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October Commander's Corner

  • Published
  • By Col. Tim Dotson
  • 169th Mission Support Group

What makes the National Guard different from the Reserves?  For one thing, there is only one Reserves for each service component while there are 54 distinct National Guards serving the 50 states and the U.S. territories of Guam, Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands and the District of Columbia. Our Air National Guard is comprised of more than 106,000 citizen-Airmen that have taken an oath to the U.S. Constitution and also the Constitution of their respective states or territories. That is the primary difference. We support both a governor and president as part of the defense apparatus of this nation. Despite the huge demands of family, civilian careers and high operations tempo, the National Guard continues to carry out its obligations with dedicated servants willing to defend our communities and nation.

The South Carolina National Guard has a state mission as well as a federal mission. The South Carolina National Guard’s Palmetto Horizon Campaign Plan 2018-2023 requires us to be trained and ready to (1) generate combat-ready units to conduct state and federal operations, (2) conduct military operations in response to state emergencies, and (3) provide staff operations in support of the governor for contingency operations. The focus on readiness in the latest National Guard Bureau posture statement requires us to be capable of fighting America’s wars, securing the homeland and building partnerships that will strengthen global security. As the National Guard motto goes, Always on Mission for our state and nation. The homeland is no longer a sanctuary and integrating with the interagency has become a strategic imperative. 

There is a great book written by Richard K. Betts titled ‘Military Readiness: Concepts, Choices, Consequences’ in which he poses three questions regarding military readiness that all military professionals should consider; (1) readiness for when, (2) readiness for what, and (3) readiness of what? Readiness cannot be defined only on how quickly a unit can mobilize and deploy. Ready for what requires us to be trained for tasks across the spectrum of conflict and range of military operations as we know them today while policymakers must consider the future of conflict and resourcing needs for the next major war. The military must make choices regarding what capabilities and timelines are required of the force. As the former SECDEF posits in the 2018 National Defense Strategy, “we must deliver performance at the speed of relevance,” not a day late and a dollar short. Speed and operational agility will win future conflicts. It has been said that our greatest challenge is to adapt quicker than our adversaries do.

Deliberate planning and execution of our federal mission is what we do best. We are organized, trained and equipped for these mission essential tasks and enjoy the predictability of a 1:5 mobilization to deploy ratio target across the Air National Guard enterprise. Swamp Foxes are currently preparing to deploy downrange for an Agile Combat Support deployment to respond to threats, ensure common domains remain open and free, deter aggression against our vital interests, and to assure our allies and partners. However, we are not well organized, trained or equipped for missions required to support our fellow South Carolinians or to compete below the level of armed conflict with a military dimension. To be sure, we should look at the annual June - November hurricane season each year as a potential annual state AEF rotation and plan for our eventual participation. 

My first encounter with domestic operations and defense support of civil authorities was Hurricane Hugo in September of 1989 when I was a South Carolina Army National Guard platoon leader. The South Carolina Lowcountry was devastated. Since then we have learned some valuable lessons from major natural disasters like Hurricane Andrew and Hurricane Katrina, events that overwhelm any single entity and requires a whole-of-government response.  These past several years brought South Carolina a 1,000-year flood event and several major hurricanes. Just a few short weeks ago, we encountered a near miss with Hurricane Dorian.  However, we are still struggling to write ourselves into state emergency management plans and bring to bear needed capabilities for which we are well suited to deliver. One of my favorite leader quotes is from Dwight D. Eisenhower when he stated that “in preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” 

The dual federal and state missions make the South Carolina National Guard uniquely relevant to our state and nation. Otherwise, we are no different than the Reserves. In addition to training and preparation to meet the wartime requirements of combatant commanders, we must also be trained and ready each hurricane season, for example, from June through November to answer our state’s call. You will not find those tasks in your respective CFETPs but supporting our communities with citizen-Airmen effort is vital nonetheless. Hurricanes and combat require very different things and we must be able to respond at the speed of relevancy. In the midst of chaos and havoc, initial information is routinely unreliable as plans rarely survive first contact. We cannot assure true mission readiness by simply asking ourselves “ready for what?” We must also ask ourselves ready for when and ready with what? The National Guard is the nation’s combat reserve, integral to the total force, engaged and accessible, connected with America and communities, and a tremendous value for America. We must be task-organized and prepared to provide necessary support at home or abroad, Monday through Friday, on weekends, in the middle of the night if necessary and for both our state and nation across the full mission spectrum. Always on mission. “Plan for what is difficult while it is easy, do what is great while it is small.” – Sun Tzu