov.
If you haven’t already done so, we invite you to turn your camera on this morning, just so the general has faces to look at; we recognize if you can’t. And if you haven’t done so, please change your outlet name – or I should say your Zoom name to your outlet and your full name. General Hokanson will give opening remarks, and then we’ll have a period of Q&A which I will moderate.
Sir, at this point, the floor is yours.
GEN HOKANSON: Okay, great. First of all, ladies and gentlemen, I want to thank you for the opportunity to visit with you today to really tell you a little bit about the National Guard in the United States. And in many cases, it’s to share a little about what the National Guard actually does, because in many cases folks may have not had exposure to the National Guard or even be aware of the multiple roles that we perform on a daily basis.
So as a quick background, the National Guard has an authorized strength of about 444,000. We’re the second-largest military organization in the United States, behind the United States Army. We’re also the oldest military organization in the United States, dating back to our first formation in 1636. And when you look at the roles and the missions of the National Guard, our National Guard exists primarily to fight and win our nation’s wars. But the manning, training, and equipping that we get to fight our wars allows us to do virtually anything in the homeland, which is why you see the National Guard at – really at the lead, along with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, in hurricanes, wildfires, floods, any type of disaster that occurs in the United States.
But if you look at a picture today of the 440,000 that we have, we have about 40,000 on duty every single day. Twenty-two thousand of those are currently deployed overseas in support of our combatant commanders, and the rest are really conducting operations here in the United States.
And so some things you may not be aware of that the National Guard does day to day for the United States of America – first and foremost, we provide the Ground-based Midcourse Defense, or basically our anti-ballistic missile defense for the United States. We also run 15 of our 16 air control alert sites that have aircraft on alert 24/7, 365 to protect the skies of America. We also run all four of our air defense sectors – East Coast, West Coast, Alaska, and Hawaii. We also have a large number of our cyber units that are on duty every single day, to include part of our national mission force. And that’s just a little bit to say about where we are on a day-to-day basis.
Right now in the state of Mississippi we’ve got 500 on duty that are responding to the floods there, and we’ve got about a similar amount on the West Coast currently fighting wildfires. And so every single day we’re involved in really every aspect from defense overseas to working with our allies, partners, to really responding to any significant events which exceed the capability of our local first responders and our communities.
And one of the things that’s really critical to the National Guard are our relationships. And so because we are in 2,800 communities across the United States, if anything occurs we’re usually the closest to that event. And so we have very good relationships with our local law enforcement, first responders, fire departments, and emergency managers. And we also have that same level at the state. Each of our states has a two-star adjutant general that’s responsible for both the Army and the Air National Guard. And in 18 of those states, that adjutant general is also the emergency manager for that state.
And so that’s the local to state, but we also have significant international relationships through our state partnership program that was founded in 1993; we’re actually coming up on our 30th anniversary next year. And we have long and enduring partnerships with 85 nations around the globe. It’s actually 85 partners with 93 different nations, and it is a great program where we work very closely with them to learn from each other, to share things that we have learned, and help do all those things we can to protect not only our citizens but our countries as well.
And so with that, I could talk about a lot more, but I’d love to hear any questions that you guys have for me this morning.
MODERATOR: Thank you, sir, for those opening remarks. This is the time for the Q&A portion of this event. There’s two options to do that; you can raise your virtual hand, or you can type that in the chat function and I’ll ask that of the General on your behalf. When it is time for you to ask your question, we do ask that you state your name and organization. I know some of you have indicated a question already; Dmitry, we’ll go to you. If possible, is your camera on, potentially?
QUESTION: Well, I – good morning.
MODERATOR: Great. Thank you so much. Go ahead, ask your question.
QUESTION: Yeah. Foreign Press Center, thank you very much for doing this. And General, thank you for supporting my country. I heard about you from a lot of people who knew you personally. My question is I know that National Guard is helping Ukraine, providing trainings, but right now it’s impossible to do it on the Ukrainian territory. So how do you see the task for today?
