The National Guard Association of the United States’ annual conference will recognize the 30-year legacy of the State Partnership Program, in addition to its traditional aim of setting a legislative agenda.
The theme for this year’s conference, “America’s National Guard: A Local Force with Global Reach,” acknowledges that milestone. John Goheen, NGAUS communications director, said the SPP evolved from the former Soviet Union’s demise in Eastern Europe and that the U.S. wanted to provide countries in the region a blueprint for a military force comprised of civilians.
“These were fledgling democracies,” he said. “We wanted to give them an example. Kind of a low-key, non-threatening example of civilian control of the military in a part-time force. And these relationships have grown now where there’s 100 relationships between states and countries around the world.”
This year’s general conference and exhibition, the 145th, will take place Aug. 18-21 in Reno, Nevada. The event has grown from a time to set a legislative agenda to include opportunities to hear from defense leaders.
“It’s an opportunity for guardsmen across the country at every echelon of command to network,” Goheen said. “It’s an opportunity for Connecticut guardsmen to mingle with California guardsmen and every other combination of states and territories you can think of because every state and territory, all 54, will have representatives at our event.”
This year, two issues are paramount to the Guard: equipment modernization and health care benefits.
“The Guard tends to have the oldest equipment in the military,” Goheen said. “It needs to be modernized for the threats of today. We have moved on from concerning ourselves from just the global war on terror … to great power competition. And the equipment that was fine for the global war on terror will not be fine for great power competition.”
He said the Air Guard is equipped with legacy aircraft unable to meet the performance standards required in 2023 and beyond.
“It doesn’t have the capabilities needed for future conflicts,” Goheen said. “So we’ve got to modernize those aircraft. Same in the Army Guard. We need modern equipment.”
Parity in health care benefits is the other concern. Goheen said benefits have improved since 9/11, but gaps still exist, adding that Guard members shouldn’t have to rely on civilian-acquired health care and they deserve the same benefits as active-duty personnel.
“Our traditional members are not provided health care from the federal government,” he said. “We believe that most of the American public figures, ‘Hey, if you put on the cloth of your country, certainly you’re taking care of in terms of health care.’ But that’s not the case. We have people on state active duty responding to a variety of different domestic missions that will not receive health care in case they’re injured … Our people cannot be ready quickly if they don’t have the preventative health care that comes with health coverage.”
Meanwhile, the extensive trade show and exhibition enables attendees to become familiar with the latest products developed by defense industry contractors. More than 300 companies will be participating in the exhibition.
“Those companies run from your Lockheed’s and your Boeing’s and your Raytheon’s down to small mom-and-pop companies, companies that sell novelties, companies that sell maybe individual food items … survivor type of food items,” Goheen said.
Professional development will also be a part of the week in Reno. The presence of defense industry leaders offers continuing education opportunities for guardsmen.
But the week isn’t all business and work. Fun, leisure and social events are also on the agenda. The hospitality night social event is popular with members, according to Goheen. Each represented state contributes a hospitality suite with dishes unique to their state.
And Goheen added that Reno has a lot to offer as well.
“Our members work hard and play hard,” he said. “There’s a lot to see and do in Reno … It’s not far from Lake Tahoe. It is a gaming mecca … Most of our attendees are staying at what is known as “The Row,” which is three large hotels owned by Caesars: Circus Circus, the Silver Legacy and the El Dorado. All interconnected.”
Country music singer/songwriter Josh Turner will close out the festivities playing a private concert for the attendees of the Governor’s Farewell reception.