2023 Condition of the Guard
Major General Ben Corell, Adjutant General of the Iowa National Guard, delivers the annual Condition of the Guard address to a joint session of the Iowa Legislature.
Condition of the Guard Address 90th General Assembly
Good morning, everyone, thank you Speaker Grassley and President Sinclair for the invitation to be here and speak with you all today. Governor Reynolds, Lieutenant Governor Gregg, distinguished members of the Iowa General Assembly, state officials, and my fellow Iowans. It is truly a privilege for me to address this dignified body and to once again share the story of our Iowa National Guard. I stand before you today representing the over nine thousand dedicated men and women of the Iowa National Guard. On their behalf, I want to thank each of you for all you have done to assist us in building a professional, world class organization. We are very thankful for the strong support we receive from the members of this general assembly, from our Iowa Congressional delegation, and above all, from Iowans across this great state. I want to publicly thank Governor Reynolds and Lt Governor Gregg for their continued support of Iowans who serve or have served our nation or our state in military service. It is simply our people, the service members of the Iowa National Guard, our families, and our civilian employers who continue to sacrifice their time, talent, and resources allowing us to be always ready to respond whenever and wherever we are needed. I want to begin today - by reminding you - who exactly we are. The Iowa National Guard- We are Iowans, serving Iowans from all across this great state. In many ways The Iowa National Guard is a microcosm of Iowa. We are made up of over 9,000 full-time, and part-time service members along with our civilian employees, our roots come from each of Iowa’s 99 counties. Of those 9,000 members, more than 6,500 serve part-time with the Iowa National Guard as they attend school or work fulltime for other employers across the state. Our full-time workforce includes more than 2,200 service members and civilians who work at one of our 36 armories, our 3 Army aviation facilities, our 13 Army Field Maintenance Shops, our 3 Air National Guard facilities, or on Camp Dodge. We are a diversified force. Our service members range in age anywhere from 17 to 61 years of age and our formations are comprised of multiple races, ethnic backgrounds, national origins, and religions.
We are your employers, your employees, your neighbors, your friends, and your loved ones – with the one common goal of choosing to work and live in Iowa while serving our nation and our state. We love to tell the story of our Soldiers and Airmen- the people who make a difference- people that want to serve and do more for their community and country. Because we value each individual and what they bring to the Guard, today I want to share with you a true story of an Iowa Soldier in hopes to give you a better idea of who we are, and what the opportunities in Iowa National Guard can do for our citizens and for the future of Iowa. This particular story is going to start off by sounding quite ordinary. It highlights a young man, an Iowa native, one of three siblings, his values and upbringing instilled by his grandparents in a small rural community in Northeast Iowa. And despite some hardships and obstacles, this young man graduates high school, but doesn’t have a clear path of how to make his mark in the world. Like many Iowans, he follows in his family’s footsteps and begins working on the family farm. After a few years he realizes this is not the future he desires. This young man now has a wife and children and without a clear vision of what comes next, he pursues a manufacturing job as a forklift driver for better pay and benefits. A common tale, until he makes a pivotal decision. Still needing extra income to make ends meet for his young family, this young man is encouraged by his wife to answer a local advertisement promoting the Iowa National Guard. With some hesitancy, he meets with a recruiter, and he ultimately enlists. So now this traditional member of our military reserve component, married with three kids, no college education, working full-time, is looking to see if membership in the Iowa National Guard is an answer to a better future. He learns the closest unit for him to train at is an infantry unit located at an armory in Oelwein, Iowa. A thirty-minute drive from his NE Iowa home. Today, most of our Guard men and women travel more than an hour to get to their respective duty location. As our demographics change across the state, a longer drive is becoming more common as we continue to assess our current facility stationing locations. An example of this is our investment into a new armory partnering together with the City of West Des Moines. We expect to award the construction of this project soon and begin building yet this year.
