Over the past four decades, National Guard has changed for the better

By Command Chief Master Sgt. James Chisholm
Wisconsin Air National Guard

As I write this, my last work day is approaching and I just wanted to express my gratitude to all of you. I have had the pleasure of working with many of you during my 40 years in the Wisconsin National Guard. Your professionalism and dedication to the Guard has made my military career a pleasure.

Throughout those years I was presented with many opportunities to travel to most of the states and many, many countries around the world in a TDY or mobilized status. During this time I have seen many changes inside and outside of the Guard. The differences between our National Guard then and now are as different as the first aircraft I worked on in 1972 (KC-97) and the last aircraft I am working with in 2011 (KC-135R).

That first aircraft — which was propeller driven — used relatively old technology and flew low and slow compared to the other aircraft of the day. The Guard back then also flew low and slow. We were very good at our “strategic reserve” mission with the antiquated equipment given to us by the Air Force. The budget for the Air Force was much larger then so our small allotted portion was also larger. Still, there was plenty of money for training, facilities and managing our meager resources. When I once asked if we would ever fly any jet aircraft the response was, “NO! We are the Guard and will never get the same equipment as the active duty.”

My, how things have changed.

Today the Guard is flying high and fast. We are training and fighting side-by-side with our active duty brethren, with mostly the same equipment. I would proudly say that we maintain our equipment better than our active duty counterparts — probably due to the fact that we, and our equipment, tend to stay in our Guard units for the better part of our careers, not just a three-year tour. We continue to do this with an ever-shrinking budget.

We have changed from that strategic reserve into an “operational force” — however, do not forget that we still maintain tremendous strategic capabilities. For 375 years that has been, and always will be, the strength of the National Guard. Presently our operational missions overseas have been going on for more than 20 years. There is a whole generation of Guardsmen who know nothing different. They have only seen the present operational tempo that includes mobilizations and other extended duties instead of those “one weekend a month” days. They have had to tighten their belts in the past and will adjust positively to other budget concerns in the future.

The changes in the Guard have been many, and all for the right reasons. Like it or not, many of the changes have been driven by a changing culture outside of our fences. Other changes are due to many factors like new technologies, safety standards, health concerns and economic issues, while others are driven by changes within our Guard family. All of these changes have helped us remain the best military value for America.

Life is about changes. All of our military members have changed during their careers and will continue to adjust to ever changing inside and outside factors. One thing will never change — the Guard’s commitment to ensuring our state and federal missions are a success!

I will always be proud that I was a very small part of this great organization. Thanks for all of the camaraderie, managing the many changes and performing all of our missions to the highest standards in the last four decades. I look forward to the next chapter in my life and adjusting to even more changes.

So until the next time our paths cross, allow me to say: Keep up the great work, and may God bless the Wisconsin National Guard.