Retiring National Guard Chief Pushes Again for a 'Space Guard'

Gen. Joseph L. Lengyel visits with members of the Tennessee National Guard
Gen. Joseph L. Lengyel, Chief, National Guard Bureau, visits with members of the Tennessee National Guard, May 20, 2020, at Berry Field in Nashville. (U.S. Army photo/Timothy Cordeiro)

The nation needs a "Space Guard" to back up "Space Force," the outgoing chief of the National Guard Bureau said last week, adding that there needs to be a role for the Guard in the newest military branch.

"We're in historic times as we stand up another service. ... [There are] advantages to taking the model of the National Guard and leveraging that in creating a space National Guard component of the Space Force," Air Force Gen. Joseph Lengyel said July 2.

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The Guard has been part of the space operations of the Air Force and the Army for the past 25 years, Lengyel said. "That's got to remain the same" in the new Space Force.

Lengyel will retire next month as National Guard Bureau chief after more than 39 years of service.

The Guard has been pressing for a role within the Space Force even before it was officially established as an independent military branch on Dec. 20, 2019.

At a February Pentagon briefing for defense reporters, several state adjutants general again made the case for the Guard's inclusion.

"Personally, I don't see how we have a Space Force without a Space Guard," said Air Force Maj. Gen. Michael Loh, the adjutant general of the Colorado National Guard.

Lengyel spoke at a Brookings Institution forum on the future of the Guard and the ability of a force of 450,000 "citizen soldiers" to adapt in an era of pandemics, civil unrest and great power competition.

In his career, "I have experienced the complete transformation of what the National Guard brings in terms of combat capability from a readiness model -- from a strategic reserve to an operational force to the roles we play across society every day," Lengyel said.

The transformation has been severely tested since January in response to the COVID-19 epidemic and protests that followed the May 25 death of George Floyd in police custody, he added.

"It has been a crazy year, and it's just now early July," Lengyel said.

In early June, more than 120,000 Guard members had mobilized for COVID-19 support, civil unrest and overseas deployments, he said.

President Donald Trump has praised the Guard's performance in helping to control the sometimes-violent protests, but Lengyel said that it was not a preferred mission for the troops he oversaw.

"In my opinion, uniforms, I don't care what flavor they are -- Title 10, active-duty, National Guard, Reserve -- uniforms being out there in law-enforcement situations is not optimal," he said. "We should do as little of it as we can, and it should be predominantly a law enforcement, police operation. And when they need us, we can and we will come. But we should do what we can to avoid that."

He called the job of policing Americans on U.S. soil a "difficult, difficult situation."

"Frequently, there are members of one family on one side of the line and other members dressed in civil riot gear on the other side," he said.

In Lengyel's opinion, the disturbances and instances of looting in some areas were "beginning to recede." But the Guard, he said, is prepared to bolster support for local authorities "should events turn sideways and our system needs it."

He declined to discuss the Guard's role in the June 1 clearing of streets around the White House and the use of Guard helicopters flying low over demonstrators in Washington, D.C., saying the incidents were still under investigation.

Army Lt. Gen. Daniel Hokanson, the nominee to succeed Lengyel as National Guard Bureau chief, has said he expects Guard members to be called upon again in situations of civil unrest.

"Given the magnitude of recent domestic events, I anticipate a larger role for the National Guard in supporting civil authorities in the homeland, " Hokanson said at his June 19 confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at

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