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SMDC senior leader discusses his career path, unique role of National Guard in command's mission


PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. – Brig. Gen. Tim Lawson, deputy commanding general for operations, U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command, addresses the command's multicomponent workforce during a safety event. (U.S. Army photo by Dottie White)


PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. – Brig. Gen. Tim Lawson, deputy commanding general for operations, U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command, addresses the command's multicomponent workforce during a safety event. (U.S. Army photo by Dottie White)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- A U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command leader recently sat down and answered questions regarding his career path in the National Guard.

Brig. Gen. Tim Lawson became the deputy commanding general for operations, USASMDC/ARSTRAT, in June 2017. This includes oversight of two brigades, the Army Astronaut Detachment, satellite communications system support, Joint Friendly Forces Tracking, radar support to space and intelligence operations and the operational command post when activated.

Being a multicomponent command, SMDC/ARSTRAT has Soldiers from the active Army, Army National Guard and Army Reserves as well as civilians and contractors.

Q: Most people think National Guard Soldiers serve in their home state. How do you and other SMDC/ARSTRAT National Guard Soldiers move from state to state?

A: If there’s a job opportunity in another state, then you can enact an interstate transfer. There are opportunities to do that for National Guardsmen on a full-time role as an active guard person or as a traditional guard person. I applied to be the commander of the 100th Missile Defense Brigade while I was a Soldier in Wisconsin. I was a Title 32 Soldier, which means I was a member of the Wisconsin Army National Guard. When I came to the position in Colorado, I had to transition to what they call Title 10, and then I basically belonged to the National Guard Bureau. If you are a Title 10 Soldier, you can transfer to positions anywhere in the world as the National Guard has worldwide opportunities.

Q: How does that affect career opportunities, promotion, etc.?

A: There are promotion opportunities in both areas, so I was fortunate to be here and get recommended for promotion from the brigade commander all the way up to the deputy commanding general for operations for SMDC/ARSTRAT. It just came down to my skill sets. Ground-based midcourse defense is about half of our mission at Army Space and Missile Defense Command and was a large part of my selection for promotion. The National Guard has a finite number of general officer billets that they fill worldwide. Some of these are coded for National Guard officers and others are active duty billets that are periodically filled by National Guard officers.

Q: What made you want to leave Wisconsin and apply for the job at the 100th Missile Defense Brigade?

A: Missile defense has always interested me, and I saw the position as an opportunity. I was commanding an infantry brigade, and my command time was coming to an end. I wanted to look for a change in what I was doing. It’s kind of ironic. I actually applied for a position in ground-based midcourse defense back when I was a major, and I didn’t get selected. I always kind of joke that ‘you didn’t let me come in as a major, but I’m going to come in as a brigade commander now.’ It really comes down to unique opportunities and where I feel I can contribute.

Q: Earlier in your career, you served as an infantry officer and later commanded at the brigade combat team level. What was the transition like for you becoming the commander of the 100th Missile Defense Brigade?

A: It is far different going from infantry to ground-based midcourse defense – very strategic, a lot of visibility, a very important mission. Don’t get me wrong, the Infantry Brigade Combat Team is an extremely important and demanding mission too, but totally different. There is only one unit that does ground-based midcourse defense in the United States Army, and that’s the 100th Missile Defense Brigade. So it’s not like I can bounce around GMD units and have that experience growing up. Every person who operates that system has to go through the ground-based midcourse defense qualification course. I took that course, and it really gave me a foundation and background before I physically took command. It gave me the critical skill sets I needed to understand the mission and be able to enforce that as a brigade commander. Also, at the brigade command level, you start getting into the management and leadership piece. It’s really focused on making sure everybody understands your intent, and you are able to do the mission. That really is a leadership skill set. It’s not dependent on understanding the technical piece of things, although that is important in any leadership position.

Q: What was the transition like for you becoming the DCGO for all of SMDC/ARSTRAT?

A: As the deputy commanding general for operations, I have the missile defense brigade underneath me and also the space brigade. So I had half of this down. It’s taken me about eight months to understand the other half. It’s a fascinating dynamic, and it’s incredible what we do with space. I think I’m well versed enough now to manage the operational piece of both of those elements, but they both took some time to transition. Our 1st Space brigade is the only one in the Army that does its type of mission. We have two unique and one-of-a-kind mission sets. We’re the only ones who do it, so it’s tough to be able to grow up into these organizations when there is only one location you can do it at.

Q: Many people think of National Guard and Army Reserve members as “weekend warriors.” How do you respond to this?

A: National Guard and Army Reserve Soldiers are just as capable as active component. They’ve proven that since 9/11. We’ve used them extensively in many deployments, and each state has been taxed very hard with the wartime mission. They’ve proven themselves in GMD, space and any mission for which we utilize the National Guard. There really is no difference there. Active components and Reserve components are virtually seamless in this organization. Today’s National Guard is far different than what we would have seen two decades ago.

Q: And are there any specific advantages to using Army Reserve Soldiers for these type of missions?

A: When it comes to performing the GMD mission, it’s always been a National Guard mission, which provides an advantage because the ground fire control system operates 24/7/365. It’s a very technical system. You can come in and learn it, but having the stability the National Guard provides is a bonus. These Soldiers belong to the state of Colorado, Alaska or California. They tend to stay in those positions a little longer than most active duty members. A typical active duty Soldier will rotate in for three years and then move out to their next duty station. In this case, National Guard Soldiers come in, and they may be there four to six years. We’ve got guys who have rotated in and out within the state of Colorado back into the ground-based midcourse defense mission numerous times. They continue to bring that expertise that they already have back into the unit. We teach them the science, but they really have to be there long enough to learn the art of the system. The longer they are there, the better they are at performing. The National Guard provides that kind of stability. So I would argue that they are in a much better advantage point than most active duty Soldiers with performing this mission. Homeland defense is a core competency of the National Guard, and this mission is exactly that.

