ARLINGTON, Va. – The past four years have brought many challenges and changes to the Army National Guard.
With record numbers of unit deployments, recruiting challenges and equipment issues, there are many differences between the Army Guard of today and that of four years ago.
And the person who implemented many of those changes and led the Army Guard through many other challenges retired today.
Lt. Gen. Clyde Vaughn, director of the Army National Guard, is scheduled to retire from his current position June 1 ending a career that has spanned 40 years.
A retirement ceremony was held in his honor today with Air Force Gen. Craig R. McKinley, the chief of the National Guard Bureau, as the host.
“Today is a bittersweet day,” said McKinley, noting that he and Vaughn worked side-by-side on many issues and adding that he still plans to call on Vaughn’s expertise and knowledge.
“(This is for) your staunch leadership of America’s Citizen-Soldiers” said McKinley, as he presented the Minuteman Award to Vaughn. “It couldn’t be a more apropos statement.”
Vaughn is leaving an Army National Guard that is far different from when he enlisted in 1969.
For Vaughn, who started in the Missouri Army National Guard and attained the rank of sergeant before attending officer candidate school, one of the biggest changes to the Guard during his time as director has been the increase in the Army Guard’s end strength.
“At the time I became the director, we were at the lowest end strength we had been at for many years,” he said. “We changed the whole organization, in terms of recruiting and we changed the whole organization in terms of force structure. It really shocked a lot of people that didn’t think we were going to do this, but we did it.”
The result was record enlistments in the Army Guard, which Vaughn attributes to the Guard Recruiter Assistant Program (G-RAP). Individual Soldiers volunteered to train as recruiting assistants and provide recruiting leads for their state. They were paid $1,000 when their recruit signed up and another $1,000 when the recruit shipped to basic training.
“We did this by taking advantage of a remarkable advantage we have, and that’s our Citizen-Soldiers in all the communities,” Vaughn said.
For Vaughn, once the number of recruits went up, it was time to reorganize the way in which Soldiers were counted against end-strength numbers and to increase the Guard’s readiness.
The success of G-RAP led to record enlistments, which pushed the end strength of the Army Guard up to its congressionally authorized limit. However, many of those who were counted against end-strength numbers weren’t fully qualified Soldiers yet or were waiting to ship to basic or advanced training.
“The problem that we’ve had throughout the last 50 years is somebody swears in, but they may not ship for a year, but they count against our end strength,” said Vaughn.
That led to the creation of the Recruit Force Pool, which is the Army Guard’s version of the Delayed Entry Program.
The program, which was recently authorized by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, is made up of Guard recruits, who are more than four months away from shipping to their training.
Once they reach that four-month window, they then go through a Recruit Sustainment Program, which prepares them for basic training. At that point, they are counted against the Army Guard’s end strength.
For Vaughn, the measure ensures a higher state of readiness within the units. “It translates to 40,000 more Soldiers in our ranks, not those who want to be Soldiers,” he said.
Currently, Vaughn said, 91 percent of Soldiers in units within the Army Guard are fully qualified, compared to 78 percent from just a few years ago. That change has led to less reliance on cross leveling units for deployment.
“In four years, we’ve worked it so that we have the most ready force of all time,” he said.
A change in readiness levels called for a culture shift in the Army Guard.
“We wanted to shift attention of all the folks we were recruiting that this is not about coming in and going to a drill and then going to summer training and then getting money for school,” said Vaughn. “This is about being mobilized and going to war if the nation has asked you to go to war. It’s about being Citizen-Soldiers and being warriors, and that’s what we preached.”
That’s a big change from the Army Guard of 2005, said Vaughn.
After a tremendous surge in mobilizations and a historic response to Hurricane Katrina, “it was hard to see how we could continue the effort without tremendous change in the Guard,” said Vaughn. “Because, we were not built or designed to continue that kind of effort. We were not the magnificent, ready force that we are today.”
And the state of the Army Guard today is what Vaughn sees as one of his biggest legacies.
“The one (thing) I have the most pride about, is that we are, and we have, answered the call for everything that has come our way,” he said. “The way we’re going in 2005 we would not have been able to do that, and that’s why we had to reorganize and do things differently.
“We’ve changed the focus of one weekend a month, two weeks in the summer. No one for the last few years has joined this organization thinking they weren’t going to deploy.”
And one of Vaughn’s final projects as director is putting in place a system that helps make it easier for those who have answered the call to receive medical care for injuries suffered during deployments.
Called the Blast Tracker, it serves as a database for every Soldier involved in an explosion or other combat-related hazards.
“It’s a great thing, because it doesn’t matter if it’s six months or 20 years, it’s a record and we can put them back on active duty or we can get them to the VA, no questions asked,” said Vaughn, who added that the information included in the file is not medical information, but purely operational information.
There are still a few projects that Vaughn said he would have liked to accomplish before retiring. One of those is reorganizing the way Soldiers on medical hold are tracked and accounted for, but that is something for the next director to finish up.
“The groundwork is all there,” he said.
Though he said he is looking forward to retirement, there are a few things Vaughn said he’ll miss about being in uniform.
“I’ll miss the people,” he said. “We’ve had fun. You’re always going to miss the people you’ve put so much time in with and been around so much. I’ll miss the institution, it’s a great organization.”
Vaughn said he has great plans for retirement. “I’ve always liked to develop programs, to take a thought and bring it to life.”