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Monday, June 24, 2024

COLUMN: The National Guard – Always Ready, Always There

The National Guard is woven into the fabric of our nation’s history and codified in our Constitution.  On December 13, 1636, the first militia regiments in North America were organized in Massachusetts.   In the hundreds of years since then, uniforms have changed, technologies have evolved, and threats have increased.  But the one constant that remains is that the National Guard continues to live up to their motto – Always Ready, Always There. 

Across our states and territories, the National Guard fulfills a critical role in supporting local, state, and federal emergency managers in preparing for and responding to natural disasters.  To give context to their awe-inspiring accomplishments from 2023, they measure their staffing in what they call person-days.  For example, if 10 Guard members deployed for 200 days, that would be 2,000 person-days. (10 x 200 = 2,000).  With that in mind, the following contributions are a powerful reminder of the depth of their service. 

Severe Weather Support 2023 

The National Guard contributed 50,000 person-days across 23 states.  They responded to hurricanes, winter storms, floods, tornados, and more.  In so doing, they rescued 476 people.  Let that sink in.  476 lives forever changed because the National Guard answered the call.  They also distributed more than 700,000 meals and nearly 400,000 bottles of water.  In addition, they cleared 1,500 miles of roads.   If you live in one of these states and endured the severe weather, you likely saw them at food distribution centers, on the streets, and in the community, helping others.  More often than not, these calls for support came at a moment’s notice.  One minute these individuals are plumbers, office managers, teachers, stay-at-home parents, and the next moment they are putting their lives and personal safety aside to protect their neighbors and their communities.    

Wildfire Support in 2023 

Wildfires continue to rise, get bigger and more complex.  The National Guard’s role in supporting wildfire response has become more critical and essential than ever before.  In 2023 they contributed 180,000 person-days across 23 states.  The numbers are so high it is difficult to calculate and imagine the overwhelming challenges.   For instance, through their efforts, they supported the containment and mitigation of nearly 54,000 wildfires.  To put that in perspective,  take out a map of the United States and with a pen in your hand, imagine making 54,000 dots on the map.  The National Guard provides this support both on the ground and in the air, and it is grueling work.   During the year they conducted 4,000 aerial drop missions and dropped 2.7 million gallons of retardant.  Don’t get lost in the numbers.  Picture the crew that wakes up early, leaves their families, performs checks and maintenance on the aircraft, coordinates with several agencies, flies the mission in a high threat environment, and then returns to base to load up and do it all over again.  4,000 times.   

National Guard Units 

The National Guard has designed units, resourced them and staffed them, spread across the many states that can support, in whole or in part, civilian emergency responders.  These include: 

Modular Airborne Fighting System.   These are the aircrafts and crews that lessen the risk to firefighters and civilians while protecting critical infrastructure and personal property.  These units are capable of carrying 3,200 gallons of retardant or water.  The crews have the ability to respond with 24 to 48 hours.   

Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) Civil Support Team (CST).  Part of their mission includes support to civil authorities including, when needed, in response to a  natural or man-made disaster that could result in the catastrophic loss of life.  They do so by identifying hazards, assessing current and projected consequences, advising on response measures, and assisting with the appropriate request for additional support. There are 57 teams, and they are on alert 24/7/365. 

The National Guard (NG) Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear Enhanced Response Force Package (CERFP).   That is a big title, and their mission is bigger still.  These units include highly trained elements capable of search and extraction, decontamination, medical triage, as well as fatality search and recovery.  There is at least one CERFP in each of the 10 Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) regions. 

Homeland Response Force (HRF).  These units have many of the same capabilities as the CERFP, but they are roughly double in size, and can also provide HAZMAT awareness operations, command and control of National Guard response units, and coordination between the National Guard and federal capabilities.  There is also a HRF in each FEMA region. 

These are just a few examples of National Guard units and capabilities that may be called upon to support civilian emergency responders. 

Smart Ideas 

This past Tuesday I had the opportunity to participate in a media roundtable with three key National Guard Subject Matter experts, Army Brig. Gen. Robert Paoletti, Director of the Joint Staff, California National Guard; Army Col. Larry Doane, J3 Current Operations Division Chief, National Guard Bureau; and Army Col. Blake Heidelberg, J3 Director of Military Support, Florida National Guard. 

