Some 120,000 members of the U.S. National Guard have responded this year to natural disasters - floods in Michigan, wildfires in Kansas and tornadoes in Tennessee, just to name a few; - and have participated in global military operations and responded to civil disturbances and to COVID-19, the chief of the National Guard Bureau has said.
"It has been a crazy year, and it's just early July," Air Force Gen. Joseph L. Lengyel said Thursday during a Brookings Institution webcast today titled "The Force America Needs: Lessons of 2020 and the Future of the National Guard."
With COVID-19 cases on the rise in some states and no reduction to worldwide operational commitments, Lengyel said, he sees no reduction in operations tempo.
About 45,000 members of the guard have been assisting with COVID-19 mitigation efforts in every state and territory since the pandemic started, the general said. Another 45,000 supported the law enforcement response to civil disturbances in 33 states.
"All across the country, the National Guard is aiding the American people, delivering personal protective equipment, and in some cases, they are manufacturing personal protective equipment, staffing food banks and test centers, protecting peaceful protesters' First Amendment rights, and sharing best practices as we learn how to do some of these things," Lengyel said.
Infantry officers were running food banks and COVID-19 test sites, he noted, adding that the National Guard "can do any task that our nation needs them to do."
While serving Americans on the homefront, none of the National Guard's operational commitments to combatant commanders around the world were reduced, he added.
Lengyel said the National Guard has been involved in space operations for at least 25 years and that he hopes it will play a major role in the Space Force, the newest military service.
The National Guard has some unique advantages in the Defense Department, the general said. A big advantage, he pointed out, is that it is less costly to fund the guard compared to the active forces. In time of war or national emergency, the National Guard can be quickly mobilized and used at the federal level or under the direction of the state governors, he added.
Lengyel said that when he joined the Air Force more than four decades ago, the National Guard was used as a strategic reserve. Today, he said, its is an important component of the operational force, trained and equipped with modern weapons and ready to support combatant commanders globally.