The National Guard is in a turning point. After two decades of high-tempo operations during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, at times making Guard service as important as active duty status, the service is evaluating what it has done and what it can deliver.
A top priority for the National Guard chief is to give Guardsmen access to free military health insurance, no matter what their duties, as well as pay and training that make them more equal to those on active duty. Today, 60,000 guardsmen are uninsured and receive no health benefits from their civilian employers.
“There’s going to be a cost to it, but I believe the cost of losing preparedness is higher than the cost of health care,” Army General Hokanson told reporters Tuesday, adding that providing benefits “is ultimately the right thing to do, both It’s the moral and medical readiness of our troops.”
A bipartisan group of senators introduced the Army Healthcare Act in December, which would make Tricare Reserve Select a free insurance plan for National Guard and Reserve troops.
Duty status reform is another top priority, which would simplify the dozens of different pay and benefit accumulation plans that active-duty guards are required to adhere to while serving, resulting in many guards being paid less than active-duty members.
“We are separated from our families by weeks, months, years, but shoulder to shoulder performing the exact same tasks and having the same responsibilities, rather than being treated the same, is something that needs to be addressed,” Hokanson said.
To keep pace with active-duty troops, the National Guard also plans to conduct more large-scale exercises, more Rotation and modernization of brigade and division training to more closely resemble the active Army.
“This will allow us to seamlessly interoperate with the Army, make rotations more predictable, and provide our Guard with more leadership opportunities,” Hokanson said. “Above all, it will ensure that we are always ready for the calling of our nation.”
This is also the goal of the upcoming full-component fitness challenge.
“Starting in March, we will have a monthly fitness challenge for our troops,” he said. “The challenge emphasizes not just exercise, but elements like nutrition and overall fitness to encourage our Soldiers, Airmen and their families to focus on taking care of themselves, becoming more resilient, being personally prepared and, hopefully, having fun in the process. “
These moves have brought the National Guard more in line with the active-duty Army and Air Force at a time when their missions are starting to look more separate. Between 2001 and 2021, regular deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan characterize Active Duty and Guard service, but These days, the National Guard spends more time on domestic mobilization.
For example, in 2020 and 2021, tens of thousands of guards were activated in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, many of whom worked in hospitals for months or in public testing and vaccination centers.
“So what we’re really trying to do is encourage our guardsmen and our faculty at all levels of leadership to make sure we’re really focused on getting ready, because we don’t know how much time we’re going to need to get ready,” Hokanson said. “So we can do all the preparations at the individual level and at the small unit level so that we’re ready when we get the call, or if it’s a mass mobilization — we’ve got the groundwork done so we can reduce our The level of organizational readiness that needs to be built.”
The moves also serve a dual purpose at a time when the entire military is finding it increasingly difficult to recruit.
“It’s really a bit of a twofold. Obviously, the first one is that they make a significant investment, giving up most of their time for training, and then giving up a weekend a month — and often more than that,” says Hokanson. “So we want to make sure that whenever we call them, they get to step on the pitch and play their part. If they get medical care, they can have preventive care, or if they get injured at any point, they’ve Get ready to go and be medically prepared.”
But at the same time, Hokanson added, compensation and benefits are an important recruitment and retention tool.
“When you look at the current environment, we’ve traditionally relied on a lot of things to encourage people to join the Guard — education benefits, training, those types of things — and a lot of companies are doing that now … so we need to keep up with the environment Connect and stay aligned to provide something that encourages people to join our organization and then stay in it,” Hokanson said.
“One good thing is that once we get people into the organization, our retention rates are really high. But the key is getting them through the front door and showing them what we have to offer.”
Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief for Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership, and other issues affecting service members.