Editor’s Note: This blog is part of a year-long celebration of the National Guard’s 375th birthday.
Being the son in a family where everyone built fighter jets for the military, I was destined to join the U.S. Air Force. Following officer training school, I began pilot training and learned about this phenomenon known as the Air National Guard. Guard pilot trainees were by and large good Sticks (aviators) who would go home to fly old aircraft and meet the same proficiency standards as their active duty counterparts.
Fast forward five years, and it was my turn to become a Citizen Airman with the Wisconsin Air National Guard. I wanted to become part of this team for a couple of reasons. Number one was that my wife Pat was from Wisconsin — and equally important, the Madison Fighter Wing has just been recognized as the top fighter unit in the worldwide William Tell Competition hosted by the U.S. Air Force.
The next 34 years as a member of the Wisconsin National Guard confirmed my belief that the Guard is the United States’ best investment for national defense. The pride, professionalism and performance of the Guard, Army and Air, is second to none. This fact, for which I am very proud, is based upon the results of objective unit inspections, deployments and community support. Members of the Badger Militia embrace the Midwest work ethic whatever the assignment, accomplish their missions with excellence and dispatch and do it at a fraction of the cost of the active military component.
Sept. 11, 2001 brought out the very best in the men and women who volunteered to join this outstanding organization. I was pressed into service as the adjutant general while our adjutant general at that time, Maj. Gen. Jim Blaney, was undergoing knee replacement surgery. Traveling from Volk Field Combat Readiness Training Center to Madison that morning, I was advised that the World Trade Center had been hit by a commercial airliner. Having grown up in New York and then being advised that the weather was clear, I knew we had a tragedy in the making. While in transit I knew that my staff would react as they had been trained. Units were put on alert before being directed by the National Command Authority. I was also given all the information I needed to participate in a statewide press conference in the governor’s office 45 minutes after arriving in Madison.
This day in history was simply an exceptional example of the modern day member of the militia putting aside their plow (job) and picking up their musket (Guard service). Soldiers and Airmen and retirees volunteered to serve showing up at their units unannounced and ready to work. By the end of the day we all were in a new state of readiness — and the rest, as they say, is history.
In the years following 9/11, the National Guard has emerged as one of the premier fighting and emergency response organizations in the world. The National Guard — its leadership team, senior officers, senior non commissioned officers and their outstanding support team — has been repeatedly recognized as the most respected institution in the nation. That is a fact for which we all should be very grateful and proud.
The National Guard has been the best buy for America for the last 375 Years. I look forward with confidence for that to continue over the next 375 years.