This is a 20-million-dollar project, the Iowa National Guard was able to secure 75% of construction costs with federal dollars and match it with 25% of the costs coming from the state. We look forward to the advancement of this project and reporting on its success at a future date. We also understand the importance of maintaining our presence in the smaller communities across the state where our Soldiers and Airmen currently perform duty. Much of our strength as an organization comes from the hard-working, dedicated people from our smaller Iowa communities. As we move forward, we must carefully balance the need to station and build in growing communities, with the need to maintain and reinvest in our rural communities where we have historically established our Iowa National Guard facilities and are long time members of those communities. As an organization, we are proud that the great majority of our Soldiers and Airmen live, work, and raise their families in an Iowa community. The communities we serve are Our communities. In order to sustain this, our future success requires that we recognize these demographic changes and ensure our facilities remain in locations that allow our Soldiers and Airmen to serve near where they live and work. Now, back to our Northeast Iowa soldier, in order to make ends meet for his family, he is working 60 hours a week at his fulltime job, he is a volunteer EMT with the local ambulance service, AND serving one weekend a month, two weeks a year as a traditional Guard soldier. It is not uncommon for our traditional Soldiers to have a full-time job, serve their community, and serve in the Iowa National Guard. These are choices that not only impact our service members, but also affect their families. This is the reason the Iowa National Guard instituted the Warrior Family Services Branch. This talented part of our workforce is focused on our families remaining connected to our organization and helping families during challenging times. We must continue to recognize and value the dedication and support from our families. They play a critical role in allowing our Guard men and women to continue to serve. Our success is tied to taking care of our families. Please join me in applauding the dedication and many sacrifices given by our military families.
For our Solider, had it not been for his family’s support and a willing employer, this Soldier in today’s story would not have been able to consider opportunities to advance in the Guard. In order for him to reach his full potential, he needed a college degree. Never deterred from serving, and he finds a way. For two nights a week, for 3 years straight he drives over an hour to a satellite school to get a college education through Upper Iowa University. He graduates with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Business Management and becomes a commissioned officer within the Iowa National Guard. This was possible because of the scholarship opportunities provided by the Iowa National Guard that this legislative body has graciously continued to support. Today there is a continued growing demand for the Iowa National Guard Service Scholarship. This program has been an outstanding recruiting and retention tool since its inception. In 2022, more Iowa National Guard Soldiers and Airmen used the Iowa National Guard Service Scholarship to help pay for college than ever before. In years past we averaged around 700 service members requesting scholarship funds each academic year. This academic year, the number has increased to over 900 Iowa National Guard service members taking advantage of this great program. That’s Iowans serving Iowa, going to Iowa schools, investing in Iowa’s future. It is only with the continued support of this legislative body and your commitment to fund the Iowa National Guard Service Scholarship that we are able to continue to provide this important program. This scholarship is about investing in people, which not only benefits our men and women, but also the Iowa National Guard, our communities, and our employers across the state where they live and work. Our young Soldier, with his new degree, continues to progress through his military career and earns multiple leadership opportunities with increasing levels of responsibility. He begins to make a larger impact on the organization, now leading in both his community and in the Iowa National Guard. Because of his training, work ethic, his family, and support from his community, he is successful in leading Iowa National Guard formations in 6 overseas deployments over the course of the next 19 years.
If you were to ask this Soldier about his proudest moment, he would share a time of returning home after a deployment to Iraq, two weeks short of being away from home for 2 years. His convoy of buses crosses the Mississippi River in Dubuque bringing Iowa Soldiers back into the state of Iowa. Along the way, every overpass along Highway 20 is filled with Iowans waving flags and welcoming this group of Soldiers back home. As they pulled into the ballpark in Waterloo; completely filled with family, friends and community members, there was a moment of reflection for our Soldier as he looked upon the Iowa Soldiers that he had been responsible for these many months so far from home. Each of them had grown during their time away, they had all honorably done their duty. They had all experienced so very much serving in a war that they were called upon by our country to serve in. He realized it is not about him as an individual, but it is about us, it is about WE as the Iowa National Guard. WE are always ready. WE are prepared to respond on a state level at the direction of our governor. WE are prepared to respond to the needs of our nation to face foreign threats. WE must always be ready for both missions. WE are Iowans that have stepped up and answered the call to serve at both home and abroad. This past year we welcomed home 40 Soldiers from the 376th Aviation Detachment, returning from a 12-month mission supporting the ongoing operations at the Southwest Border. They deployed in OCT 21 and returned home in OCT 22 In 2022, we sent off 80 Soldiers from the 209th Medical Company of Iowa City to Poland in support of Operation European Assure Deter and Reinforce. They are currently providing medical support and training to US forces, our allies, and our partners. We anticipate them returning home this spring. This past fall, we sent off 160 Soldiers from the 1133rd Transportation Company from Mason City, who also deployed to Poland supporting the same mission. This unit is providing necessary logistical and transportation support to our allies and partners in Eastern Europe. We anticipate these Soldiers to return home this coming August.
