VOLK FIELD, Wis. — Gen. Daniel Hokanson, the chief of the National Guard Bureau and a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, visited Wisconsin Aug. 10 to observe the annual Northern Lightning Counterland training exercise involving aircraft and personnel from the National Guard, Air Force, Army, Marine Corps, and Navy.
During his visit, Hokanson met with senior Wisconsin National Guard leadership as well as exercise participants and several of Wisconsin’s Airmen. He took the time to discuss each Airman’s responsibilities at Volk Field while also learning about their family and personal life.
“This is the best part of what I get to do, because when I go back I can tell the story of all the great things that you guys do,” Hokanson said.
Airmen discussed the logistics behind Northern Lightning and other exercises that occur at Volk Field throughout the year. Before an exercise can take place, equipment and personnel need to be brought in and properly prepared in order for the training to be successful.
“Nobody really sees that,” Hokanson said. “They’re all focused on the jets and stuff like that, but all the work behind that, the semis coming in, all that stuff’s got to be off-loaded. You’ve got to bring all those people in. You’ve got to get them billeting. You’ve got to meet them. That’s the beauty of what the Guard can do.”
Col. Leslie Zyzda-Martin, Volk Field Air National Guard Base commander, chimed in that many of the Airmen weren’t giving themselves the credit they deserve for all that they do.
“When these guys are telling you their story, they’re very humble because you’re only looking at a bench of a couple behind them,” Zyzda-Martin said. “It’s unbelievable.”
Airmen also discussed day-to-day operations and the support they provide to the local communities. The Volk Field Fire Department serves as the only full-time fire department in Juneau County and often works to provide support to surrounding communities through mutual aid agreements.
Volk Field Fire Department Deputy Chief Ross Krizan explained, as an example, that recently they received a call to help an individual who was stuck on a nearby bluff. He said the real-world mission was beneficial to the firemen who responded.
“You can train all day, but when you get out there, you get hands on and actually lower somebody from a bluff who is not getting down otherwise, that is training that we just can’t provide here,” Krizan said.
Hokanson also took the time to discuss some of his priorities and listen to issues affecting Air Guard members in order to better address them.
“I appreciate the chance to talk to you about you personally because to me, the beauty of the Guard is in this room,” Hokanson said. “It’s just the people. At the end of the day, the equipment is going to come and go, but the enduring issue is we’ve got some incredible folks doing just great things to make this all happen.”
Simultaneously, the general’s wife, Kelly Hokanson, met with support staff and members of the Wisconsin National Guard Service Member Support Division to discuss a range of topics including family readiness, diversity, and health.
Many programs unique to the Wisconsin National Guard were explained and discussed including Wisconsin GI Bill tuition benefits, the Comprehensive Health and Wellness Program, and a new domestic violence reporting policy mirroring a policy already established in active duty.
Mrs. Hokanson expressed her interest in many of the benefits Wisconsin offers its Guardsmen and veterans as well as the many changes being made toward improvement.
“We have come so far,” Kelly Hokanson said. “I love the direction that the military is going in recognizing the holistic health of an individual, because the younger generation is not like older generation. I see our senior leaders embrace positive change like this and they say, I wish that was a thing when I was young. I know my husband often says, how much better would we have been had this been available to us.”
Mrs. Hokanson also spent time listening to current issues that support staff and Guard members and their dependents are struggling with. As a Transition Assistance Program ambassador, Hokanson shared specific details of the TAP program that would be useful for family readiness staff to utilize and share with Guardsmen. She offered support and resources to a military spouse whose husband was recently deployed, directing her to the Military Kids Grant and the Military Child Education Coalition. She also took extreme interest in an Airman struggling with having consistent access to the Exceptional Family Member Programs and Tricare Extended Care Health Option programs while serving on different statuses and deployments.
These are issues that National Guard and Active Duty service members across the nation are also facing.
Mrs. Hokanson said she’s impressed with the National Guard in states like Wisconsin which offer so many resources and are actively creating improvements. She spoke of her appreciation and admiration of the Guard and its tightly knit community.
“I want Guard people to realize that active duty is not pie in the sky,” Hokanson said. “I have a foot in both worlds and there are great things about each, but what you miss on active duty is this sense of community. Active duty creates that feeling of community very quickly and it’s awesome, but then they leave. You have to reestablish that again at the next phase and you either do or you don’t whether or not it’s important to you.
The beauty about the Guard is that you’re here and you remain here. You have those deep ties and you get to know your community members, and they become your extended tribe.”