And secondly, if I may, the Ramstein group meeting is happening today. How do you see this task, and this challenge, of coordinating the support, the logistic, the arms from 50 or even more countries? Thank you.
GEN HOKANSON: Well, thank you, Dmitry, and as you highlighted, the California National Guard has had a relationship with the Ukrainian military and actually the country of Ukraine for almost 30 years. And in that time we’ve done over a thousand engagements, as I’m sure you’re well aware. And when you look at where we were just prior to Russia’s unprovoked invasion in February, we actually had soldiers from the Florida National Guard, and they were the ninth rotation that we did at the Joint Multinational Training Group-Ukraine just outside of Lviv, which was really helped and developed after 2014 to help train and work together with the Ukrainian military to identify a lot of the issues that they came to learn and understand during the – Russia’s earlier invasion in 2014.
Now, just prior to the invasion we had to pull those folks out of Ukraine, but what we did is we re-established that training in Germany, and I actually had the chance to visit our soldiers and the Ukrainian soldiers that they were training in Germany. And so we’ll wait to see when conditions are right for us to continue doing that, and that’ll be a decision by our senior political leadership we continue to provide that training in Ukraine. But right now we, along with many of our other allies and your partners as well, are providing training outside of the country of Ukraine and also material assistance.
And I know you brought up the meeting in Ramstein about the 50 countries in terms of the logistics support, and we really see this as an opportunity. Many nations realize that since World War II we’ve really had an orders-based ruling where we respected the territorial borders and sovereignties of other nations. And so what we’re seeing now with Russia’s unprovoked invasion is an attempt to change that, and many countries are showing support for the country of Ukraine. And logistically it’s critical to provide those resources and supplies so that the Ukrainians can defend their territory and their sovereignty, and we look at this as a long-term commitment with Ukraine. And I think that’s the acknowledgment here in that meeting, is to look at what resources and capabilities and capacities that Ukraine needs in order to defend its territory. And I think we’ve got 50 nations now willing to do that, and so I think it’s really important that we coordinate our efforts and make sure that we are transparent with each other on what we can provide, what Ukraine needs to help them defend their territory.
MODERATOR: Thank you, sir. Our next question will go to Pearl. Pearl, if you could open up your mike and ask your question.
QUESTION: Good morning, General Hokanson. Sorry, my internet is a little bit unstable, and so I’m not going to put my video on, but I really appreciate your availability today, and hopefully I will get in touch with your office after this.
I am somewhat familiar with all of the National Guard and everything that you have shared. My specific question to you today, General, is – so in terms of when a state is partnered with a country, how do you decide which ones? And for example, on the continent of Africa, are you working with U.S. Africa Command, and are there any particular ones that you could speak to right now? Is there any – which state, for example, is partnered with South Africa? And if you don’t have this information, I’m quite happy to get in touch with your office later on, because I am real keen to find out what is the motivation here. And are there any – you talked about National Guard also being involved in emergency management. Are you helping any of those countries on the African continent with that emergency management training at all in conjunction with Africa Command? Thank you so much, General.
GEN HOKANSON: So Pearl, thank you so much for the question. And actually, a few years ago prior to COVID, South Africa was one of the first countries that I invited over to my quarters to meet with their defense attaché, their ambassador, and also their state partner, which is New York. And the motivation behind the state partnership program is within the National Guard, many times the state National Guard is similar to size and military with some of the countries that we work with. And so it’s a great opportunity for our soldiers and airmen in the National Guard to train with those countries and learn from them, learn about their country, learn about the disasters that they face, learn about their experiences, and vice versa. And we share that as well.
And you brought up specifically disaster management. When we first start our partnerships, a lot of the focus we have is on what we call humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. At the end of the day, when our militaries or our national guards are called in to help our countries, it’s usually because a disaster has exceeded the capability of the local officials or what we would call our first responders. And at the end of the day, we all want to take care of our citizens and mitigate disasters as quickly as possible. And so by sharing what we have learned and learning from, in this case, what South Africa has learned, it makes both of us better and it allows us to respond better and mitigate those disasters at a much faster rate than we would had we not learned those things together.
