Major General (Ret.) David A. Sprynczynatyk and Brigadier General (Ret.) David B. Anderson talk about their careers in the North Dakota National Guard

This spring, two recently retired generals from the North Dakota National Guard met at the University of Mary to discuss the Guard’s past and future, and reflect on their military careers.

Major General David A. Sprynczynatyk retired in December after serving as the Adjutant General of the North Dakota National Guard since August 2006. He oversaw the command of all deployments of National Guard soldiers and airmen in the post-9/11 global war on terrorism.

Hosting the discussion was Brigadier General David B. Anderson, who is the coordinator for Military Student Services at the University of Mary. Brig. Gen. Anderson retired in 2014 as Commander of the North Dakota Army National Guard.

Major General (Ret.) David A. Sprynczynatyk served as the Adjutant General for the North Dakota National Guard from 2006 through 2015, and then retired with 43 years of service. He commanded 4,100 National Guard soldiers and airmen and also served as the Director of the North Dakota Department of Emergency Services, which includes the Division of Homeland Security and the Division of State Radio Communications. The general’s military service began in 1972 as a photographer with the North Dakota Army National Guard. In 1978, he was commissioned as a first lieutenant and served as the civil engineer, operations officer and company commander for the 164th Engineer Group. In 2000, he became the North Dakota National Guard’s Assistant Adjutant General for Army and then served as the Director of Logistics, National Guard Bureau, from 2003 to 2006, when he became Adjutant General.

Maj. Gen. Sprynczynatyk’s awards and decorations include the Meritorious Service Medal, the Army Commendation Medal and the Humanitarian Service Medal. His state awards include the North Dakota Legion of Merit.

Maj. Gen. Sprynczynatyk graduated from Wilton High School in Wilton, North Dakota, in 1968 and from North Dakota State University in 1972 with a BS in Civil Engineering. He graduated from the U.S. Army War College in 1998. In 1972, he began working for the State Water Commission and became the State Engineer in 1989. He also served as North Dakota’s Director of Transportation from 2001 to 2006. Maj. Gen. Sprynczynatyk is a registered Professional Engineer and served as president of the National Water Resources Association (2001-02).Currently he serves as president of the Western Association of State Highway Transportation Officials and vice president of the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials.

Brigadier General (Ret.) David B. Anderson served as Commander of the North Dakota Army National Guard from 2011 to 2014, after which he retired with 34 years of service.

Brig. Gen. Anderson was commissioned as a second lieutenant in 1980 and then served in various command assignments, including company and battalion command. The highlight of his military career was deploying the 142nd Engineer Combat Battalion to Iraq from April 2003 to April 2004 as Battalion Commander. He then served as Commander of the 68th Troop Command, Vice Chief of Staff for Operations at Joint Force Headquarters, and Chief of Staff, Army Component. His military awards and decorations include the Federal Legion of Merit, the Bronze Star Medal, the Iraq Campaign Medal and the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal.

In 1979, he graduated from North Dakota State University with a BS in Science and Math and from the U.S. Army War College in 2007 with an MS in Strategic Studies. Brig. Gen. Anderson currently works as the coordinator for Military Student Services at the University of Mary.

• Brig. Gen. Anderson: What are the most significant changes that you’ve seen with the National Guard over your career?

• • Maj. Gen. Sprynczynatyk: The most important change is the fact that 40 years ago, the National Guard was considered the strategic reserve of the Army and Air Force. That meant we trained for war, but the fact was that we would be called as a last resort to support the active component. Since then, the Guard has been transformed into a truly operational force. You can see the proof since 9/11 in that today’s soldiers and airmen are better equipped and trained—far more prepared to go to war.

And here in North Dakota since 9/11, we’ve actually mobilized and deployed more than 6,800 soldiers and airmen around the world to support the global war on terrorism. Today, we are no longer that strategic reserve.

