Interview with Chief of the US National Guard Bureau General Frank Grass
Interview with General Frank Grass, Chief of the US National Guard Bureau
Partnerships build the future
In a Pentagon ceremony, on September 7, 2012, General Frank Grass became the 27th Chief of the US National Guard Bureau, in its more than 375-year history. Grass also received his fourth star during the ceremony.
General Grass heads the US National Guard, whose 460,000 members have responsible tasks in emergency situations in the States, such as floods, fires, tornados or other disasters, and also in combat missions and international multinational operations, where the Guard is transformed from a strategic reserve to an important part of the operational forces of the military.
Editor-in-Chief of the MoD magazine Odbrana Radenko Mutadzic talked to General Grass during his recent stay in Belgrade.
General, since 2012, the Chief of the National Guard Bureau is a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. This is an acknowledgement of the National Guard’s successful actions in international and national missions. What is the extent of this force and what are its tasks in international deployments and emergency situations in your country?
We have over 460,000 army and air guardsmen that live and work across the US. And when disaster strikes at home, whether it’s man-made or a natural disaster, our National Guard rolls right out of their homes, they leave their civilian jobs, and they go to work upon the request of the Governor. We are spending a significant amount of time now trying to look at the worst case scenario that we might deal with in a disaster, and how to respond to that and take care of our citizens quickly and efficiently, with the National Guard as the first military responder.
You are the second four-star general as the Chief of the National Guard?
Correct, I am the second four-star serving this function, and I am a member of the Joint Chief Senate. I can tell you that the most humbling part of this job is getting to represent the great men and women of the National Guard. I can spend days and weeks at the Pentagon, doing the hard work that we do inside our Headquarters, but the real joy for me is walking with our troops.
How much are people, especially youth, interested in serving in the National Guard?
There are several reasons why men and women choose to join the Guard. First of all, they join for more opportunities. Whether they come from small towns or large cities, they all see an opportunity to join the military and be a part of something bigger than themselves. They’ve seen their friends respond in their homeland to a disaster, a tornado, a fire, a flood or a hurricane, and they want to be a part of that and give back to their community. Besides, the US has been fighting a terrible war on terrorism since 9/11. They see that and they want to be a part of that response, in order to support their nation.
The State Partnership Program with countries across the world has shown great results of the partnership policy?
The State partnership Program, which has lasted for 21 years, is a phenomenal program, where we bring states and their armies to train and work together, but also to build a long-standing relationship. That program has become a model for security cooperation around the world, and it started here, in Europe. We create new capabilities within our militaries by their joint work, but what’s even more important is the friendship that our officers and our noncommissioned officers build working together. For example, if you come from a small town in your country, you will probably never get the chance to meet other cultures and live and work with their people. That is exactly what the state partnerships do, they bring our states and our people closer together.
How do you deem the prospects of this cooperation?
The program is completely stable and future prospects are very good. Even with the current fiscal struggles that we are facing in the US, especially within our defence budget, this program will continue to grow, no doubt. I’ve talked to our Secretary of Defence and our Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and they are both very solid supporters of this program. It’s a reciprocal partnership, so we actually get the synergy of both of our resources when we bring them together.
How would you assess the cooperation between the National Guard of Ohio and Serbia?
Of all the state partnerships, the cooperation between Serbia and Ohio is the best, and will only get better in time. This is my opinion, and I’m sure that General Deborah Ashenhurst, Commander of the National Guard of Ohio, would agree. These partnerships are developing our forces and will pay us all benefits in the future. The more we come together, the more we will learn how to respond in emergency situations and how to recover from them.
I believe that there are great possibilities for the progressof our cooperation in many fields in the future. We have just talked to Minister Gasic and Head of the General Staff General Dikovic about joint humanitarian work, peacekeeping operations and development of your “South” base for peacekeeping training. There is also the area of military medicine. For years, the Armed Forces of Serbia have had a great expertize in the field of medical research and development. We talked about joining together in providing humanitarian aid, where we could deploy our forces to a certain territory, in order to assist others that are struggling with a medical disaster of some type.
How do you perceive contemporary security threats and how does the National Guard of Ohio prepare for answering to future challenges?
When we look at the world today, we do not see large nations standing against other large nations, aswas perhaps the case earlier in this century. What we do see is many small conflicts. Pick a continent - each has some sort of a small conflict. In some, there are state actors, in others, there are non-state actors. One of the concerns we have in the US is our border security right now, and it is a big issue on the southwest border. Transnational organized crime is a serious issue that we are dealing with. We still have the threat of terrorism in the US.
At the National Guard, we prepare our forces to be ready, when the President calls, to be a combat reserve of the Air Force and the Army. Since 9/11, we have mobilized 760,000 individuals for that mission. Every day, we have about 3,000-4,000 members of the National Guard supporting the community and the defence of the homeland.
Your military career has lasted over four decades. After all the experience, what advice do you have for young officers at the beginning of their careers?
First, I would tell them to be lifelong learners, to constantly study about the future. Sometimes my staff looks at me; they wonder what I’m thinking, because I’m reading a book about the future and robots. You know, the technology is real, and it is going to change our military in the future. That’s just one example, so you have to be constantly looking out to the future, and be willing to change. The other thing I would tell them is – don’t worry about your career; stay focused on your mission!