NGAC LAUNCHES MEMBERSHIP SURVEY
Brig. Gen. (Retired) Roy Robinson, President, National Guard Association of the United States said at our annual conference that if the state associations fail to recruit more younger members, then we will lose the next generation.
With nearly 12,000 members in the National Guard Association of California (NGAC) data base, it appears that today’s generation does join associations. Yet, they aren’t volunteering to further NGAC objectives. Is this the result of a declining pool of California service members and veterans to draw upon?
A 2018 San Diego Military Advisory Council study suggests that the pool of veteran volunteers is shrinking. California’s military retiree population has decreased by nearly 17% between 2000 and 2016; while all other states increased by nearly 17%. That study concludes that California’s employment, total personal income, Gross state product (GSP) would increase by $1.033 million by 2022; and $1.272 million by 2025 if lawmakers stop taxing military retirements.
A deceptively low estimate if one could calculate the social costs of volunteers swept away with this exodus. Why does California, with 12.3 percent of the United States population, have 28 percent of the Nation’s homeless veterans? With the benefit tail of drug rehabilitation, education, health care, small business and home loans accompanying vets, doesn’t it follow that California should have the fewest homeless vets given purported claims as the World’s Fifth largest economy? Does it make sense that, as Loaves and Fishes reports, 65% of Sacramento’s homeless are veterans?
Could it be that paid volunteers in quasi-government nonprofit corporate charities, such as Volunteers of America , are replacing unpaid vet volunteers leaving the state? Delivering health screenings, counseling, referrals for housing, employment, and help for substance abuse at Veteran Stand-downs that unpaid vets, motivated by the creed to “leave no soldier behind,” gave freely?
What’s the future of California’s volunteerism? Business-relocation expert Joe Vranich says “$76.7 billion in investment capital is “diverted” from California, killing an estimated 275,000 jobs.” How many Citizen-soldiers’ civilian jobs are causalities of business migration? How many more jobs are on the cusp of exiting?
NGAC records from the mid-1980s and early 1990s reveal vibrant NGAC Chapters filled with volunteers. Cal Guardsmen stepping up as Chapter Presidents and officers. These volunteers donated their time, talent and treasure to producing Congressionally-mandated Quadrennial Reports and kept our Congressional Representatives and State Lawmakers abreast of Cal Guard missions, troops, and programs. They kept the California National Guard in the forefront of NGAUS resolutions that influenced the National Defense Authorization Acts (NDAAs) of their day. These set federal and state legislative priorities based on grassroots level input, and in return, these helped keep citizen-soldiers’ livelihoods anchored in California.
We’ve swayed from this charter that served us well. It matters little whether we were knocked off course by politicization of the Guard; or bogged down by low participation. The Nation’s largest National Guard no longer sends the most delegates to the NGAUS Conference to keep California in the lead; it sends the fewest keeping us in the rear of the National Guard and Reserve Equipment Account (NGREA) proposals for NDAA consideration. California’s dysfunctional economy does little to attract the Defense Industry; and with waning NGAC membership volunteerism disproportionate with its Congressional power base, the Defense Industry sees little value in the California National Guard.
I believe that today’s professional officers and senior NCOs are as dedicated and charitable as any of those in the previous generations. The outside pressures they face in volunteering, however, are perhaps greater than previous generations could imagine. They exist in a fragile job market that grows more dependent on government hand-outs; whittles away as other states lure private sector jobs away; drains the taxpayer pool; then heaps oppressive taxes on those left behind. They work in a hyper-sensitive political environment where they risk censure for volunteering to serve in military organizations that might be misconstrued as politically incorrect. And worst of all, they face persecution in both their military and civilian careers if they dare voice their political and religious conscience on National Guard-related issues.
Perhaps this is hyperbole on my part. Perhaps this generation doesn’t realize the power at their fingertips—those illusive 53 Congressional Representatives Robinson spoke about at the NGAC Conference? Power they can bend to the collective will of their soldiers and airmen if they dare hope, take a leap of faith, and volunteer for NGAC offices, committees, and task forces. The grassroots voice in 53 Congressional Districts that Representatives will respond; and State lawmakers will heed.
I believe we lose the next generation if we fail to foster an environment of volunteerism. We lose the initiative again by failing to surge a Sacramento NGAC Chapter to Shepheard the CNG’s successful suicide awareness program into the lead of Executive Order 13861–calling to end of the National tragedy of military suicides for inclusion in the 2021 NDAA. The 195th Air Wing’s chances of being part of Space Command diminishes without a NGAC Chapter to spearhead it. The same rings true for the 40th Infantry Division Artillery acquisition of modern howitzers. The list continues. This generation doesn’t lack imagination; the outgoing generation must use their imagination to unleash the incoming generation’s.
In his 1960 inaugural speech, President John F. Kennedy said, “Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans.” This Cal Guard generation has endured the crucible of war tempered “by a hard and bitter peace,” that purified the Kennedy generation. It’s time to pass the torch.
We can’t advance this Cal Guard generation’s future, however, if we cut it off from its past. Therefore, I have solicited Employer Support to the Guard and Reserve input and invited the Adjutant General’s involvement in a survey of 600 our members randomly drawn from our nearly 12,000 membership to answer questions and test hypothesis in this post. If called, I ask for your candor.
We’re passing the torch to preserve your historical roots and shine the light on the path to your future. Volunteer. Let’s not risk prevailing political winds snuffing out your torch.
Stan Zezotarski, Colonel (RET)