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June 18, 2020

SASC Chairman Inhofe Questions Nominees About National Guard Recruiting, COVID-19 Vaccines

U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, questioned  witnesses today at a committee nomination hearing. Witnesses included Lieutenant General Daniel R. Hokanson, nominated to be Chief of the National Guard Bureau, and General Gustave F. Perna, nominated to be Chief Operating Officer of Project Warp Speed. 

Inhofe: I’m going to start with you, General Hokanson. The biggest problem that we have that I’ve seen and we’ve experienced is retention and recruiting. In fiscal year ’18, we were not able to meet our goals; we got 97.6 percent. And then in fiscal year ’19, we had kind of the same situation. Now it has to be more difficult now with what you’ve gone through with the COVID. The word gets out. It’s a lot of hard work — recruiting and retention has to be more difficult now than it was. So if we’re unable to meet our goals in fiscal year ‘18 and ’19, are you confident that something has changed and you’d be able to do that now? And if so, what is it?

Hokanson: Senator, thank you for the opportunity to address that important question. Chairman, when I look at the National Guard, if you go back prior to COVID in February, we had one of our best recruiting months in the past five years. Obviously, since COVID-19, our ability for our recruiters to interact with potential recruits has been greatly reduced. However, we’ve really leveraged the Internet and other social media to reach out to those individuals. Now, if you look at March, April, and May: March, we were still at 99 percent, April and May had descended below that. When you look at the remaining months of the year — July, August, September — they’re usually our lower recruiting months, but from what I’m hearing from our recruiters, when they’ve seen the great work that our National Guardsmen have done with respect to COVID-19 and other events, they feel like that they’ll be able to make up a lot of that — the shortages. However, it will be close for us to get there by the end of the year.

Inhofe: You mentioned you met the goals in February. Did you do anything different then than you did subsequent to that?

Hokanson: No, sir, it’s a continual — well, we work at our marketing with both the active Army and Air Force, and looking at using social media to get in contact with potential recruits, that’s been very beneficial.

Inhofe: OK, I do have another question if there’s time, but I have a question for General Perna. It’s a very ambitious program that we’re talking about doing — everybody up here knows that, and people are concerned All the expectations on the victory of this program are predicated on the assumption that were going to have the necessary vaccine by year-end. I’d like to have you give us your assurance, if you have assurance, that we’re going to have it by then, and what that is based on. Would you do that for us?

Perna: Chairman, what I thought was an aspirational goal 30 days ago when I was announced by the president, I’ve recently come to the conclusion that it is more and more likely to occur. I believe this is so based on the updates I’ve received and the partnerships that we’re doing with industry. Their efforts to get out in front of this problem and their presentations to myself and Dr. Slaoui have indicated that they do have the right formula to produce, to execute clinical trials, to mass produce for the nation and then distribute accordingly. At this time, what we’re still working our way through, of course, is that we must make sure that science leads us to our conclusions and that we assess the risk accordingly so that we can determine the effectiveness of the vaccine — because it must be safe first and foremost and then effective. Once trials are concluded and the FDA makes a decision, we will have better grounds to understand how much can be distributed and when.

Inhofe: Well, you know, General Perna, you know more about the progress that’s being made than probably anyone that’s at the dais up here. So it’s reassuring to me to hear that you’re confident in that, and we thank you for that.Just one quick question for you, General Hokanson. These guys, they’ve been overworked for the past three months. Have you learned anything from that, that gives you some hope that will have others wanting to follow in those footsteps?

Hokanson: Chairman, thank you for the question. When I look over the last three months and all that we’ve asked our Guardsmen to do and still perform all their missions overseas, I think they’ve proven that they’re just a tremendous value to America and they’re some amazing American men and women in our communities who volunteer to do this. I think going forward their experiences, I think a lot of them have really appreciated the opportunity to help within their communities. I think it’s going to help our recruiting and retention and I think it’s going to help retain them within our formations.

Inhofe: That’s good, and I think that’s right. We love them all — let them know that.

Click here to watch Inhofe’s opening statement.

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