And so that’s critically important and usually the main thing that we focus on at the start of our partnership. And once we get that down to where we feel very comfortable with each other and that we’ve shared and learned from each other, then we look at other areas – sometimes medical care, sometimes military training. A lot of times we do a lot of training with our medical evacuation helicopters for those countries that have those, kind of sharing lessons learned and how we operate.
And so at the end of the day, it’s a two-way conversation, but it’s also an enduring relationship. Because our folks in the National Guard tend to stay in that state National Guard for their entire career, the young officers and young soldiers and airmen that trained together 15 years ago are now usually more senior officers or more senior enlisted soldiers. And so they grow up together and they learn how each of our nations are evolving, and then we continue to share what we have learned along the way.
And when we look at the African continent like what we consider all of our combatant commands, one of those is we work very closely with the State Department and the combatant commander to identify those countries which they feel would be really the next future engagement or the next potential partnership. And historically what we’ve done is we’ve gained about two or three countries that the State Department will work with the combatant commanders and they would prioritize those, and that’s really how we select usually two to four every year.
What we’ve done recently is really looked out – we try to look out the next 10 to 15 years for what those next 30 partnerships would be, because we figure about 30 is the most capacity that we could do and still make them very meaningful and beneficial to both countries. And so we’re looking at those and working with the State Department and the combatant commanders to prioritize those in addition with the ambassadors, not only here in the United States from those countries but the U.S. ambassadors in those countries, to determine which priority, when the timing is most appropriate.
And then once we identify that, then we look at the states that probably have the best connection there. And so we look at demographics – maybe there’s a large population from that country that is in that state – or, because it’s a militarytomilitary relationship initially we look at what capabilities and capacities they have and try and match that to a state that’s very similar.
And once we do this, we start the military-to-military engagement, then in many cases we really try and go beyond that to where the actual governors from those states will come to those countries, and vice versa the president or leadership from that country will come back to the state. And in many of these we have mutual agreements between our universities where students are allowed to come to university in the United States in that state at the same rate that they would be able to in their own country, and likewise we do the same with students potentially from those states to go to the universities in those countries.
And what it does is it helps us develop a common understanding of each other, what’s important, what issues we face and how we might be able to resolve those. Because at the end of the day we want stability, order, and we want to be able to take care of our citizens, and we learn a lot from each other by partnering over the duration of multiple years. And as Dimitry just mentioned, you go back to our relationship with Ukraine, it goes almost 30 years and there is strong relationships from every level that we have developed over time and really an understanding and appreciation for the environment that Ukraine and many other countries live in and how we can work together to make sure that we’re taking care of our citizens and also developing our militaries and our civilian relationships so we can address any issues that may come up.
MODERATOR: Thank you, sir. Our next question will —
MODERATOR: Sorry, Pearl. Did you have a follow-up?
MODERATOR: Okay, we’ll move over to John. John, time for your question. Please state your full name and organization.
QUESTION: Melissa, are you talking to me?
MODERATOR: I am.
QUESTION: Okay. So I’m actually John Ford. General, good morning. And I represent the Nassau Tribune, not from Long Island but from the Bahamas. I’ve got a question for you about the Caribbean region more generally. As we know, they are beset with a variety of national – natural disasters from volcanos to hurricanes, and from time to time the political order crumbles, as we see from – occasionally in Haiti and also in other places. There is a whole panoply of U.S. military and civilian agencies and units that can be deployed in the region. I wonder if you could comment on specific relationships between U.S. states and the major countries of the Caribbean on the one hand, and give some examples of recent National Guard involvement and engagement in the area.
