Nebraska has thousands of men and women who are members of the National Guard and I salute each one for the tremendous contribution and sacrifice them and their families make for America.
Yet too often, the role of the Guard, both Army and Air in securing our nation against foreign enemies receives less than their due. Also, too often the contributions the Guard makes to secure our homeland are overlooked.
Speaking to the National Guard Association Conference banquet this past weekend in Nebraska I thought back to my two terms as governor in the 1990s and had to call upon the Guard several times to help the state respond to floods, windstorms and a major ice storm.
They did a superb job leading rescues, providing security, setting up emergency generating power and much more.
That was in an era when the Guard was viewed by many Americans as mainly a "weekend warrior" force.
The 9/11 terrorist attacks changed life in America in many ways, and helped usher in new responsibilities and demands for the National Guard, transforming them from a strategic reserve into an operational force.
During my nearly 12 years in the Senate, I've tried to keep the needs of the National Guard clearly in mind pushing for improvements to battlefield equipment, training, survivor's benefits, health care services, and to elevate the head of the National Guard to equal status with the heads of other branches of our military.
Never again will Guard members head into danger zones without everything they need to succeed in their mission.
Having such a well-trained and capable operational reserve is a necessity to meet the demands placed these days on our military.
We cannot forget the National Guard's responsibilities for responding to crises at home. Whether natural or man-made, the National Guard is instrumental in preparing and responding such as they did in recent flooding.
To help answer home state commitments, I was pleased to work in partnership to help bring a new Joint Force headquarters to Nebraska. It will bring together under one roof the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency, Nebraska National Guard, and the Nebraska State Patrol.
Our partnership also improved facilities at Offutt Air Force Base. Today there's a new control tower, a renovated runway, a worldwide weather station and an outstanding child care facility, and a new U.S. Strategic Command headquarters will soon take shape.
In the future, given our budget problems, military leaders will need to make smart, tough choices to get the most out of what we can afford.
Even as changes come about, we must remain dedicated to all members of the military, active and reserve, veterans and families. We must ensure that they get the very best in training, equipment, health care and vital family programs.
The Guard must remain a vital force protecting America's national security interests at home and abroad.