WASHINGTON – Air Force Gen. Craig McKinley, the first National Guard chief to wear four stars and sit among the Pentagon’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, retired Friday, handing his responsibilities to Army Gen. Frank Grass in a Pentagon ceremony.
In McKinley’s four years as chief, the National Guard completed a transition from a strategic reserve to a fully integrated part of the operational military, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said.
“When I travel to the war zone, when I travel abroad, I cannot tell the difference between guardsmen and the active-duty force,” Panetta said. “And that’s the way it should be.”
Panetta acknowledged there had been resistance among the joint chiefs to the National Guard’s elevation by Congress, but said McKinley handled the transition deftly, giving key assistance in formulating the new national defense strategy, among other things.
Grass, until Friday the deputy commander of U.S. Northern Command now leads “a national treasure,” Panetta said. “I am confident that Gen. Grass will be a strong advocate for the National Guard’s most valuable asset – its soldiers, its airmen and their families.”