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South Dakota TAG on Guard: 'We're Making History'
As South Dakota’s adjutant general, Major General Timothy A. Reisch serves as the commanding general for both the South Dakota Army National Guard and Air Guard, overseeing the readiness and mobilization of 4,300 Citizen-Soldiers and -Airmen and 960 full-time federal and state employees. Reisch discusses with GX some of the challenges the Guard faces this year, as well as the importance of keeping Citizen-Soldiers operational.
Why did you decide to enlist in the Guard in 1978?
Nobody pushed me to join, but I just had this kind of burning desire to join and be a member of the military. Most people go to Basic Training when they’re 17 or 18 years old, and I was about 20½ years old. I think that served me well. I was probably a little more mature than the rest of them. I just think the work ethic out in the Midwest tends to serve you well in any branch of the military.
What inspired you to pursue leadership roles in the Guard?
Well, that would’ve been my dad, who had been in the National Guard years before. When I was in Basic Training, I got a letter from my dad. He said, “I think you ought to consider going to OCS [Officer Candidate School].” That planted the seed for me.
Being a general isn’t something I ever aspired to be. As I went through my career as an officer, every few years you’d get a different job, and you’d try to perform well in that job.
What inspires you about today’s Citizen-Soldiers?
There’s no doubt in my mind that the young men and women who enlist in the National Guard today are better than any that have ever enlisted across the history of our great organization, especially since 9/11, when the Guard changed from a strategic reserve to an operating force. It was very much a public transformation. Some men and women that maybe would have ordinarily enlisted in the Army saw the National Guard as a great way to do more, to have more, to stay with their local buddies and to serve on the big stage.
The thing that the National Guard offers that’s unique among our branches of military service is the camaraderie that the men and women enjoy. It becomes kind of a fraternity. The Guard has always been that way. I think for units that have deployed, it’s even tighter.
How will the Guard continue to remain relevant?
Adjutants general want the Guard to remain operational. We don’t want to go back on the shelf, but it’s going to depend on a number of things: the size of the Active Component and what our budget is going to look like. It will be a challenge on the units as much as on the recruiters, but really the responsibility falls on the unit commanders and the senior NCOs to fill their units.
What has been your most memorable moment?
It wasn’t something in my career. It was being a father of two National Guard Soldiers that had a very dangerous mission. I had two sons that deployed to Afghanistan in a Sapper unit. They cleared the IEDs from the roadways of Afghanistan for a year. My most memorable moment was standing at the bottom of the steps of the airplane when my sons returned. What a feeling of relief it was.
I think it gives me a good perspective on what other families go through during deployment. Until they’re actually back and off the plane, those families never rest. They are praying all the time and watching the news and talking to other people in there. For me, that particular year my sons were deployed was a very long year for their mother and me. I was the assistant adjutant general at that time, but I was also a dad who had two sons deployed. I didn’t really feel like it was about me. It was about my sons.
What is the most challenging aspect of being the adjutant general for the state of South Dakota?
The South Dakota National Guard has a great reputation. You know, we’ve never struggled to meet our responsibilities as they relate to personnel strength or performance readiness. We’ve deployed a lot of units since 9/11, and every one of them has performed in an admirable fashion. It’s really on things that are outside of my control that end up challenging us in a bigger way. The most challenging aspect, at least in the last year and a half or so, has been uncertainty of the budget.
What would you say to Guard Soldiers about extending their service?
If you look back in history, there have been times when the Guard has been relied upon very heavily. There have been periods in our history when there has been total mobilization of the National Guard, but nothing that parallels how the Guard has been relied upon since 9/11—with recurring long deployments.
The Guard’s reputation has never been better than it is right now. When I go out and I talk to men and women in our formations, I try to put that in perspective for them. You are serving in a military force that is respected worldwide and serving at a time in history when we’re making history.
We continue to make history in the National Guard month after month. Take notice of that and know it’s a big deal. It’s not just doing something extra. It’s not just belonging and serving a hitch in the military. You’re doing so at a time of great reliance on the Guard, and you should be very proud.