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Adjutant General testifies for the Keeping our Washington National Guard Strong Act legislation

The Washington National Guard is not immune to recruitment challenges facing the U.S. military, falling more than 400 personnel short of the state’s assigned end strength.

“Over the last five years, we haven’t met the National Guard Bureau or the Department of Defense personnel number mandates,” said Maj. Gen. Bret Daugherty, the adjutant general during a testimony to the Washington state legislature on January 10, 2024. “While we’ve been able to successfully meet both our federal mission requirements and respond to any state disaster, it would certainly be easier if we had more people.”

Daugherty is asking the state Legislature to support House Bill 1869 and Senate Bill 5803, the ‘Keeping our Washington Guard Strong’ Act. If passed, the legislation would create the Washington National Guard member referral incentive program. The purpose of the program is to incentivize and maximize peer-to-peer recruiting that results in new members who join the Washington National Guard by providing a referral bonus to current members who make a successful referral.

“We know that referral programs that offer financial incentives work,” Daugherty said. “That’s why many private-sector companies do it for talent acquisition. It’s why the state of Minnesota offers members of their national guard a financial incentive for referrals. In fact, we do it here (in Washington) at other state agencies – to include the Washington State Patrol.”

Under the act, a Washington National Guard member may provide the identity and contact information of a person who the member believes would be an appropriate recruitment prospect. Upon the completed accession of a referred person and to the extent sufficient funds are available, the state Military Department would distribute a referral bonus to the member who provided the successful referral.

Retaining current members is also a priority.

“Holding on to a skilled workforce can also be challenging. These are our mid-career soldiers and airmen, our mid-level managers and crew chiefs that are on the ground leading young folks to successfully accomplish state and federal missions,” said Daugherty. “In most cases, they are eligible for a federal re-enlistment bonus. However, there are some who are not eligible based on federal goals and objectives. We’d sure like to keep them – and think we can with a similar state bonus.”

Under the proposal, the Washington National Guard would be able to offer state-supported re-enlistment bonuses for those members who extend their term of service but are ineligible for federal re-enlistment bonuses. Daugherty anticipates it would benefit approximately 125 servicemembers.

“This bill is drafted after model legislation that was discussed at the National Conference of State Legislators and aligns with many of the best practices for recruiting and retention with the public and private sector.”

If passed by both the State House of Representatives and Senate, the bill will go to the Governor for signature and passage into law at the end of the 2024 legislative session.