U.S. Senator Chris Coons of Delaware

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Statements & Speeches

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Floor Speech: Senator Coons celebrates the achievements of the National Guard on their 376th anniversary

As Delivered on December 13, 2012

Mr. President, I rise today to mark the 376th anniversary of a great American institution that is critical to our safety and security here and abroad, the National Guard. The National Guard goes back to the citizens soldier tradition of our colonial-era militia, of citizens who took up arms or who came together for collective action in times of natural disaster or threat, and the National Guard today, 376 years later, still has that dual mission to serve our communities by responding to domestic emergencies and to deploy when needed to serve and protect our nation overseas.

While they do all this, Mr. President, they also hold down often full-time civilian jobs. In their daily lives, National Guard troops are teachers and police officers, firefighters and office workers. Then when called upon by their governor or their commander in chief, they change their uniforms and report for duty as citizen soldiers.

In my home state, Mr. President, our Delaware National Guard is on the front lines every day. Whether they are keeping our streets safe after a storm, deploying to Iraq or Afghanistan or traveling to other parts of the country to help our citizens recover and cities rebuild in the wake of a natural disaster.

Organized and led so capably by our Adjutant Major General Frank Vavala, the Delaware National Guard has the capability to keep us safe. They transport people and supplies on land and through the air, they defend the nation in cyberspace, they support law enforcement's work against illegal drugs, they are on the scene of any suspicious chemical or biological event, and they enable friendly forces to communicate with each other in war zones.

When duty calls, Mr. President, the Delaware National Guard is there. The 153rd Military Police Company, for example, was deployed to Iraq where they log hundreds of combat patrols on some of the most dangerous streets in the world and trained Iraqi police officers in all aspects of their profession. And in January, this unit will deploy again, this time to Afghanistan. The 126th Medical Aviation Battalion was deployed to Afghanistan where they flew 400 priority MEDEVAC missions for over 500 critically injured patients, about half to unsecure landing zones outside of secure walls or fortified structures.

These are just two examples of the many ways that the Delaware Guard protects our nation overseas, but they are also vital to our security here at home. When there is a blizzard, the National Guard uses their Humvees and heavy trucks to transport Delawareans with medical emergencies. When Superstorm Sandy struck just last month, 120 soldiers from Delaware traveled with heavy equipment to assist recovery efforts in New York and New Jersey. When Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans in 2005, two of our C-130 aircraft left from New Castle Airport the next day, carrying the first of what would be 400 troops from Delaware who assisted with Gulf Coast recovery.

The National Guard is resourceful, ready to serve and they go everywhere they're called. These are truly

citizen soldiers. When I was the County Executive of New Castle County, Delaware, we had as many as seven different county employees at different times deployed overseas, many of them police officers, called up for their National Guard service, folks who are the epitome of serving at home and serving abroad. So it's with a very personal sense of the needs and the challenges when I thank those employers who recognize that even when they are not at their desks, even when they are not contributing to their employer, our National Guard members are making a vital contribution to our community and to our country.

Mr. President, tomorrow morning, I'm going to the Pentagon where I'll talk with leaders there about critical needs in an age of ongoing budget austerity. One of the priorities I'm fighting for is a responsible investment in our National Guard. These heroes deserve more than our gratitude. They deserve our rock-solid commitment to ensuring they have the resources they need to do their jobs. The National Guard plays a unique dual role in our security as first responders and as a reserve force for foreign conflicts.

We have to make sure they have got equipment and support for both their military missions and their domestic missions. I'm proud that this year the President signed into law legislation to give the Chief of the National Guard bureau a seat at the table, a seat on the Joint Chiefs of Staff. I was glad to help work to build bipartisan support for this bill because I believe the Joint Chiefs need someone at the table who has seen the full capabilities and range of operations and the unique challenges and resources of the National Guard firsthand.

So 376 years after its founding, the National Guard continues to grow and evolve to meet the security challenges for the United States in the 21st century. I believe the Guard of the future must continue to fulfill both sides of this vital, dual mission. Additionally, it must be a place where highly skilled soldiers and airmen can continue to serve their country while also working in and serving civilian communities. The Guard can and should be a bridge between the military and civilian responses to threats facing the United States, not least of which is cyber attacks and terrorism.

Mr. President, on this anniversary, the National Guard remains essential to the safety and security of Americans at home and abroad, and today I'd like to thank the soldiers and airmen of the Delaware National Guard, as well as the entire National Guard family at home and abroad for their service and dedication to our country.

Thank you and happy birthday.

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