GEN HOKANSON: John, thank you. And so being from the Bahamas, that’s the one state partnership in the NORTHCOM area of responsibility when we talk about our combatant commands, and the Bahamas has an existing state partnership with the state of Rhode Island. And when we look at that, we look very closely obviously at the Caribbean nations, obviously subject to not only hurricanes but earthquakes as well. And because we have a partnership with the Bahamas, we work very closely with that, and also Haiti has a partnership with, I believe, Louisiana.
And so when it’s appropriate and when asked by that country to provide support, we work within the Department of Defense and also the Federal Emergency Management Agency, other emergency organizations as well as nongovernmental organizations to really identify what we could provide and then coordinate to do that, but then also understand what other capabilities are out there, what other organizations that can provide support as well.
And what we try to do is make sure that we don’t duplicate effort but we unify our efforts and make sure that we get the folks with the right capability to provide that support that we can. Of course, it’s really all dependent on the nation themselves and them asking for help, but then also understanding what capabilities we have available at the time and what they can do, and then working to find a way to make sure that we can do that and meet those needs. Unfortunately, we can’t meet every need, but we do look very closely at what we can provide to help mitigate the results of many of those disasters.
QUESTION: Could I ask a brief follow-up, sir? I’ve got, I guess, two quick questions. Florida seems like a natural partner for much of the Caribbean for a variety of reasons. I wonder if you could explain which Caribbean nation Florida partners with.
And the second question is – has to do with interagency coordination in Washington when you have an emergency. Say you have an earthquake , say you have a hurricane – is this interagency coordination performed in DOD, perhaps by ISA, or is it at the National Security Council level? Where is that coordination and direction coming from?
GEN HOKANSON: So John, I’ll address that first. In terms of interagency coordination, when we talk about the Department of Defense and particularly the National Guard, we are always in support of the lead federal agency. And so anytime an event occurs, if it’s a local event and doesn’t require national-level support, it’s usually the governor through their state emergency manager identifies what we call mission assignments or needs. And if they don’t have the capability organically within their emergency response system, oftentimes they’ll reach out to the National Guard and say we need this capability or this mission set, and that state’s National Guard will identify the capability.
And if they don’t have that within their state, we have what are called Emergency Management Assistance Compacts or an agreement with a nearby state that does have that capability. And so if the state doesn’t have it, they’ll reach out to a nearby state to get that capability, but all of these are really in support of those lead federal agencies, and DOD does not take the lead on those events. And we work very closely with FEMA, our Federal Emergency Management Agency, and we do conduct exercises every year, really large-scale exercises, where we work out how we would respond to different type of events, who is the lead agency, what requests they might have.
And then particularly within the National Guard, every year we get together in Louisiana and all of our states come together, and we look at – say in the case of Florida, if one of their large military formations in the National Guard is going to be deployed overseas, we identify all the surrounding states that could provide that capability because it’s absent. The same in California – they have a combat aviation brigade which is most of their helicopters. When they are deployed, the nearby states will be aware of the dates that they’re going to be gone, and they will identify and train air crews that could then provide that firefighting capability for the State of California, if that’s necessary.
Specifically with Florida, I don’t believe that there are – they are directly partnered with any of the Caribbean nations there. I’d have to look at the exact states that they’re – or the countries that Florida has partnered with. But in many cases it is based on their they’re a very large military within Florida, and so in many cases they’re partnered with a country with a similar size military.
QUESTION: Thank you, sir.
GEN HOKANSON: Great. Thank you, John.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much. We’re going to move to some of the questions that were submitted in the chat function. So, sir, I’ll ask those. The first one is Coast Guard related. If we need to connect them with the Coast Guard, we will, but I’ll offer it to you in case you have any comments.
So it is from Donhui Yu of China Review: “Last year, the U.S. and Taiwan signed an MOU of establishing a Coast Guard working group. What substantial steps have you taken to implement this MOU, particularly in the context in the Taiwan Strait. And secondly, does the U.S. Coast Guard have any cooperation with your Chinese counterpart” – I’m sorry – “either in humanity rescue or disaster relief?”