Individually and collectively, they shared some smart ideas on how they approach emergency response.  And, as they shared, it begins with prevention, preparation, and training.  They don’t wait until called upon to respond.  They explained the value of the Dual Status Commander (DSC).  The DSC, in simplest terms, can serve simultaneously in both a state and federal capacity.   This enhances chain-of command, coordination, and flexibility.   In addition, these officers reinforced that they train and prepare for all hazard responses.  Their aperture is wide.  Finally, they highlighted the value of capturing lessons learned.  If an incident occurred in one state, those lessons learned are shared with the National Guard Bureau who disseminated to every state and territory, thus ensuring what is learned by one, is learned by all.   

Now that the 2024 Atlantic Hurricane Season has begun, it is reassuring to know that the National Guard is, in fact, Always Ready, Always There.  To learn more about the National Guard, go to The National Guard – Official Website of the National Guard 

Sources:  National Guard Media Roundtable, May 28; National Guard Fact Sheets.       

Dan Stoneking is the Owner and Principal of Stoneking Strategic Communications and the Author of Cultivate Your Garden: Crisis Communications from 30,000 Feet to Three Feet.   

author avatar
Dan Stoneking
Dan is a strategic communicator. He is a writer. His expertise is born from experience, to include his role at the Pentagon upon the attacks of 9/11; as lead spokesperson for the National Guard in Louisiana during Hurricane Katrina where he represented 54 states and territories; responding to the earthquake in Haiti where he helped establish the first-ever international joint information center; creating a coalition with the private sector to implement the first-ever National Business Emergency Operation Center; voluntarily deploying to Puerto Rico within hours of Hurricane Maria’s impact as the lead spokesperson, and much more. Presently, Dan is the Owner and Principal at Stoneking Strategic Communications, LLC. Previously, Dan served as the External Affairs Director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Region 3, where he led an award-earning passionate team to improve information sharing and coordination between FEMA and the American public, to include media, private sector, as well as local, state and government officials during disaster preparedness, response and recovery efforts. As Director, he led his team through countless disasters, the Papal Visit (2015), the Democratic National Convention (2016), and the response to the Jan 6, 2021, attacks on our Nation’s Capital. That position followed and built upon a career in both the corporate and government arenas focused on strategic and crisis communications, to include roles at FEMA Headquarters as Director, Private Sector and Deputy and Acting Director of Public Affairs. Graduating from the University of New Hampshire, with a Bachelor’s in Interpersonal Communications, he later returned to the same campus and earned a Master of Arts in Teaching (Secondary English). Dan is a retired Army Officer and he taught High School English for two years. He is also the author of Cultivate Your Garden: Crisis Communications from 30,000 Feet to Three Feet, 2024. Dan lives in West Chester, PA with his daughters, Ivy Grace and Chloe Lane and their puppy, Fiji Isabella.
Dan Stoneking
Dan Stoneking
Dan is a strategic communicator. He is a writer. His expertise is born from experience, to include his role at the Pentagon upon the attacks of 9/11; as lead spokesperson for the National Guard in Louisiana during Hurricane Katrina where he represented 54 states and territories; responding to the earthquake in Haiti where he helped establish the first-ever international joint information center; creating a coalition with the private sector to implement the first-ever National Business Emergency Operation Center; voluntarily deploying to Puerto Rico within hours of Hurricane Maria’s impact as the lead spokesperson, and much more. Presently, Dan is the Owner and Principal at Stoneking Strategic Communications, LLC. Previously, Dan served as the External Affairs Director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Region 3, where he led an award-earning passionate team to improve information sharing and coordination between FEMA and the American public, to include media, private sector, as well as local, state and government officials during disaster preparedness, response and recovery efforts. As Director, he led his team through countless disasters, the Papal Visit (2015), the Democratic National Convention (2016), and the response to the Jan 6, 2021, attacks on our Nation’s Capital. That position followed and built upon a career in both the corporate and government arenas focused on strategic and crisis communications, to include roles at FEMA Headquarters as Director, Private Sector and Deputy and Acting Director of Public Affairs. Graduating from the University of New Hampshire, with a Bachelor’s in Interpersonal Communications, he later returned to the same campus and earned a Master of Arts in Teaching (Secondary English). Dan is a retired Army Officer and he taught High School English for two years. He is also the author of Cultivate Your Garden: Crisis Communications from 30,000 Feet to Three Feet, 2024. Dan lives in West Chester, PA with his daughters, Ivy Grace and Chloe Lane and their puppy, Fiji Isabella.

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