SMYRNA — From disaster relief to fighting the flow of drugs in the state, Maj. Gen. Thomas Carden says the agencies he commands have crucial roles across the state of Georgia and outside the Peach State’s borders.
Speaking to the Smyrna Area Council on Thursday morning as the new adjutant general — the state’s senior military officer who oversees the Georgia Army National Guard, Georgia Air National Guard and Georgia State Defense Force — Carden said he detests the term “weekend warriors” that those of his generation coined.
“I’m hard to offend … but that term is offensive to me, personally and as a professional,” Carden said. “If you go to our headquarters … on that wall, you’ll see 42 faces that were in your National Guard and never came home. They’re not up there on (just) weekends, so ‘weekend warrior’ is not a term I appreciate. Those young men and women, they gave it all, and they’re not just dead on weekends.”
Minutes after several dozen business professionals spent their breakfast hour networking, Carden said his department’s efforts to respond to a natural or man-made disaster — “think the worst day in Georgia, somebody does something catastrophic or Mother Nature, like we’ve had recently, knocks down a bunch of trees, knocks out the power, blows the roof off your house” — are year-round.
“We can’t start exchanging business cards on the day we have a disaster. We work for that every single day and (with) our interagency partners,” he said. “You name the utility, you name the entity, whether it’s fire departments or HAZMAT responses. When the Centers for Disease Control, for example, gets a white powder envelope — I thought it was a prank call to be honest with you — but when I first became the commander of the Army Guard a few years ago, they called me from the CDC and said, ‘We’ve got a white powder envelope here, and we need your civil support team to come tell us what it is.’”
If a tornado falls out of the sky, Carden added, Georgians expect the response to take a little bit of time.
“But a hurricane? We can see it coming for five days,” he said, adding that the department gets staged as early as possible to assist power companies, clear road and get life back to normal.
“For example, the Port of Savannah, when we go down and support that, if we can bring the Port of Savannah back on one day sooner, one day quicker, it more than pays for us, like five times.”
With the help of $12 million in state funding and about $400 million from federal government, Carden says his department has about a billion dollars in economic impact.
Beyond the economic benefits, he says, are the results of the Georgia National Guard Counterdrug Task Force, which is manned by Georgia Army and Air Guardsmen. The task force, he said, has taken $55 million in money, drugs and vehicle seizures off the street.
“What I wish I could measure is how many funerals don’t get held and how many jail cells that you’re not paying for. Your Counterdrug Task Force is partnering with every three-letter agency you can think of,” Carden said. “They’re out there saving lives every single day.”
Carden concluded his talk by suggesting ways the public can aid those who serve their state, such as Hire Our Heroes (hireourheroes.org) and Work For Warriors (workforwarriorsga.org) which help connect service members to careers, to the Georgia National Guard Family Support Foundation which provides emergency relief assistance during times of financial crisis to the members and families of the Guard and full-time federal/state civilian employees of the Georgia Department of Defense living in Georgia.
“It’s our responsibility to support them. We need to get to know them, (and Carden’s) willing, as all of our guys and gals (are), to come outside that fence, but we need to come listen,” said Pam Younker, community development officer for Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. Yonker serves on the Air Force Chief of Staff’s Civic Leadership Council and has chaired the Cobb Chamber’s Honorary Commanders Association.
Because she has served with Honorary Commanders, Younker said she has often heard the facts and figures Carden shared Thursday morning.
“But every time I hear it,” she said, “I’m overwhelmed because of the responsibility given to our adjutant general.”
Carden’s address was “very encouraging,” said Smyrna City Councilwoman Maryline Blackburn.
“Being a military brat myself, I understand the importance of what our military does and means for not only our city (and) state, but our country,” Blackburn said, “And any support that we can as a nation can give to our military, we definitely should do that.