General Hokanson – thank you for your lifetime of service and leadership.
And to all the Army and Air National Guard personnel here – thank you for your continuing and critical service to our nation.
You’re uniquely positioned within our Joint Force, serving both community and country.
Under your State Active Duty and Title 32 statuses, your primary mission is defending the homeland from all hazards – ranging from responding to overt military actions against our nation… to augmenting state, local, tribal, and Federal partners in response to disasters under your Defense Support for Civil Authorities role.
And we all know what the op tempo has been for you over the last few years. It’s basically unrelenting. And so we owe you an even greater debt of gratitude for all that you do to make us stronger, healthier, and safer.
President Biden is keenly aware of the demands we place on you and what you do for our Nation and the world. As I’m sure most of you know, his late son Beau was a major in the National Guard. And, as the President says, “People don’t understand the extent – the extent of the work you do and the risk you take for all of us.”
As the President’s Homeland Security Advisor, my job is to do everything I can to prevent terrible things from happening to the American people – and to ensure that we’re prepared to deal with those things that we cannot prevent and that happen despite our best preventive efforts.
Today, that means confronting a range of challenges far beyond the original remit of the homeland security advisor to the President.
Countering global terrorism was the origin story of my job, right after 9/11, when the first White House homeland security advisor was appointed by President Bush.
We now face an even greater challenge from domestic terrorism that is not directly associated with Islamic extremist ideologies. And we face extreme weather and climate-related disasters. We face supply chain disruptions including baby formula and wildland fire hoses. Trucker blockades. Mass shootings. The fentanyl scourge. Unprecedented hemispheric migration. The Avian flu. Adversarial threats to our critical infrastructure. Even High-Altitude Balloons! And the list goes on.
And this means we have depended even more heavily on you – and your role is essential to our national resilience and to our national security.
For example, on cyber – we know that our adversaries want to hold us at risk and use cyber tools to impede our ability to respond effectively to a range of contingencies – especially by disabling our critical infrastructure in a time of crisis.
But you’re already on it. The Air and Army National Guard’s cyber protection teams and your more than 2,000 dedicated personnel, constitute the largest dedicated hunt-kill-defend cyber force in the entire world.
In addition, your defensive cyber operations elements play a crucial role in helping our state and local partners defend themselves against malicious cyber-attacks. And we know how much our Governors depend on you.
A great example of this is in North Carolina, where the National Guard sits side-by-side at Joint Force Headquarters with state partners, emergency managers, and cyber-security personnel. Together, these partners make up North Carolina’s Cyber Security Response Force, and provide assistance to State and local assets, and Critical Infrastructure providers.
That’s just one example of how the National Guard is serving the homeland today.
Just last week, after the catastrophic storms and flooding in New England, members of the Vermont National Guard’s Quick Reaction Force worked in their home state – along with North Carolina and Massachusetts urban search and rescue teams – to rescue and relocate 27 people stranded due to the high, swift water.
Last year, in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida, more than 5,000 Florida National Guard Soldiers and Airmen rescued over 2,400 survivors… cleared more than 51 miles of life-threatening debris from roads……and delivered almost 8 million meals and over 5 million gallons of water to communities across the state in desperate need of help. We depended so heavily on you to successfully execute that mission.
In 2021, during Operation Allies Welcome, Guard members from nearly every state and territory assisted with almost 65,000 Afghan evacuees who we housed at eight military installations nationwide. You did everything from providing visa processing, transportation, medical care, translation, security and general logistical support.
On another front, since 2006 the Department of Defense, through the National Guard, has supported the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency in managing influxes of hundreds of thousands of migrants at our Southern border, including the deployment of an additional 1,500 personnel in May of this year.
To put all these efforts in greater context: homeland defense is a key component of integrated deterrence.
Our ability as a nation to defend-in-depth, protect critical infrastructure, and respond and recover quickly from incidents of all scopes and sizes is a key way of demonstrating to adversaries, terrorists, criminals, and others who want to disrupt our way of life that we are ready for them and agile in our response to challenges. It provides a huge competitive advantage to us which helps keep our nation safe.
It’s for these reasons and more that National Guard troops are the backbone of our homeland defense – always ready, always there.
And under your Title 10 status, you also serve around the world, supporting U.S. and international military operations abroad.
For example, from the beginning of the evacuation of the Afghans from Kabul – National Guard Soldiers and Airmen played a critical role.
Air National Guard units joined active-component Air Force counterparts to fly passengers and cargo into and out of Hamid Karzai International Airport.
National Guard units also oversaw the rapid construction of lodging, medical, dining and related facilities at U.S. bases in Kuwait and Qatar that housed many who fled Afghanistan and ultimately were paroled into the United States.
We couldn’t have done it without you.
Missions like this – and many others – demand that we work in close coordination with our allies and partners around the world.
As General Hokansen’s predecessor, General Joseph Lengyel has said, “Our real superpower as a nation is our allies and partners.”
