BALAD AIR BASE, Iraq – The National Guard's first four-star general visited with citizen-Soldiers and -Airmen serving in Afghanistan, Iraq and Kuwait this week in dozens of formal briefings, town hall meetings and tours to “gauge their thoughts” about the missions they are performing.
“I feel it's important to visit the Soldiers and Airmen of the National Guard in theater," said Gen. Craig McKinley, the chief of the National Guard Bureau. "To see how they are doing, talk to their commanders, and visit as many of their organizations as I can to see what the conditions are and to answer any questions they may have of me."
McKinley has been the chief for just over 100 days, and his recent appointment comes at a time when more than 2,400 Guard forces are serving in Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom.
At each stop, he expressed his appreciation for the troops. “Look at the places and the people that you affect,” he told Guardmembers at Sather Air Base, Iraq, Feb 28. “I can’t tell you how grateful I am for what you are doing for the Guard, your nation and this country.”
He offered similar sentiments at Ali Al Salem Air Base, Kuwait, at Balad Air Base, Iraq, and at Camp Phoenix and Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, among other locations.
Maj. Gen. Emmett Titshaw Jr., assistant to Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force, and the Guard Bureau’s Command Sgt. Maj. David Hudson accompanied him.
In Iraq, McKinley was briefed by Air Guardmembers of the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing at Balad Air Base, Iraq. The unit’s more than 180 Airmen help operate a joint forces control center that manages the air space of Iraq and coordinates air support for multi-national forces.
From the base’s control tower, he got a panoramic view of the OIF mission outside Baghdad. He also toured the 332nd Joint Theatre Hospital, the largest medical and critical care facility in that country, manned by active duty, Guard and Reserve servicemembers.
McKinley also visited Minnesota Army Guard Soldiers of Task Force 34, 834th Air Support Battalion and climbed aboard an MRAP and other uparmored Army vehicles with Washington Guard Soldiers of the 161st Infantry Regiment at a motor pool.
McKinley and Hudson asked the Guardmembers what was on their minds: “Your questions and concerns are important to me,” McKinley said to them during a luncheon Feb. 28 at Camp Liberty, Iraq. “I will take them back to Washington.”
Future operations, living conditions, deployment lengths, health and veteran care, equipment, mobilization training and other issues were the questions he and Hudson answered from the troops.
Economic conditions affecting employers and families back home were also among troop concerns. “We will get through this,” McKinley assured them, but he said that future and recent challenges will test the Guard like never before.
McKinley held a town hall meeting with Guard Soldiers from several states including Illinois and New York at Camp Phoenix outside Kabul, Afghanistan, March 2 and with active duty and Guard servicemembers at Bagram Air Base March 3, including those supporting Combined Joint Task Force 101.