Q: How can a National Guard officer command Title 32 National Guard Soldiers and Title 10 Active Component and Reserve Soldiers simultaneously, both in the U.S., and Overseas?

A: In the U.S., these two units – the 100th Missile Defense Brigade commander and the 49th Missile Defense Battalion commander – are dual status commanders. There is a presidential directive that says you can command a Title 32 Soldier and simultaneously command a Title 10 Soldier. The mission is a federal mission, so when these Soldiers are performing the ground-based midcourse defense mission – whether inside the Missile Defense Complex at Fort Greely, Alaska, or the Missile Defense Element at Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado – they are performing a federal mission, or Title 10 duties. So, the Soldiers are dual status. The minute they walk in, they transition to Title 10 status. Any duties outside of the Title 10 duties fall within the Title 32 responsibilities, therefore there is a requirement for dual status.

Q: With regard to the 100th GMD, how can National Guard Soldiers serve exclusively as "full time/active duty," for a presidentially directed national defense mission? Is that normal?

A: This is not typical for the National Guard. There are only two units in the National Guard that are all full time. These are the 100th Missile Defense Brigade and the 49th Missile Defense Battalion. Typically, a National Guard battalion would have five or six full-time Soldiers dedicated to a unit of about 600 Soldiers. As you can see, that’s a big difference. Their job is to have everything ready to go for when they show up on the weekend or for the two-week annual training. That is their full-time role, whereas the 100th and 49th are all full time and filled by active Guard Reserve Soldiers.

Q: And why does the National Guard have this mission rather than the active component?

A: The brigades are multi-component here at Colorado Springs. There are active component Soldiers sitting side-by-side as part of the organizational structure. That’s another reason for a dual status commander. He has to be able to command them and perform all of the administrative functions required for the Title 10 side of the house too. My own personal thought on why we got it – ground-based midcourse defense was born in the early 2000s. It has matured to the point we are today. If you look at where we were at in the early 2000s, we were a nation at war with a lot of people engaged in Iraq and Afghanistan. And I think that when it came down to it, everybody felt that the National Guard was a better fit at that point, because the active component was extremely engaged. The other piece is, it really is a homeland defense mission, which is a core competency of the National Guard. That’s what we are here to do. I think when you put all of that together – having the continuity, a single component owning that mission, having the ability to maintain Soldiers who are there for lengths of time to do the mission and really become the experts, the homeland defense aspect, and throw in the fighting two theaters of war – that’s probably the rationale of why it went the way it did.

Q: Since SMDC is an Army Service Component Command, as opposed to a combatant command, its low-density/high-demand forces are spread across the globe. What leadership qualities are important to command such a diverse and geographically separated workforce?

A: I’ve had the opportunity to visit the forward-based radar sites, Joint Tactical Ground Station sites, and other austere locations. We put a lot responsibility on young majors and captains to do these jobs, and they are absolutely the key to doing it. We are very decentralized, so you really have to rely on those people at the lower levels to be able to do their job and do it well. You also have to rely on the battalion and brigade commanders to do their job very well. I think it really does come down to junior leaders – officers and noncommissioned officers – doing their job. We’re very fortunate because we have a lot of great leaders out there. They are doing good things, and because of that I’m really confident in what we do.

Q: As a National Guard Soldier, general officer, and deputy commander of space and missile defense forces around the globe, what do you think Americans need to know about the command?

A: On the Title 10 side of the house and the role that I perform, we organize, train and equip our space and missile defense Soldiers. I think that certainly maintains a good motivation piece when you are the only people doing missile defense, and you’re really the only people doing Army space. You have to get it right, so I think that keeps you going. The satellite communication mission is pretty amazing. I don’t think people know how much involvement the Army has in that mission. The bottom line is that if you want to talk on a satellite communications device or terminal, sooner or later you will go through SMDC/ARSTRAT. I don’t think people realize that. And if it’s wideband network, which is 70 percent of our communications as a military, it will absolutely go through us. You have to request it, and we have the guys who are operating the actual payload on the satellite. We have a team who are making sure that the president talks on any given day. That’s some pretty neat stuff. And then you look at the other mission sets we have such as the Mission Management Center, friendly force tracking – everything we do is in a global nature. The Ground-based Midcourse Defense mission is critical to homeland defense. This command is as important as it gets.

Q: What motivates you to continue to serve?

A: I think what motivates me to continue to serve is understanding how important GMD is. The motto is ‘300 defending 300 million.’ That’s a huge responsibility and an awesome responsibility. But it’s also a heavy burden to bear – knowing that we really only have one chance to get this right. There’s no do-overs in this game. So it really keeps you focused and on edge understanding that piece of it. Then you look at the space aspect of things and how fascinating that is – the things that we do. It’s pretty amazing. We are all over the world doing really amazing things. It’s pretty neat when you look at the command motto, ‘The never sets on USASMDC/ARSTRAT;’ and the map of what we do; where we have people located; and how we’re doing business. The sun will never set on us. It’s physically impossible. There really isn’t any other organization out there that can say that. They really can’t. And to be a part of that, it’s a privilege; it’s an honor; and it’s fun. So that’s why I’m here and I do what I do. There’s never a dull day.

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