Forty years ago, the likelihood of being deployed was slim during an individual’s enlistment. Today, when our young men and women join the National Guard, they know with a fair degree of certainty that they’ll deploy at some point during enlistment. Since 9/11, we’ve deployed thousands of our young men and women, and they’ve done a tremendous job, proving that as a National Guard, as a reserve of the Army and Air Force, we can step right in and carry on the warfight shoulder-to-shoulder with those soldiers, those airmen, who are active 365 days a year.

• Gen. Anderson: I agree, the big change is that now we are an operational force. As the Commander of the 142nd Engineer Battalion in Iraq from 2003 to 2004, I observed the integration—particularly in the engineering realm—of the National Guard with the active forces. We integrated seamlessly, which was a great example of partnership. Certainly the performance of our North Dakota guardsmen was outstanding.

• • Gen. Sprynczynatyk: In the early days of the war on terror, as the first units deployed—your battalion, for one—the expectation was that when our soldiers came home, up to half of them would leave the Guard immediately. But that never materialized. Our soldiers wanted to continue to serve their country, knowing they might be deployed once again.

What’s really interesting is that more than 75 percent of guardsmen enlisted since the start of the global war on terrorism. That’s a strong indication of the patriotism of our young men and women in uniform. They know why they’re joining the National Guard.

• Gen. Anderson: And our recruiting has enjoyed great success.

• • Gen. Sprynczynatyk: Over the last decade, North Dakota leads the nation in terms of recruiting individuals on a per-capita basis. The most important aspect of recruiting is helping people understand this as an opportunity to serve their country. North Dakotans respond at about four times the national average, which is a strong statement of patriotism. Let’s not forget that less than one-half of 1 percent of our nation is fighting to protect our freedoms.

• Gen. Anderson: A crucially important component of the National Guard is our deep connection to the community. We have facilities in communities throughout the nation.

• • Gen. Sprynczynatyk: Lt. Gen. Blum, who was Chief of the National Guard Bureau (2003-08), commented that when you activate the Guard, you activate the country. There are well over 3,000 armories and other facilities nationwide where soldiers and airmen gather for weekend and annual training. These citizen-soldiers are the brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, cousins and friends of the community. The National Guard enjoys that strong connection.

Since 9/11, the North Dakota National Guard has lost 14 soldiers in the war on terror. As senior leaders, you become very close to the families of the fallen. Every family is concerned that their loved ones, who gave their lives for this country, will be forgotten. I tell them we will remember the sacrifice their loved ones and their families made. On September 11, 2009, we dedicated a memorial at Fraine Barracks in Bismarck, honoring North Dakota service members killed during global war on terrorism. There is a sign at the bottom of the Battle Cross that says, “We will never forget.”

• Gen. Anderson: Another unique aspect of the Guard, which became particularly evident during your tenure, is its dual role. We also perform state missions during domestic emergencies, most memorably during the floods in 1997, 2009 and 2011.

• • Gen. Sprynczynatyk: When the Guard isn’t part of the warfight under the president’s command, we serve the state governor. Nationwide, governors realize the value of the Guard in providing protection for lives and property, and supporting state residents in time of need. In recent decades, the North Dakota National Guard has been called out dozens of times during floods and fires, and after tornadoes, ice storms, snowstorms and other emergencies. A good example occurred at the University of Mary last April when fires burned out of control south of Bismarck. As the winds shifted and started to blow towards the university, our Black Hawk helicopters were in the air, within an hour or two, dropping water to suppress the fire.

• Gen. Anderson: Also unique to the Guard is the cooperation between states. When we had the floods here in 2009 and 2011, you were able to call on other states and ask for their assistance. Neighboring states sent equipment, materiel, and soldiers and airmen to support our efforts.

• • Gen. Sprynczynatyk: It’s called the Emergency Management Compact. The Guard is always ready nationwide as a critical asset for domestic operations and homeland security. What many people don’t realize is that the National Guard is the oldest branch of our military. The first militia was called together in Massachusetts in 1636 and that became the roots of the National Guard. Our country established an active Army, Air Force, Navy and Marines with the National Guard as the backbone of our nation’s defense because of our ability to be part of the warfight if necessary and to serve domestically.

