Calling her "a friend of the Guard," the president of the National Guard Association of the United States (NGAUS) today awarded Congresswoman Mazie K. Hirono (HI-02) one of the organization's highest honors, the Charles Dick Medal of Merit, for her long record of advocacy on behalf of the National Guard.
"The Charles Dick Award is given only to elected officials who go above and beyond to support the readiness of the National Guard. Congresswoman Hirono certainly has gone well beyond most in supporting us not just as a member of Congress but in every state position as well. She has truly set the example for others to follow," said retired Major General Gus L. Hargett, the NGAUS president.
The Adjutant General of the State of Hawaii Major General Darryl Wong, in presenting the award said, "Congresswoman Mazie Hirono has given exceptional support not only to our local guardsmen but also nationwide that will have a lasting effect on the future of the National Guard. She has had a long history of championing legislation that provides caring support of our soldiers, airmen, and their families."
Congresswoman Hirono's work on behalf of the guard includes helping to secure a federal commitment of $5.4 million for design of a new training facility at the Hawaii Army National Guard's Kalaeloa location. The facility will also include Veterans Affairs and Defense Department offices which will help improve guardsmen's and their families' access to services.
She has also worked to make college more affordable for members of the Guard by supporting their inclusion in the Post 9/11 GI Bill and eliminating the three-year deferment limit as well as interest on the federal student loans of members serving active duty.
Thanks to Congresswoman Hirono's work, nearly 6,000 service members in Hawaii used the Post 9/11 GI bill in 2011, including National Guard members.
"I've worked closely with Congresswoman Hirono on education issues since even before she was in Congress," said Major Mark Takai, president of the Hawaii National Guard Association. "That same passion she has for strengthening our schools also extends to making sure our service members can get to college. She understands that our country's obligation to our veterans means ensuring a smooth transition from military to civil service and she sees college as the pathway to that transition. That's why she has fought to make sure that our country keeps that same commitment to the Guard."
Protecting the job security of guardsmen has also been a priority of Congresswoman Hirono's. She's cosponsored legislation that allows guardsmen and Reservists to recover the paid leave they earned at their jobs prior to being deployed as well as requiring the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to comply with the same federal laws as the private sector and give guardsmen who are called up for active duty an opportunity to get their jobs back or be offered a similar position on their return.
Congresswoman Hirono has also worked to elevate the voice of the National Guard in the highest levels of national security decision making by backing historic legislation granting the Chief of the National Guard Bureau full membership of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
In addition, she has been a long supporter of the Hawaii National Guard Youth Challenge Academy for at-risk youth. This program is one very close to Congresswoman Hirono's heart as she understands the challenges these students face. She has attended many of the program's graduation ceremonies since she was Lt. Governor and considers this program one of the Guard's greatest investments to Hawaii's future.
"Congresswoman Hirono understands and greatly respects the key role our Guard plays in our national security. She also has a deep appreciation for the integral role the Guard has in our community and has been a strong supporter of the Youth Challenge Academy," said retired Colonel Ray Jardine, president of Native Hawaiian Veterans and a co-nominator of Congresswoman Hirono for this award. "But even more, she knows it's her kuleana to support our veterans. She's worked to help pass legislation tackling unacceptable unemployment and homeless rates among our veterans, keeping the commitments that our country made to them."
"It means the world to me to have the support of Congresswoman Mazie Hirono fighting for our benefits in Congress. It gives me great pleasure to recognize her efforts and contributions to our youth in the Youth Challenge Program, giving them a new outlook on life and a fresh start," said Lieutenant Colonel Duke Ota, past president of HNGA. "This recognition is a small token of our appreciation from the Hawaii National Guard Officers Association. Congratulations, Congresswoman Hirono on a job well done."
"Congresswoman Mazie Hirono has provided the opportunity to thousands of Soldiers, Airman, their spouses and children to attend college and benefit from the GI Bill," said Colonel Rusty Spray, past president of HNGA and a co-nominator of Hirono for the medal of merit. "Her continuous support to the military, national guard, and our families has made her a trusted advocate for the future of the Hawaii Military Force".
"I am truly humbled and honored to be nominated and recognized today by NGAUS," said Congresswoman Hirono. "Some of our nation's greatest patriots are friends and neighbors who serve in the National Guard. Whether on a counterterrorism mission in Afghanistan or responding to natural disasters, guardsmen stand ready each day to keep our families safe, sometimes losing their lives in the ultimate sacrifice.
"Supporting our service members and their families, whether during deployment, during the transition back home, or as they settle into civilian life as veterans, is an obligation I take personally as a Member of Congress. Just as the National Guard is indeed "always ready, always there' for Hawaii and the rest of our nation, I will never stop working to assist them and all who serve our country in uniform. They deserve no less."