Kirkland reflects on years as adjutant general
Nevada Appeal News Service
Maj. Gen. Cynthia Kirkland will relinquish her position Saturday as Nevada’s adjutant general in a military ceremony at the Nevada Air National Guard facility in Reno.
Without an explanation, Gov. Jim Gibbons opted to not renew Kirkland’s contract. A successor has yet to be named.
Dan Burns, the governor’s communications director, said Gibbons is being careful in the selection process and hasn’t completed it. He also said the governor will not be at the ceremony, but a letter written on Gibbons’ behalf is expected to be read.
The adjutant general, which is responsible for more than 4,000 airmen and soldiers in the Nevada National Guard, serves as the military chief of staff to the governor and is responsible for both the federal and state missions of the Nevada National Guard.
Recently, Kirkland sat down for an interview about her tenure as the state’s first female adjutant general and only the third woman ever appointed to that position in the nation.
Looking back at the last four years, do you have any regrets in serving as adjutant general?
Kirkland: I don’t have any regret. It’s been an incredible opportunity to serve the men and women in the National Guard and the citizens in the state of Nevada. It was never something I dreamt of as a young airman in the Guard. When asked to throw my name in, I did it without any expectations. I didn’t think I would be selected. I had sat down the governor (Kenny Guinn) and General (Giles) Vanderhoof (former adjutant general), and they felt I had the right kind of background and understanding of the issues that needed to be addressed.
Being the first woman adjutant general was a big step in the Nevada Guard. What kind of support have you received from both the Army and Air Guard during the past four years?
Kirkland: I have had overwhelming support. The majority of troops, especially the younger troops and airmen, grew up in an environment where gender is not an issue. The majority of career fields (for women) didn’t open up until 1971. With a volunteer force there are more opportunities for women.
What has been the hardest part of your job for the past four years?
Kirkland: Like the national scene, the political environment occurs in the military as well. We have to fight to get money. I was frustrated with the guidelines or lack of it but we got there eventually … also, keeping the Guard maintained at an operational level.
Sending young men and women to war, no doubt, has been a stressful part of the job. What have been your feelings on the men and women who have served overseas?
Kirkland: This is a different part of the job to send them off to other units. This ties back to frustration and the fight for resources. The National Guard has had to fight harder than the active components to get the same level of equipment, benefits. Don’t send daughters and sons to war unless all the resources are available and with the best equipment.
We just sent two units over. There’s been a change in the present training. They are sending us resources now, and we’re allowed to certify training before (soldiers and airmen) leave. There’s been a lot of money for resources for pre-mobilization training – individual and unit level training. And they combined with other states and we train together.
Many Guard members have remained in Nevada for one reason or another but have supported the efforts of those overseas. How would you describe their service and contributions?
Kirkland: There have been a small number of individuals who volunteer to serve in the armed forces and wear the uniform. Not all are in a position to go overseas. Whether ensuring troops are employed and ready or taking care of families, every single individual contributes to these efforts. This should never be diminished. All who remain behind pick up the slack. (Drilling guardsmen) are asked more frequently to come in and help. When state missions call, those individuals respond to the calls more frequently.
You have been the fourth Air Guard adjutant general during the past 25 years. The Army Guard would like to see one of their own n the adjutant general slot. Do you see that as a problem?
Kirkland: What’s important for us to consider is not the color of the uniform the individual wears but it’s whoever steps in the role and must be able to represent the Army and Air Guard. The person must be passionate for both services. What’s important is the quality of understanding and importance to undertake this role.
The Base Realignment and Closure Committee recommended sweeping changes in 2005 such as closing down the Hawthorne Army Depot and removing the C130s from the Nevada Air Guard. As adjutant general, you, along with many others, fought the changes. What was that period of time like?
Kirkland: It was exciting. It was an emotional roller coaster. We knew it was a horrible recommendation based on faulty data. We had a great team that was put together to identify shortfalls in the data. The entire Congressional delegation, particularly Sen. Harry Reid, were instrumental in getting visibility for our issues. We were trying to counter false information being spread around about opportunities that never existed. Hawthorne Army Deport got three BRAC commissioners to visit the state, and that gave us an opportunity to bring them to the Air Guard on our issues.
Looking back, what would you say were one or two of your greatest accomplishments, and what were one or two of your disappointments?
Kirkland: Prevailing on the BRAC decision and working with Brig. Gen. (Frank) Gonzales. We’ve been successful in seeing the growth in the Army Guard force structure in the state. Within two years the Guard has increased from 2,300 to 3,200 (troops).
Disappointment – It has been a constant battle to go into the theater and have the active Army not understand the culture of the Guard.
How disappointed were you when you were not reappointed to another four-year term?
It’s a four-year term. I knew that going into that and the possibility of (not getting a) renewal. We have a new governor, new vision. He wants to have his own team in place.
What are the greatest challenges facing the Guard during the next five years? Next 10 years?
Kirkland: Near term: The growing impact of constant mobilization, the increasing demand for state support. Near term: Budget issues. State and national levels impact the availability of resources and equipment and all things for personnel. We need to maintain an acceptable level of readiness. It’s been hard to fight for the Guard’s share.
Long term: Because of growing limitations on resources, we have aging equipment and no money for replacement. The reduced federal budgets. Seeing the military cut any deeper and concerned about the Guard being cut more. Cuts out of the reserve components can pay some bills, but the Guard is the way to ensure a robust military capability. It’s cheaper.
What are your future plans?’
Kirkland It will be nice to be a girl again. I don’t think it will be strange, and I am not feeling anxious. It’s been a great run but I am ready to focus life on a new direction. I will refocus on family and fun and no more (government) travel.