More than two hundred people converged on Missouri Western’s Fulkerson Center for the Chamber of Commerce Chairman’s Breakfast, featuring a speech by General Frank J. Grass, the outgoing Chief of the National Guard Bureau.
General Grass regaled the crowd with some startling statistics on the current state and deployments of the National Guard, around the country and around the world.
He says the 139th Airlift Wing’s future looks bright, and despite their age, the C-130-H aircraft are still an essential element to the United States Armed Forces.
“They’re still the workhorse,” General Grass told the Chamber crowd. “They just picked me up yesterday and flew me in one, and I was thinking, wow, this thing is still the workhorse on tactical airlift of the world, really, and many other countries fly them.”
“So we’re going to have those H models for a number of years yet. One number I’ve seen is we’ll be flying H models, in really, probably the 2040 time frame, so we’ve got to modernize them.”
On the Wing’s wish list is the newer C-130-J aircraft. The Guard already has a few of them, but Grass said it would cost billions of dollars to upgrade the entire fleet, which he says is something we cannot afford right now. But the older aircraft, even given pending safety upgrades, will continue to be the work horse he described.
“There’s a huge expectation, whether it’s first responders or National Guard, that we’re going to be their when crisis occurs, probably quicker than we ever have before,” he said. “You know our overseas mission and our homeland are going to drive more use of the National Guard.
“And for the C-130s, I guarantee you the Air Force cannot go to war without the National Guard, flat out cannot do it, because the bulk of the C-130 (fleet) is in the Reserve component.”
General Grass offered up some strong numbers on the current status of the National Guard. He noted there are currently more than 8,000 members deployed today in support of combat missions. Since 9-11, some 780-thousand members have been deployed. Guard units are currently supporting relief efforts in four different flood zones, including one in Missouri.
He stressed several times the importance of community support for local National Guard units, and says St Joe does a great job of that.
“Where I live in Washington DC, it’s a great city to live in, and it’s the hub of so much activity, but it’s not really reality,” he said. “You’ve got to get away from that place and get down and see the American people, and the American communities, which are so vibrant and so powerful.
“And that’s what I see in St. Joe.”
General Grass is the 27th Chief of the National Guard Bureau and is a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but said Friday he expects to retire soon.