The active-duty Air Force, its Reserve and the Air National Guard must work together to move forward, the chief of staff of the Air Force said in Reno, Nev., last week.
“I have trouble seeing lines between components of services, because I believe on the air side we have an Air Force – it has three components, but we all are working together,” Gen. Mark Welsh III told the 134th National Guard Association of the United States General Conference. “We have to, or we can’t be successful.”
To discuss the future, Welsh drew from the past. More than diagrams, organizational charts or process flow, Welsh said he sees people when he thinks about institutions. So he told the story of one of his favorite members of the National Guard, Jim Duane, born in the late 1800s in Johnstown, Pa.
Duane’s father died trying to rescue neighbors during a flood that destroyed the family’s home. His mother took the 3-year-old boy to New York City and a new start.
At 18, the young man went on Broadway for the first time in his civilian acting career and also enlisted in the New York Army National Guard, – a “Citizen Soldier.”
The family moved again, and Duane transferred to the Massachusetts National Guard. He deployed to Mexico as a private, returning as a first sergeant in a time of much faster promotions.
He took a break in service, pursuing his acting career and opening a jewelry store.
In 1917, during World War I, Duane rejoined the Army National Guard and enrolled in officer training. That was interrupted by his call to the trenches of France, where he arrived as an infantry private and left as a major simultaneously commanding two infantry battalions. Though thrice-wounded and also gassed, Duane never left the line; had a reputation for being first out, last in; and led nighttime sorties to ensure neither wounded nor dead were left behind.
“This is my favorite guardsman,” Welsh said. “When I look at organizations … I see faces of people who are committed to doing the right thing. Faces of people who are willing to risk everything to protect what’s important. People like Jim Duane.”
Welsh also noted the contribution of the National Guard since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
“Quite possibly, the National Guard today is more important than it has been since you stood watch at Concord,” Welsh said. “Over the last 10 years, almost half a million Guardsmen have been to the war zone.”
The day Welsh spoke was the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
“Most Americans sat paralyzed either in their office or at home staring at their television in disbelief,” Welsh said. “A few Americans – a few very special people – did what they always do. They ran toward the carnage. They stepped into that chaos to defend American citizens and to protect the nation. Many of those people … were guardsmen.”
Air National Guard pilots were the first airborne after the attacks, including some who were willing to die to prevent further attacks, Welsh noted.
Since then, Air Guard members have deployed overseas, responded to domestic disasters and undertaken humanitarian relief efforts. They have partnered with the Army Guard at home and overseas. They played key roles in Libya, “bringing expertise that we don’t have on the active force,” Welsh said.
“Filling a gap we can’t fill, no matter how much money we pull out of our pocket,” he continued. “To me, that’s the National Guard.”
Operations over Libya highlighted the ability of the all-volunteer force to deploy and act, the ability of commanders to step forward and act, and the smooth operation of the total force, Welsh said.
National Guard members have helped honor the dead at Dover Air Force Base, Del.; fought fires at home; provided airlift and aeromedical evacuation overseas; flown unmanned aircraft; provided chemical and biological response capability; and flown domestic air sovereignty alert missions, among a plethora of other roles, Welsh said.
“All over the world today, total force integration is real,” he said. “Those people who are operating at the front end of the business are looking back over their shoulder at those of us back here going, ‘Fix this problem and let us do our work.’”
Improved communication and transparency between the three components of the Air Force are vital, Welsh said.
“We have to fight and argue and throw emotion on the table and debate the tough issues,” he said. “We have to include … state requirements at the front end of this process, not at the end. We have to understand that we are not going to agree on everything. … We’ve got to understand that the only way — the only way — we can move forward successfully is together.
“We’re going to work together to solve this problem … and you guys need to be part of the solution,” Welsh said.
Later, the general shared more of the story of the Air Force chief of staff’s favorite Guard member, Jim Duane.
After World War I, Duane helped found the American Legion. Lung damage from being gassed drove him to settle in Arizona. He married and had three children.
“His youngest daughter married a fighter pilot,” Welsh said.
“And they had a son.
“And he got to speak in Reno, Nevada, at the NGAUS convention in 2012,” Welsh said. “I’m pretty proud of my grandfather. To me, he is the National Guard.”