The reserve component has continued to have a busy year – between continued COVID-19 response, natural disasters and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it’s been nothing short of an eventful 12 months. Not to mention the legislative changes that have been put into motion in D.C.
Here’s a look back at the most-newsworthy events of the year, as selected by the AmeriForce Media editorial team:
January: COVID-19 mitigation measures
Though opposition to COVID-19 vaccination mandates continues to make its way through the judicial system, at the beginning of 2022, National Guard leadership said that any of its members deployed to mitigate spread of the deadly virus amid the omicron surge had to be fully vaccinated.
At the time, more than 15,000 guardsmen across 49 states and territories were contributing to efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
February: Russia invades Ukraine
As Russia’s threats to invade Ukraine crept toward reality, guardsmen who had been training in Ukraine on an unrelated mission were shuffled to another European country amid preparations for the emerging conflict.
Near the end of February, Russia made good on its threats to invade Ukraine, prompting outcries worldwide, including from service members who had worked alongside the Ukrainian military.
“We need to drop the narrative that Ukraine is a helpless victim,” wrote Reserve & National Guard’s Will Martin. “Ukraine is a nation of warriors. I’m lucky enough to have broken bread and swapped stories with some of their finest. They will not simply roll over and bow to Putin and his henchmen.”
March: Unionization among the National Guard?
Talks of unionization were top of mind in the first quarter of 2022. Between combat tours abroad and emergencies at home, most guard members far exceed their recruiters’ promises of weekend drills and two weeks of annual training.
“Service members are stretched too thin,” said a senior California Army National Guard officer, speaking on condition of anonymity. “And if you’re low-ranking, you don’t really have a voice. If your professional life is suffering from constant mobilizations, your only voice is to not reenlist.”
Still, feelings were mixed on whether or not unionization was a path that should be pursued.
April: Cybersecurity missions become more common among guardsmen
The mission of the National Guard has continued to evolve as national priorities evolve, including the ongoing COVID-19 response, natural disasters, southern border mission and civil unrest. And now, as a growing number of cyberattacks sweep the nation, some states are mobilizing reserve component soldiers and airmen for another fight: cybercrime.
“A cyber incident is essentially a jurisdiction’s hurricane, or their tornado,” said Rob Main, North Carolina’s chief risk officer and a retired member of the Air National Guard.
So it makes sense to use the same “all-hazards” response approach that’s been working since before the internet was invented, he added.
May: Back-and-forth talks about Space National Guard
Maintaining the status quo and not establishing a Space National Guard would lead to “increased bureaucracy,” according to leadership in the Colorado National Guard.
Col. Michael Bruno, chief of the joint staff of the Colorado National Guard, said the Air Force is focused on “fly, fight and win,” so if there’s a space component underneath the Air Force – where it currently resides – it won’t receive the same needed funding.
“It’s going to cause problems at the national level, but most importantly to our airmen, it’s a morale issue because they feel like they’ve been left behind,” Bruno said during a media roundtable hosted by the National Guard Association of the United States.
June: Last remaining WWII MOH recipient dies
Hershel “Woody” Williams, the last surviving World War II Medal of Honor recipient, died on June 29.
Williams established his foundation in 2012 to ensure that Gold Star Families would be honored – one year after President Barack Obama formally recognized them by expanding Gold Star Mother’s Day to include family members.
“For years and years, no one spoke of a person other than Gold Star mother when somebody was lost in the military,” Williams told AmeriForce Media in 2020.
July: New Army policy seeks to ‘normalize parenthood’ for soldiers
The U.S. Army announced a new directive addressing unique challenges faced by soldiers navigating pregnancy through parenthood.
Grassroot efforts by a Facebook group inspired changes that are expected to affect 400,00 parents, including in the reserve component, according to a press release, like Sgt. Maj. Mark Clark Jr. The current G-1 sergeant major has been both a single parent and part of a dual-military household. He spoke during a press conference about his professional and personal interest in the new policies.
“This will be a huge lift to us as we create opportunities for well-deserving soldiers — who are very talented — to be able to continue to serve as soldiers but also be able to have better opportunities to provide for their families so they can stay within the Army,” Clark said.
August: Burn pit legislation passed, one-year anniversary of Afghanistan evacuation
Bipartisan legislation to remove red tape that prevents health care access for service members with burn-pit related illnesses was signed by President Joe Biden.
The Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act of 2022, which features Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s (D-N.Y.) Presumptive Benefits for War Fighters Exposed to Burn Pits and Other Toxins Act, received final passage with an 86-11 vote.
Plus, U.S. allies who are seeking refuge in the United States in the year following the withdrawal from Afghanistan are in a race against time.
In one family alone, the Taliban murdered a husband in front of his wife – his body not returned for 20 hours – another was stabbed, and there’s the ever-present fear of death. But Wasim, who spoke to AmeriForce Media under a pseudonym to protect family still in Afghanistan, was able to get his wife and daughter into the U.S.
September: Responding to natural disasters
Close to 800 National Guardsmen across nine Puerto Rico locations were activated ahead of Hurricane Fiona. They came in trucks and helicopters, ready to perform search and rescue missions. Additionally, troops mobilized to deliver life-sustaining food, water and diesel as the entire island went without electricity.
“The water was up to half their vehicles, but our guardsmen headed out during the storm in assistance to our citizens,” Puerto Rico National Guard Lt. Col. Josue Flores said. “They are truly committed ― they don’t get tired, they get full with energy.”
October: Recruiting shortage
If numbers tell the story, as the saying goes, military recruiting reads like a tale of horror. Both active and reserve component recruiters are facing one of their most challenging years in decades. Each service, and the Army in particular, anticipates falling well short of its annual recruiting goals.
“We’re in a war for talent,” Army Chief of Staff Gen. James C. McConville told junior officers during a recent visit to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, adding that less than one in four young adults are qualified to serve, with rising obesity the main obstacle.
November: Activation for midterm elections
More than a dozen states activated guardsmen to assist in cybersecurity support for this year’s midterm elections, despite no known threats to election security.
“We just ensure that that flow of information continues to happen from the Guard Bureau perspective,” said Army Col. Joed Carbonell, National Guard Bureau cyber chief. “And as of right now, what they are sharing in the public is they expect this to be another normal day on the internet as this goes.
December: Healthcare for our Troops Act
If passed, the Healthcare for our Troops Act, could lower health care costs for 130,000 members of the reserve component who don’t have private health insurance. The legislation, cosponsored by Sens. Susan Collins, of Maine, and Tammy Baldwin, of Wisconsin, would eliminate the premiums of TRICARE Reserve Select. Normally, only active-duty soldiers or those on federal orders more than 30 days avoid TRICARE premiums.Read comments