Our vast web of ties with other nations – diplomatic, military, economic, academic, scientific, and cultural – are a huge source of our national strength, unmatched by any other nation in the world.
Here again, the National Guard is vital – because of the State Partnership Program.
I want to thank all the ambassadors and diplomats who are here today from our partner countries, who have helped make this program such a tremendous success over the past 30 years.
I have a very special relationship with this program because I was present at its creation! I know it is 30 years old because I was there 30 years ago when we established the initial set of partnerships!
Back in the early 1990s, when I served as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia, we built this pioneering initiative to establish ties between the countries that emerged from the collapse of the Soviet Union and American states – to grow professional and personal bonds with those who had been isolated behind the Iron Curtain.
As an example, my home state of California was paired with Ukraine – and we knew then that this work to strengthen our ties and their capabilities would be critical to ensuring that the end of the Soviet Union would be irreversible.
Fast forward to this year: The California Guard has played a critical role in responding to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Within 24 hours, a Ukraine Fusion Cell was set up to support the Ukrainian Armed Forces. Equipment and body armor, medical supplies, and other materiel essential to the fight have been provided since then, and training has continued.
Born in the aftermath of the Cold War, the State Partnership Program has been a beacon of hope from the start.
When it began 30 years ago, 13 countries participated. Today, that number stands at 100 and is poised to grow even further.
It has not only grown in size, but in scope – with more than 2,000 engagements taking place every year, on everything from military aviation exercises, to city planning forums, to real-world cyber preparedness initiatives.
To name just a few examples: the Oregon National Guard trains every year with Bangladesh and Vietnam on disaster response techniques, to ensure that – in a crisis – authorities will know how to act quickly to save lives.
Last August, South Carolina’s Air National Guard and the nation of Colombia participated in joint exercises, training on tactics, techniques, and procedures.
Just two weeks ago, the Minnesota National Guard sent personnel on a nine-month deployment to Colombia as part of a counter-drug mission – where their expertise and skills will be vital to stopping criminal elements from threatening the health of people here in the homeland.
And Southern Vanguard 24 between U.S. Army South, New York’s Army National Guard, and the Brazilian military is slated to be held in the fall, focusing on improving combined readiness between the U.S. Army and Brazilian army forces.
All these collaborations are the direct result of the pioneering State Partnership Program.
And one of the strengths of the SPP is that it’s not only a military-to-military program – because our National Guard Soldiers and Airmen represent so many different lines of work through their civilian roles from so many different communities across our country.
And so, thanks to them, the collaborations forged through the SPP reach into many different fields, from academia to medicine to city administration and law enforcement.
These collaborations tap into the expertise of our citizens. They encourage the people-to-people diplomacy that is the lifeblood of friendships across borders.
And the learning goes both ways. As General Hokanson can attest, state National Guard teams often come back from engagements abroad saying: “We should try doing what they’re doing” or “we learned something new that we think is valuable.”
In this way, the State Partnership Program builds the military capabilities of our partners and it sharpens the readiness of our National Guard units.
And it also helps to build trust among nations.
It lays the groundwork – in times of peace – for us to work together effectively in times of need – whether due to natural disasters or something more deliberately pernicious.
And it helps us prepare for unexpected challenges – like supply chain disruptions – and for the threats that we know will get worse, at least in the near term – like climate change.
The State Partnership Program allows all of us to raise our games because of your dedication and your very hard work.
Looking ahead to the next 30 years, I believe this kind of international coloration will become even more important.
The threats we face are becoming more diverse every day and the foreign and domestic distinctions are becoming increasingly blurred. It will be even more critical that we are ready to deal with complex and fast-moving situations together.
And we will need to work by, with and through our partners to share the burdens of meeting myriad global challenges. The design of the State Partnership Program makes that kind of agile and effective cooperation possible.
And it also bolsters our capacity to – as General Hokanson says – “surge trust” – which, in these challenging situations, is vital both domestically and internationally.
At home, when you are out in communities, people feel safer and they feel reassured. Around the world, you set the gold standard and show our partners how a citizen-soldier can have a real impact and an enduring one.
We’re always stronger when we work together.
Combined with the knowledge gained through our state partnerships, including the day-to-day interactions, the exercises, and the deployments, the State Partnership Program enhances and expands our capacity to accomplish our strategic objectives across the current and emerging threat landscape, including in the gray-zone.
It helps us build the enduring advantages that we need to promote stability and security across the globe and to ensure that our homeland is safe.
I know that the challenges of the last few years have created new pressures on our Joint Force and in particular on the Reserve components that have been activated so many times.
On behalf of President Biden, I want to thank everyone who has contributed to the success of the State Partnership Program over the last 30 years, for literally going the extra mile – or miles! – and for helping this visionary initiative to evolve into the vast collaborative network that it has become.
Let’s work together to make sure it remains vibrant and innovative far into the future, to the benefit of the American people and the world.
Thank you so much.