This past year the Iowa Air National Guard’s 132d Wing deployed 195 Airmen at home and abroad to 13 locations in 9 countries. These Airmen reinforced Combatant Commands supporting various operations. The 124th Attack Squadron’s home station mobilization flew 364 combat sorties totaling 6,819 flight hours in four different Areas of Responsibility. As a first, the 132d Wing flew MQ-9 operations out of the Des Moines Air Base. This exercise appropriately named “Hawkeye Fury” culminated by flying 42 hours over two weeks expending 20 precision guided training munitions at military ranges in Wisconsin and Kansas. The 185th Air Refueling Wing deployed more than 290 Airmen to over 17 locations around the globe. The 185th continues to be prepared for all mission sets that the Air Mobility and Strategic Command expects of them, including nuclear and global deployment readiness, all while their runway was closed as they operated from an alternate facility in another state during most of this past year. Throughout the 180 years since our founding, we have witnessed constant change, we have faced numerous challenges, but we have always been ready when called. As we look ahead, we anticipate a continued demand for our Soldiers and Airmen as they deploy to support operations wherever our nation or our state needs us. We will continue to rely on young Iowa men and women to join and stand with us helping to face these future challenges.
The Soldiers and Airmen we are recruiting today are high quality young men and women- Iowans who join knowing they could be called upon to serve our nation and state at any given
time. These recruitment efforts are a result of the hard work of our members coming together as a team to build a community-based organization that the people of Iowa can trust and depend on today and into the future. Like others, our Soldier in this story today decided that the Guard was his calling in life. It not only gave him fulfillment and direction, but also stability for his family. It provided an education, leadership opportunities, world experiences, comradery, and a sense of belonging. All while being a citizen of Iowa, living and working in an Iowa community.
While the Soldier in today’s story could be very similar to the story of other men and women in the Iowa National Guard, this particular story- if you haven’t guessed already, just happens to be my own. With now 37 years of service in the Iowa National Guard, coming from a finically challenged rural Iowa kid with no college education, no real direction in my life – I stand before today you as a General Officer, the holder of a master’s degree, selected by our Governor to serve as the 27th Adjutant General of the Iowa National Guard. I proudly represent all the members of the Iowa National Guard as we serve the state of Iowa, and our great country. I am also very proud that my three sons have followed in my footsteps as they carry on the tradition of military service in my family – each of them serving today as members of the Iowa National Guard. We celebrate all our service members who are inspired to follow in their families footsteps and serve in our organization. I appreciate the trust they have in the Iowa National Guard to make it their military service of choice. And while we are proud of this strong family tradition- it has become increasingly difficult to attract those who don’t have a family connection to the military. Less than one percent of the population of this nation serves in our armed forces; of this population that serves, eighty percent have family ties with those that have previously served in a military uniform. I am also fully aware that that the Iowa National Guard is not the answer for everyone, but I do want to make sure that it remains a point of consideration for the young men and women of Iowa. My goal is that it continues to be discussed among Iowa households and within the walls of this chamber. This is why I am here to share my story, OUR story of the Iowa National Guard and remind everyone of who we are. We want to reconnect with Iowans and open our doors- we want that interaction with our communities, and we are committed to being more invested with each of you across the state of Iowa. We need your help to keep our membership strong. Some of you have already seen our senior leaders out at our facilities across the state doing visits and outward engagement with our communities and local community leaders.
