Article by: ABBY SIMONS , Star Tribune Updated: February 20, 2015 – 11:48 PM
Gov. Mark Dayton was named Friday to a national forum of governors that will advise federal defense agencies on National Guard issues.
The appointment by President Obama marks the beginning of Dayton’s two-year term on the Council of Governors, which will advise the secretary of defense, secretary of homeland security and White House Homeland Security Council on National Guard matters and civil support missions. The council consists of 10 governors, five from each party, with two governors co-chairing. Their first meeting was scheduled for Friday.
Created in 2010, the council is a vehicle for governors and key federal officials to address National Guard issues, as well as homeland defense and defense support to civil authorities.
Dayton, who is currently in Washington D.C. for the National Governors Association meeting, had expressed interest in serving on the council, spokesman Matt Swenson said. In a statement, the governor said he was “honored” by the appointment.
“The men and women of the Minnesota National Guard serve selflessly on our behalf every day,” Dayton said. “We owe them gratitude and our very best efforts to support them in their mission.”
Dayton serves as commander in chief of the Minnesota National Guard, which is among the largest guard formations in the country, with more than 13,000 citizen-soldiers and air members, according to Col. Kevin Olson, a spokesman.
The guard’s 34th Infantry Division, known as the Red Bulls, was the longest-serving military unit of the Iraq War and also served longest during WWII. The Red Bulls were set to deploy to Liberia this spring for a six-month mission to assist in efforts battling Ebola, but the 300 soldiers were called off as the spread of the deadly virus subsided.
Maj. Gen. Richard Nash, adjutant general of the Minnesota National Guard, was also in Washington at the time of Dayton’s appointment. He called Dayton’s selection key in giving the Minnesota National Guard a voice on the national stage.
“The governor’s service on this important advisory council will give our state another means to advocate for the needs of our service members and their families, and to support the mission and objectives of the Minnesota National Guard,” Nash said in a statement.
Dayton has reached out to the Guard and veterans since taking office more than four years ago. He has made hiring veterans for state jobs a priority, particularly those returning from combat.
Minnesota National Guard members escort Dayton for every State of the State address.
During his 2012 speech, Dayton said that nearly one-quarter of the 3,000 Minnesota guardsmen and women serving in Kuwait at the time would be unemployed when they returned.
“After they all served our country heroically, 22 percent of them won’t have jobs. That is shameful,” he said, noting that unemployment among all Minnesota veterans was roughly double the state average.
After that speech, Dayton sent a special team from the Guard and the Department of Employment and Economic Development to Kuwait to help soldiers line up jobs before they got home. Minnesota is the only state in the nation to ever send assistance of this kind to soldiers stationed abroad.
The Minnesota National Guard Employment Resource Team provided job search training to nearly 1,100 soldiers from 10 states who were stationed in Kuwait. Because of that effort, the unemployment rate among returning Minnesota soldiers fell from 28 percent to just 1.3 percent, according to the state.
Dayton’s fellow council members include Govs. Dan Malloy of Connecticut, Terry Branstad of Iowa, Rick Snyder of Michigan, Jay Nixon of Missouri, Steve Bullock of Montana, Brian Sandoval of Nevada, Bill Haslam of Tennessee, Terry McAuliffe of Virginia and Matt Mead of Wyoming.
In addition to his new appointment, Dayton serves on the National Governors Association’s Executive Committee and Education and Workforce Committee.
Abby Simons • 651-925-5043