Northsider Durr Boyles recently marked his second anniversary as adjutant general for the Mississippi National Guard. Boyles, a North Jackson resident, is a graduate of Mississippi State University and the United States Army War College, where he received a master’s in strategic studies. He has served in the Mississippi Army National Guard for nearly 40 years. Gov. Phil Bryant named him adjutant general in September 2016. Boyles and his wife, Robin Mason Boyles, have two sons, Connor and Gray. The general recently spoke to Sun Senior Staff Writer Anthony Warren about the guard and his role in overseeing it.
So, what do you do as adjutant general?
“I oversee the administration and operations of the Mississippi National Guard. I have a team of general officers and staff who run specific commands and sections. The Mississippi National Guard includes both the army and the air force. I have about 9,600 soldiers in the army and about 2,500 air force airmen. The national guard headquarters oversees the deployment of our Mississippi National Guard units, who go out and do great things.”
Are any units deployed now?
“Yes; our air force teams are always deploying, because they’re supporting active missions that occur every month. In Mississippi, we have aircraft refuelers, who have missions where they fuel aircraft for active duty and national guard missions. Then, the C-17s at Thompson (Air Field) and airlift planes perform between two and six active duty missions a month. Currently, we are supporting hurricane relief efforts in the Carolinas. We have 40 to 50 people deployed to Florida and Washington, D.C. helping manage air traffic for hurricane support operations for the active air force.
“Also, I just returned an army aircraft maintenance unit on the Gulf Coast. They rebuild and maintain helicopters – the two-blade Chinooks, Apaches and Black Hawk helicopters you see. They break them down to the wires and chassis and rebuild them with new pieces and parts to lengthen their lifespans.
“The 155 Armor Brigade Combat Team (ABCT) is currently serving in Kuwait. That team has about 3,200 Mississippians. I like to brag on them. The 155 was the first unit asked (to help on that mission). They were handpicked by FORSCOM, an active duty command, because the commander knew they could do the job. That’s the kind of reputation Mississippi has in the Pentagon.”
The guard does a lot more than I expected.
“We are not your granddaddy’s Cadillac. The guard, back in the 1980s, was not involved in active duty. At some point, in the 1990s during Desert Storm, and then after 9-11, the army and air force looked around and realized they needed more capacity and asked the guard units to help. They started deploying us on a regular basis, especially after 9-11.”
How many days a year does an average guard member serve? I always thought it was one weekend a month, two weeks a year.
“The base model is still the same. One weekend a month, two weeks during the summer. But because of the additional deployment requirements placed on us, there are opportunities to serve more than the basic model. We fortunately have more military work to do and the money to support it, because the army and air force can’t fill all the gaps. Anyone who wants to be actively engaged can perform up to five or six weeks a year if they wish.”
If a unit is activated, I don’t have to go?
“No; if you’re in a unit that’s activated, you’re obligated to go. Once you’re called up for deployment, you’re in that position and you’re going. But I would tell you most of the soldiers who do training prior to their deployment want to go. They spend four to five years getting ready to go, doing the two weeks a year, one weekend a month.”
So there is significant training before a unit is deployed?
“It depends on the type of the unit they’re in. There are some units, like aviation units, who could go out tomorrow because they know how to use the equipment. Then, you have the ABCT, which has to have two or three years of training so they can familiarize themselves on equipment and tactics.”
Is the Mississippi guard overworked?
“I don’t think we’ve reached the point of being overworked yet; there may be danger that we get to that point in five or six years. We’ve had conversations at the national level, as we get asked to do more … in the 155, seventy percent of those soldiers are deploying for the first time, so there is a lot of turnover. We were once a strategic force, placed on the wall and behind a glass box only to be broken in case of emergency. When 9-11 occurred, we became an operational force. We’re on a regular schedule to deploy overseas every four or five years.”
How long will the typical guardsman/guardswoman serve?
“I would say less than 20 years on average. If you like what you’re doing, you’ll serve 20 years because you qualify for retirement benefits. Many guardsmen get in for that reason. If I want to get in and make some money for college and school, I may serve six years and get out. Once people get in and like it, though, they will go from six years to 20 unless there is a hardship. Then, there are folks that go beyond 20 years. I’ve served 38, because I’ve enjoyed the leadership opportunities and the different opportunities I get in the army that I don’t get in everyday business. It’s an adventure.”
Is it easy to balance civilian responsibilities with military duties?
“It’s easier to balance against your civilian occupation than it is your family. The real answer is as a part-time soldier, or traditional guardsman, I can balance it against my work pretty easily. I can deal with work-related issues through e-mails, calls and seeing customers. With the family, you always want to be present. Sometimes, your family needs don’t match the military requirements.”
How do you deal with that?
“You put your family first and you serve your country always. It requires an incredible spouse like Robin and exceptional children. “
How is recruiting right now?
“We don’t have trouble recruiting. We have a great product. We will make our numbers pretty easily this year. There are some other states that struggle to make their numbers, but we don’t have that problem here. We’re patriotic in Mississippi. I think people live with the military all around them. It’s part of our fabric. Retention is another element of our numbers which requires additional work on the back end.”
What does the average recruit look like?
“They’re young, 17, 18, 20. Most of the new recruits are in school, looking for money for education or looking to supplement their job while still making their way through their early 20s. Others simply join for the challenge or adventure in order to better themselves. I have picture after picture of young men and women going on deployment, so they can make money to pay off student loans or go back to college to improve themselves. They are self-starters. That’s the kind of recruits we’re seeing in the guard.”
Why join the guard over the regular army?
“If I join the national guard and go through my training options – I go to basic training, side by side with active duty soldiers. If I’m in the guard, I can return to my community and be active in my community while being in the military. If I’m active duty, I can be assigned anywhere.”
Since being named adjutant general, are there any new procedures or policies you’ve implemented?
“I have some goals I want to achieve. The first is always having our soldiers ready to go out the door. We focus a lot on training, making sure they get training opportunities is ongoing. You have to be ready at a moment’s notice. Some initiatives out there have been to enhance the armory in Southaven. I asked the legislature to consider funding the armory and they agreed there was a need. The legislature agreed to spend $5 million in state money and we got $20 million in federal money, so that’s a win for the state.
“We just announced a guaranteed tuition program at MSU (Mississippi State University) that benefits soldiers. We’re are currently working with other universities who are interested in offering a tuition benefit.
“Another initiative I’m proud of is returning some of the armories to communities for use as civic facilities. When I came in, we had about 83 armories. Now we’re down to 68. The right size is 58.”
Why is that?
“Soldiers are more mobile now and have the Internet, which reduces our distances between locations.”