National Guard Association of the United States meets in Chicago

SPRINGFIELD, IL (08/27/2014)(readMedia)-- Story by Sgt. 1st Class Rob Fafoglia, 139th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

CHICAGO - More than 3,500 people attended this year's National Guard Association of the United States (NGAUS) conference in Chicago, Aug. 22 through 25. The conference is a yearly event aimed at focusing the nation's attention on the needs and accomplishments of the Army and Air National Guard.

"(NGAUS) mission is to tell the story of the Guardsmen and to represent us around the nation, to let folks understand how important the Guard is to their communities, to our nation and to our respective states," said Daniel Krumrei, the Illinois National Guard Adjutant General.

The association was created in 1878, making it the oldest military organization of its type. Its primary purpose is to educate Congress about the training and funding requirements of the National Guard.

"Militia officers from the North and South came together . . . in order to create a unified voice before Congress," said John Goheen, the director of communications for NGAUS and retired National Guardsman. "They decided going alone as individual states, requesting money for better equipment and training, wasn't working, that they needed to unite and work together. That's why they created NGAUS and our mission remains unchanged to this day."

Goheen acknowledged some may look at NGAUS and other associations like it in a negative light, because they deal so heavily with politics.

"We are absolutely a lobbying organization," said Goheen. "What people need to understand is that we give the Guard a voice in Washington. Most military organizations (such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars and Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans Association) are about taking care of veterans. We are about readiness. We're working to get Soldiers and their commanders the equipment they need, the training they need, to be ready to go and support a mission, whether it's for their governor or an overseas combat deployment."

Goheen said NGAUS is responsible for many of the structures and services some guard members may take for granted.

"It was this association that worked with Congress to create drill pay," said Goheen. "It was this association that worked with Congress to create the retirement program. It was this association that worked with Congress to provide the states with military construction dollars and equipment. Just about anything that is in an armory or a base, it's not a stretch to say NGAUS has its fingerprints on it."

The annual conference serves as a business meeting for members from every state. It includes guest speakers, award presentations, social events and mixers for participants, events for spouses and other family members and a tradeshow for sponsors and vendors.

Every year, the conference rotates among the states. This year belonged to Illinois, and Krumrei said the state has been planning and working on this event for years. He said one of the benefits of attending the conference, besides the wealth of information, is a chance to experience what each state has to offer.

"This is a great opportunity for Illinois," said Krumrei. "The governor had the opportunity to address the convention. For the city of Chicago, besides the convention business it brings, this really is the diamond of the heartland. Every response I have received is that people are grateful for the opportunity to be in Chicago. The architectural tours, the food, the sights, the experiences; everybody I have talked to has had a wonderful time here."

In addition to reviewing numbers, talking about unit issues and sightseeing, the conference offers participants a chance for professional development, something Krumrei said is invaluable. Some of the topics discussed include : fiscal responsibility and the upcoming challenges the military faces, sexual assault and harassment prevention and training, suicide awareness and prevention, and the changing military environment, as it shifts from warfighting to issues on the home front.

"We have the opportunity to meet with the other states and to share best practices," said Krumrei. "We get together on a variety of levels, company grade officers, warrant officers, general officers and adjutants general, for professional training to develop those relationships. It also gives us an opportunity to spend time with many of the vendors that help provide for the safety and the security of our Soldiers and our Airmen."

Krumrei said it is important for servicemembers to take advantage of the opportunities and services provided by organizations such as NGAUS, even if they are unable to attend a conference or event. He focused specifically on education.

"It is important to take every opportunity to engage in every educational aspect of their professional development as Soldiers or Airmen," said Krumrei. "Those opportunities will continue to exist. It will be a difficult fiscal time and situation to do that in, but for those who choose to continue their education, they need to take advantage of every opportunity that's available to them."

Krumrei also emphasized the importance of Soldiers and Airmen getting involved and making their voice heard.

"This is one of the largest NGAUS conventions in several years," he said. "It's my hope that every Air Guardsman and Army Guardsman will reach out and be a part of their professional association, because that's what professionals do; they associate with one another, they learn from one another, and they share best practices. I encourage all of our servicemembers to be a part of their state associations, the national association for the enlisted, for professionals and for officers."