Gen. Craig R. McKinley speaks with Army Maj. Gen. Michael S. Tucker in Kabul, Afghanistan, March 2. The generals discussed Army and Air National Guard members serving in Operation Enduring Freedom as well as National Guard-initiated programs being employed. General Mckinley is chief of the National Guard Bureau. General Tucker is the deputy commander for operations for U.S. Forces Afghanistan. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Mike R. Smith)
AFGHANISTAN (AFNS) — The National Guard can expect peacekeeping roles in Afghanistan and Iraq in the future, the chief of the National Guard Bureau said here last week.
“I’ve challenged our staff with thinking through what happens after Iraq, what happens after Afghanistan,” Gen. Craig R. McKinley told an audience at the Heritage Foundation on May 13.
“In many cases, the National Guard, primarily the Army National Guard, stays behind, and they are the people who finish the job,” General McKinley said. He also said he could see a time when the National Guard may be used for peacekeeping in other parts of the world, just as in Kosovo.
“People kind of forget that [Kosovo] was a major conflict, but there’s still a lot of peacekeeping going on in that part of the world,” General McKinley said. The National Guard has troops deployed today on its 13th peacekeeping rotation in Kosovo. The National Guard also contributes to the Multinational Force and Observers in the Sinai, an international peacekeeping force overseeing the peace between Egypt and Israel crafted in the 1979 Camp David Accords.
National Guard troops also perform duty with combined joint task force–Horn of Africa, whose tasks since 2001 have included preventing conflict and promoting stability.
Meanwhile, the National Guard is playing a large and increasing role in warfighting, General McKinley said.
“Over 40,000 men and women today are serving in a federal capacity … in our wars overseas or domestically … with Noble Eagle,” he said. Operation Noble Eagle is an ongoing, post-Sept. 11 mission to protect North America’s skies in which the National Guard plays a significant role.
General McKinley said that along with peacekeeping and supporting the war, the National Guard is involved in other international operations.
National Guard agribusiness development teams are playing a significant, nonkinetic, soft-power role in Afghanistan, he said. These teams that draw on the civilian-acquired skills of National Guard members to help Afghan farmers improve agricultural practices came out of an initiative from Missouri and now involve multiple states.
“What [started] out to be an experiment now has turned into 12 teams,” General McKinley said. “The land grant universities from all over the Midwest are now eager to put these … teams out into the remote areas of Afghanistan to help. … Just something as small as trellising a crop, getting it up off the ground, has produced crop loads in excess of anything they’ve ever seen before.”
One National Guard initiative that fits the emerging national security strategy very well is the State Partnership Program that pairs National Guard states with foreign countries, General McKinley said.
The SPP started in the Baltic region of Europe in 1992 after the collapse of the former Soviet Union and focused on matching U.S. states with former Soviet satellite nations. The SPP later expanded to South and Central America. Central Asia, the Middle East, the Pacific, and Africa came next.
Partnerships are created through discussions among countries, ministers of defense, the U.S. ambassador, regional combatant commanders, adjutants general, governors and the chief of the National Guard Bureau, which administers the SPP. The program works to enhance theater commanders’ security cooperation efforts by building partnership capacity. There are currently 61 partnerships.
Strong preparations also are being made to approach future domestic challenges, General McKinley said.
The Guard Bureau chief said he recently was involved in a Cabinet-level hurricane exercise, during which he was struck by the level of federal readiness in every branch of government and pleased by the close relationship between the National Guard and U.S. Northern Command.
“I don’t think we’ve ever done as much rehearsal as we’ve done to be prepared for this year’s hurricane season,” he said.
General McKinley joined the Air Force in 1975, the heyday of the Cold War. He recalled 1975 as “a similar time of constrained budgets, and a time when leadership was vital to our nation. … These are very dynamic times. They are very challenging times.”
General McKinley said young people who are willing to serve, equipment and strategy that allow them to perform their jobs and leadership are vital ingredients to a healthy, all-volunteer force.