25 June 2011

This Isn't Your Father's National Guard

While serving as a public affairs specialist in Kosovo, I had the pleasure of conducting a brief interview with the Vice President of the United States. For those (83% of Americans) who don't know who that is, his name is Joe Biden.

His staff prohibited me from asking the questions that were most pressing and interesting, so I only threw unmemorable softballs. His answer, though, I have never forgotten.

"This is not your father's National Guard," he said with a folksy smile.

The gist of his comments was that our national defense strategy relies heavily on Citizen-Soldiers, who must leave families, jobs, and communities, to operate in technically and politically complex environments. More than ever, National Guardsmen bear the heaviest loads in our military operations.

I have written quite a bit about the phenomenon, which I happen to applaud. If the United States is going to send anybody to war, it might as well be those who represent our nation the best. They are the men and women of the various National Guard units across the country and its territories. They are well-trained, well-prepared, and ready to serve.

That preparation hasn't come easily, though. Sparing the explanations of how Guardsmen have always been shunned by regulars, it's enough to say that they have had to go above and beyond to prove their mettle. Meanwhile, our political leaders and the public have put their confidence in the National Guard's warfighting capability.

All that leads to one undeniable fact, which was summed up in Biden's epigram: the National Guard is a lot different than it was a generation ago. It has changed. It has adapted (and quite well) to its more prominent role.

The Army itself has adapted, too. In fact, "adapt and overcome" is a common saying for Soldiers, to advise them on how to cope with obvious challenges.

The advice is good for everyone. No matter what the expectation or demand, meet it with the confidence and determination of success. It might be attained by changing an approach, a perspective, or a timeline, but adaptation is a skill that needs to be practiced.

Is the National Guard the most adaptive organization? By no means. Institutionalism and orthodoxy are plagues that need to be fought at many turns. But the Army has shown, for example with the new directive on immediate repeal of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, that it can adapt quickly.

Front line leaders should be teaching their Soldiers to be flexible. But usually it is the leaders who can learn a thing or two from their juniors. The newer members-- who tend to be younger-- of an organization are the ones riding the wave of new trends.

This is not your father's world. But your parents would be proud to see you adapt to it.

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