The future and overall strength of our organization is dependent on reaching out and connecting with those who want to be a bigger part of their community, to serve our state, and be a part of something greater than themselves. The motto of the Iowa National Guard is Always Ready. As an organization, we face increased pressure and challenges to our readiness, both at home and abroad. Here at home, the number one challenge to readiness has become strength, our ability to recruit and retain quality Soldiers and Airmen. As we exit the COVID-19 era, national economic, educational, and societal trends have increased competition for talent which has decreased the incentive to serve in our military. According to recent studies, 2022 was the worst year for military recruiting since 1973 at the beginning of our All-Volunteer military. We have seen the propensity of young people to serve in the military fall to its lowest level since 2007, today less than 30% of young Americans even meet the physical and medical requirements for entry into military service. Globally, the environment in which we operate continues to increase in complexity and competition. In the past year, we witnessed as Russia invaded Ukraine. Russia has demonstrated a willingness to disregard international laws and norms. It’s actions threaten both regional and global stability.
We have also watched as China has sought to broaden its influence and control of the Indo- Pacific region.
China continues to make large investments in modernizing its military and increasing its capabilities while simultaneously it works to erode U.S. alliances and influence around the world. In addition to Russia and China, non-state actors and terrorist groups remain a continued global threat. Terrorist groups like Al Qaida and ISIS continue to operate throughout the world and across much of the Middle East and into Africa and Southeast Asia. The Iowa National Guard remains engaged in deterring threats like these through our State Partnership Program. For over 11 years we have built and maintained a strong relationship with Kosovo.
Our Airmen, Soldiers and civilian personnel have assisted the Kosovo Security Forces through our knowledge, experience, and our resources. My stated goals for our State Partnership Program with the Kosovo Security Force are focused on Non-Commissioned Officer professional development, increasing KSF capabilities in cybersecurity, sustainment and maintenance activities and improving their military medical proficiency. It is partnerships like these that align within our strategic goal of being the most trusted organization in the state, ready to mobilize, deploy, and execute any given mission. The Iowa National Guard remains on glidepath within our Campaign Plan, which helps us focus on what is important and assess our performance along the way. This plan steers us with clarity and unity of purpose. With our corps of dedicated leaders, guided by this plan, the future remains bright for the Iowa National Guard. Since our initial formation in 1838, the Iowa National Guard has benefited from the unwavering support of this body and the citizens of Iowa. You have trusted us to remain an organization filled with proud Iowans who are dedicated to service and the defense of this great state and our nation. We know it is our people, the service members of the Iowa National Guard who serve, our families, and our employers who continue to sacrifice their time and talents that allows us to be always ready to respond when needed. Speaking of our employers, I want to say thank you to the many men and women across the state who volunteer to fill the roles of Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve or ESGR. The ESGR program is a key element in working with and educating our many employers on the rights of our Reserve Component members. These ESGR volunteers make a difference every day in keeping our traditional Guard members serving and employed across the state while building trust with our civilian employers. We are very thankful for the strong support we receive from the members of this General Assembly and from the Governor’s office. The resources and support that you provide make it possible for the Iowa National Guard to be prepared to respond to the needs of our State and our Nation. We have developed something new this year. It’s a visual summary of our annual report that details our units, our activities, who we are, and the economic impact we have across the state.
This is another opportunity for us to tell the Iowa National Guard story. We have provided a copy of this for you at your desk. I truly thank all of you for placing your trust and confidence in me to serve as Iowa’s Adjutant General. I am extremely honored to lead and represent the Soldiers and Airmen of the Iowa National Guard. My job is to ensure the Iowa National Guard is Always Ready when you need us, and that we remain postured for future success. Again, let me express my gratitude for your continued support and for this opportunity to provide you with this update on your Iowa National Guard. I affirm to each of you, the condition of the Iowa National Guard is strong today, and we will remain, Always Ready. Thank you.