Cabinet secretaries, service chiefs and other government and military leaders gathered Sept. 7 for a Pentagon ceremony marking a change in leaders for the nation’s National Guard Bureau.
Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke during the event marking the end of Air Force Gen. Craig R. McKinley’s term of service and the beginning of Army Gen. Frank Grass’s turn at the bureau’s helm.
Dempsey said as the Guard approaches its 376th birthday, the force of Army and Air Force citizen-service members is “still on the front lines, both at home and abroad.”
The image on the National Guard emblem, the chairman noted, depicts a Minuteman with a plow in one hand and musket in the other. “This is the image of the citizen-soldier – our 460,000 Guardsmen and women who breathe life into that emblem every day,” he said.
The chairman noted the outgoing chief was the first in the position to be a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the first National Guard Bureau chief to wear four stars.
“It is because of leaders like you, and the soldiers and airmen of the National Guard that you are privileged to lead, that we remain … the world’s pre-eminent military force,” Dempsey said.
Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano also spoke during the ceremony, emphasizing the National Guard’s unique role, which encompasses both domestic disaster response and humanitarian assistance, and support to the active forces in combatant commander missions around the world.
McKinley, who plans to retire later this year, was awarded the Defense Department Distinguished Service Medal during the ceremony.
“What do you say after a 39-year career?” he asked in his remarks. “How do you thank the people who built up an enterprise, and allowed you to be part of it, as I have?”
McKinley thanked many of those attending, particularly Panetta and Dempsey, for their leadership and support.
“The National Guard has been an integral part of our active force for decades, and I don’t think we’ve ever reached a point where it’s been more relevant, or reliable, or competent,” McKinley said.
The general also thanked his wife, Cheryl, for her support during their nearly 40 years as a military family.
McKinley said his successor, Grass, is “the right person at the right time for this very critical job.”
Grass who received his fourth star and took his oath of office from Panetta at today’s event, said he is humbled and excited to take the top spot at the National Guard Bureau after “42 years of roaming around the countryside as a Guardsman,” noting that he also had some active-duty time during that span.
His new assignment comes with “hard work to do,” he acknowledged.
“I know I need to partner quickly with the Air Force and Army chiefs of staff,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do with the current budget issues. I think I’m ready for that challenge.”
Grass praised McKinley as “an impacting leader whose distinguished career has been marked by many firsts.”
He pledged to seek strong partnerships with the service chiefs and to work “to maintain this operational force that we have, for the homeland as well as away.”