GEN HOKANSON: So unfortunately, I don’t know that I could answer that question. The Coast Guard is actually not part of the National Guard. I am – I do work with Linda Fagan, the Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, but traditionally because we’re focused primarily on the Army National Guard and the Air National Guard, we don’t really have any Naval or Coast Guard relationships. So I wouldn’t be the best person to answer that question.
MODERATOR: Thank you, sir. Moving on – this is from Czech Radio. This is about domestic engagement. “The National Guard was very much in the international news in 2020 and 2021 because of its role in the George Floyd protests and the aftermath of January 6th Capitol attack. How would you describe the duties and limits of the National Guard during these types of domestic events to the international audience for them to understand?” That’s the first question.
The second question is: “How would you describe the demands on the active personnel in the National Guard compared to the U.S. Army and Navy? And also is there any difference in a prestige of serving in the National Guard or the U.S. Army and Navy in your opinion and according to your experience?”
GEN HOKANSON: Thank you. And so when we look at the George Floyd event – and we really call this like civil disturbance operations – and in this the case when the National Guard within each state on a day-to-day basis, their commander is the governor of that state. When they’re mobilized for deployment, they follow the chain of command from the President, the Secretary of Defense, to the combatant commander, and that’s who they work for. But in this case, George Floyd specifically, when it exceeded the capability of local law enforcement, the governor asked the National Guard – in this case the Minnesota National Guard – to provide support.
And so what they did is the National Guard partnered with local law enforcement where we would have probably two soldiers and a police officer, and they were there basically to allow our citizens to exercise their First Amendment rights, the freedom to meet, to gather, to have their voices heard; but on the other hand, we were also there to ensure their safety and the safety of the communities that they lived in. And so just having a presence there – so, hey, we’re here, you have the right to protest, but do not damage the property, do not burn buildings, those types of things. They work very closely with the law enforcement to be that presence there to really make sure that things did not get out of hand. And you saw that once the National Guard was there at a large presence they helped calm everything down and things eventually went away. But in those cases, when it exceeds the capability of the law enforcement, they can ask for help from the National Guard.
And now the National Guard in this case is in what we call a state status or state active duty, which means they’re being paid by the state and also that they’re working for and within the state. And there is a law in the United States called the Posse Comitatus Act which does not allow active military forces to perform law enforcement. But the National Guard, when they’re in a state active duty status, they may perform law enforcement functions. And that’s why you only saw National Guard doing this, and it was very in support of local law enforcement, and the whole intent was to de-escalate the situation and get everything back to normal.
Now, when we talk about the – as you mentioned, the demand on the National Guard, the model we usually like to stick to is one and five, and that’s one deployment for every five years. And when you look at the size of the National Guard – just under 450,000 – we can really almost do that indefinitely based on the demand for our forces.
So if you go back to June of 2020, we had 120,000 guardsmen on duty. And these were performing civil disturbance operations. They were providing COVID support across the entire country. We had a large contingent deployed overseas, and we had other things occurring, like hurricanes and wildfires. But on that day, 120,00 was still just less than a quarter of our force, and so we had a significant capability that we could still provide.
Now, one thing to highlight when we talk about our active and Guard and Reserve and how they’re viewed, everyone in the National Guard goes through the exact same training as their active duty counterparts. So a soldier in the active Army goes through the same training as a soldier in the National Guard, and the requirements are met all the same throughout their entire career. It’s just that our National Guardsmen normally train one or two weekends a month and two weeks out of the year. But they do expect once every four to five years to deploy for up to a year, either overseas or somewhere else around the globe, or even sometimes within the United States. And we work very closely with our states so they can manage their civilian career, their time in the National Guard, and also their families. And we have shown over time that we can really sustain that for the long haul.
MODERATOR: Thank you, sir. The next question is from Naray Balazs from Hungary. This is about Ukraine.
GEN HOKANSON: Okay.
