For November Eggs & Issues, we were honored to bring in the leadership of our armed forces for an update on the North Dakota National Guard. We were joined by Brig. Gen. Robert Becklund, Deputy Adjutant General; Col. Darrin Anderson, 119th Wing Commander and Maj. Christopher Olson, Logistics Officer for the 141 Maneuver Enhancement Brigade.
Brig. Gen. Becklund kicked off the program touching on the major legislative initiatives that the Guard will be focusing on for the upcoming legislative session. As he noted, “the biggest issue currently is with tuition assistance.” He went on to explain that the federal government offers tuition assistance to every branch of the military except the Air National Guard as they have never had a national recruitment problem, thus all of our local Air Guard members rely on state tuition assistance while the army can rely some on national assistance. The tuition assistance provided to soldiers is an impressive incentive for our military personal allowing us to recruit the highest caliber individuals. Another priority that was expanded on was a training area expansion at Camp Grafton South, which would prove an asset for not only the National Guard and active duty Air Force, but also other units that come in. Becklund also made note of Governor Burgum’s established commission, NDCOMPASS (ND Commission on Military Promotion and Strategic Sustainment) meant to explore and address military issues in the state in order to make North Dakota more military friendly. In addition, he outlined the legislative priorities including military retirement from the state taxation; improving cross-state border licensure portability for professionals; academic credits for military acquired skills; and enhancing access to affordable behavior health services in North Dakotas.
Colonel Anderson informed us that 2018 was a great year for recruiting with a total of 123 accessions, which is a historical record. The retention rate at the 119th is 93 percent. He touched on the fact that the wing is very much operational everyday, flying the MQ-9 mission, and in addition, the intelligence surveillance reconnaissance group supports the global air operations centers all over world. It’s been a busy year for the Happy Hooligans and they have had more people employed than any other time in history. Anderson reminded those in attendance that in addition to federal missions, the Happy Hooligans also do state missions for things like natural disasters. He then went on to discuss the regional training site out at Hector where 500-600 students rotate through a year. Some of the ongoing goals that Anderson mentioned included facility construction and mobilization. The unit also continues to work hard to gain back a manned flying mission as North Dakota is the only state in the union where the Air National Guard doesn’t have a manned flying mission.
Major Olson offered comments on the North Dakota Army National Guard. He opened touching on the 141st MEB footprint being large across the state as a whole. He said that most individuals will be sticking close to home for training and operations in 2019. The largest takeaway from his segment was the fact that in addition to the guard serving oversees they do a lot of work right here at home. As Olson spoke, “It’s part of our mission to assist in domestic operations as well,” going on to explain this would be for flooding and things of that nature. They are also undertaking a large construction project to be completed in 2021.
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