• Gen. Anderson: The current federal budget challenges have generated controversy over the future balance of active forces versus the Guard. Do you have any insight about what’s going on?

• • Gen. Sprynczynatyk: From a fiscal standpoint, our military needs to be made up of both active and reserve components. The National Guard costs only a sixth of what it costs to maintain active component forces. We train to the same standards as active personnel, but for much less expense.

When we’re called upon to go to war, we complete the training in a matter of weeks and then we’re able to be engaged as much as those serving on active duty. Also important is that guardsmen are citizen-soldiers. They have civilian job experience and skill sets to add to their military experience and skill sets.

• Gen. Anderson: Yes, the National Guard is such a significant player in national defense because of the ability to leverage civilian skills. When we were deployed to Iraq, our engineering unit had the advantage of having soldiers who had performed the same tasks in their civilian careers. They were contractors, engineers, electricians and plumbers with tremendous CVs. They performed better than anyone else. The same concept applies to the National Guard’s new cyberdefense mission in partnership with the active component. Our soldiers already have IT, cybersecurity and national security experience.

• • Gen. Sprynczynatyk: Also in North Dakota, we have been remotely piloting drones around the world. The significance of this is that we aren’t putting soldiers and airmen in harm’s way. We execute reconnaissance and combat support missions literally from thousands of miles away. That’s a first step in using technology and robotics to fight without risking casualties.

• Gen. Anderson: As well, the technology is scalable. In land operations, the Army uses remotely controlled robots for anti-Improvised Explosive Device detection, which is a tremendous asset for our soldiers. There is great potential for additional remote-controlled and autonomous weapons systems to be integrated into our units to protect warfighters. This changes the nature of warfighting and recruiting. Increasingly technology will protect soldiers, and this will require that future warfighters become more and more technically proficient.

The Memorial to the Fallen is located at Fraine Barracks, the headquarters of the North Dakota National Guard in Bismarck, ND.

 • • Gen. Sprynczynatyk: There’s no question about it. In the future, technological intelligence will be even more critical, and we will look for young men and women with those aptitudes and skills.

• Gen. Anderson: What many people don’t realize is that the National Guard plays a significant role in the Department of Defense’s ability to build strategic partnerships worldwide. It’s truly an exchange of information, training and culture.

• • Gen. Sprynczynatyk: Over the last 25 years, the National Guard has become a part of the State Partnership Program. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, our country was struggling with how to build relationships with former Soviet republics. In response, partnerships developed between state National Guards and various countries. As soldiers, it’s very easy for officers and sergeants of one country to talk to those in another nation because we understand our purpose, our focus and our mission. Since the early 1990s, the program has grown to 70 partnerships with 76 countries worldwide.

About 12 years ago, we initiated a partnership with Ghana in West Africa, which has given our soldiers and airmen an opportunity to build a diplomatic relationship with Ghanaian peers. We travel to each other’s countries to share resources, training and ideas on leadership, as we learn about the other culture. These exchanges transcend military-to-military exchanges to include civilian agencies and businesses. The success of the Ghanaian partnership led to establishing partnerships with two neighboring countries, Togo and Benin, two years ago. I’m proud that North Dakota is the only state with partnerships with three countries.

• Gen. Anderson: Often I’ve heard from commanders in other branches of the U.S. military that the reputation of the North Dakota National Guard has been outstanding wherever they have served in the world.

• • Gen. Sprynczynatyk: I traveled to Iraq and Afghanistan several times and when I talked to commanding officers, they had nothing but praise for the professionalism, knowledge, experience and skills of our soldiers and airmen. We wear shoulder patches—the straight arrow for the Army Guard or the Happy Hooligan patch of the Air Guard—signifying that we’re part of the North Dakota National Guard. These patches are well-known throughout the military, and I have been complimented often for the excellence of our guardsmen. †

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360 Review presents in-depth inquiry, analysis and reflection on important issues, trends and events happening in and affecting this region; there is a special focus on North Dakota, where we are located.