MODERATOR: “The U.S. military and Pentagon is working on long-term plans, how to give military assistance to Ukraine. Is it taking into account Ukraine’s view but also take into account what makes sense for the United States? Could you elaborate on that? What form of assistance makes sense in terms of military aid for Ukraine in the long term for the U.S.? Thank you very much.”
GEN HOKANSON: So we work very closely with Ukraine to determine what capabilities and capacities that they need to defend their sovereignty and their territory. And a lot of this originated with the California National Guard. And really after 2014, after Russia’s first invasion of Crimea and the Donbas region, we worked very closely with the Ukrainian army and air force to look at what capabilities that they needed to improve on, what capabilities they did not have, and then also just training requirements to address some of the issues that they had identified during that timeframe. And we’ve been really focused on that.
At the end of the day, Ukraine has to do what’s right for Ukraine, and we will do everything we can to help support that. And I think you’ve seen that from our country already, as well as many other allies and partners in the region. And that’s why we continue our training today in Germany, working with the Ukrainians on weapons or training that they feel that they need is most important to their ability to defend their country and their territorial borders.
MODERATOR: Thank you, sir. We have time for one more question. Alex, we’ll go to you. You can open up your mic, state your full name and organization.
QUESTION: Thank you so very much, minister. This is Alex Raufoglu from the independent Turan News Agency of Azerbaijan. Sorry about technical difficulties; I’m joining from an airport. Thank you, General, for making yourself available for us this morning. I want to expand a little bit on what you have said earlier about increasing, and if you want, the daunting Russia’s threat, as it is conducting the largest invasion in Europe since Second World War. Can you please give up perspective on how you are adapting to the challenges beyond Ukraine in the region? Are you in a position to support Georgia, Moldova, Azerbaijan, and others defending their countries against Russian invasion? I guess my question also has to do with budgetary capability, capacity implications for maintaining your status as an operational reserve. And also, I don’t want put a word to your mouth, but can you name Russia as a top threat right now facing the United States and its allies? Thank you so much, again.
GEN HOKANSON: Great. Thank you, Alex, and so you bring up a great question. And when we look at all our state partnerships in the region, one thing that we have learned – and I actually visited many of those countries in the region that we have state partnerships with earlier this year, in June and July. And when I visit with them, my point is – is, okay, when we all look at what’s happening in Ukraine as a result of Russia’s invasion of their country, how do we respond? How do our – these nations identify what capabilities and capacity? What are they learning?
And so I’ve asked all of our state partners to go back and visit with their state partners and say: in light of what’s happening in Ukraine, what are you learning, what capabilities and capacities do you see that your nation needs to help develop? And in those cases, we’re working very closely through our state partnership program to address those and provide that training or anything that we can do in coordination with that country to help them take a look this and how they might potentially defend their country. So that’s one of the main things that we’re doing.
And also we have obviously a lot of allies and partners, NATO nations as well as our state partners. And we continue to show that the value of that and that we will continue to keep our allies and partners throughout this process.
When you talk about the prioritization of the threat, I think I really have to defer to our National Defense Strategy, which really puts China at the top and Russia very closely there as well. Our concern is – anytime there’s a threat, as we see manifested with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, there is concern. We want to reassure our allies and partners in the region that we’re there, that NATO will remain solid and in defense of all of the – as you’ve heard before – every square inch of NATO land.
And we’re doing everything we can in a coordination with all the other allies and partners that Ukraine has to provide them the capability and capacity for them to defend their nation. And as you said, this is the largest military operation that we have seen since World War II, and really the first time that a nation is really trying to change the borders and boundaries of one country by imposing their will on them and violating the territorial integrity and the sovereignty of that nation.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Alex, for that question. And thank you, General, for those remarks.
This concludes our briefing. I want to give a special thanks to General Hokanson for his time today and for all of your participation. Again, the transcript will be on our website later, including a video on DVIDS, which you can go to at dvids.gov or .com. I’ll verify that. Thank you. So thank you for being here, and that concludes everything.
Thank you, sir, very much.
GEN HOKANSON: Okay. Thank you, everybody. Have a great day.