Legislative Veterans Caucus hears from Adjutant General of the W.Va. National Guard

By Matthew Young, RealWV

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – “If somebody has the willingness to raise their right hand and say ‘I want to support and defend the constitution of the United States and the State of West Virginia,’ then they’re absolutely part of my team.”

That’s what Major General Bill Crane, adjutant general of the West Virginia National Guard, told members of the Legislative Veterans Caucus on Tuesday. Crane attended the meeting to provide an update as to the current state of the National Guard. 

“The West Virginia (National) Guard is renowned worldwide,” Crane said. “Every time we’re deployed, and we go anywhere, I get a lot of fan letters about who we’re sending out to do missions.”

Named adjutant general in January, 2021, Crane is the senior officer in command of both West Virginia’s Army and Air National Guard divisions. Crane’s military career began in 1989, and he has been the recipient of numerous awards and commendations, including the Legion of Merit, the Iraqi Campaign Medal, and the West Virginia Meritorious Service Medal. 

According to Crane, it is the spirit of “family” which makes the Guard a successful organization. 

“When COVID hit, we finally had the Air and the Army (National Guard) working together more than I’ve ever seen them work together,” Crane said. “I watched them become more of a family than two different organizations.”

“That doesn’t mean I don’t pick on my Air Force brethren,” Crane added with a laugh. “I’m sorry, I’m just going to do that – I can because I’m the two star (general), and I can get away with it. We like to kid each other, but we get out and get the job done.”

“We have a lot of humor,” Crane said. “I make fun of the Air Force, and they make fun of the Army when I’m not around, but when somebody outside of West Virginia wants to give us crap, we’re gonna walk up and kick somebody’s ass. That’s just the way we are – we protect each other.”

Taking care of the family, Crane noted, is his top priority as adjutant general.

“We have to make sure every part of our family feels as though they are valued, and that we are there to take care of them,” Crane said. “When we do that, they will go out and talk good things about the Guard. My son is in the Guard. It is absolutely a family business, and it has been for a long time.”

“We kind of lost connection with our retirees for a little while,” Crane noted. “COVID was a big part of that. So we started a ‘Retiree Day’ to bring them back in, have them meet with the VA and the different entities that show up – a lot of times it’s just them getting to see some of their fellow retirees and saying, ‘Hey man, you’re still alive. That’s awesome.’ Sometimes that’s really what it’s about.”  

According to Crane, his next priority is “making sure we have our units as ready as we can.”

“For a long time, we were in counter-terrorism, so we were living on big FOBs (Forward Operating Bases),” Crane explained. “Now I’m telling them (members) that they’ve got to quit that mentality. We’re not going to be able to live on those big FOBs anymore, if you watch what’s going on with the war in Ukraine and what’s going on in Israel. If you live on a big FOB, you’re a big target.”

“We’re going to have to be constantly moving,” Crane added. “I’m getting them out of the ‘big tent’ mentality, and back to the World War II ‘pup tent’ process.”

Building community partnerships and developing economic opportunities are also a big part of what the Guard does, Crane explained, specifically highlighting an apple orchard in Nicholas County which was planted nearly eight years ago. 

Major General Bill Crane, adjutant general of the West Virginia National Guard, addresses members of the Legislative Veterans Caucus in the House Chamber on Tuesday. Photo by Matthew Young, RealWV.

“We work with the U.S Department of Agriculture on that,” Crane said. “We get grant money from them, so it’s money that we’re writing grants to get to keep those programs running.”

Crane also briefly discussed the Mountaineer Challenge Academy, noting that, “We’re able to get about 89% of cadets who come through our program a high school diploma.”

The Mountaineer Challenge Academy is designed “to give academically-challenged teens a second chance.” It is a residential living program, offering more structured learning and career training options. 

“It’s a quasi-military setting,” Crane said. “We have them (teens) for 22 weeks, 24-hours a day. They have no distractions. After the Challenge Academy, we have a ‘jobs challenge’ that they can also do. It’s like a technical school.”

With regard to inclusivity and diversity within the West Virginia National Guard, Crane said, “I’ve kind of changed it around.”

“I want to make sure that everybody feels like they’re part of the organization,” Crane explained. “I don’t care about race, color, creed – whatever. I want them to join.”

“We’ve done some things with this that, as a male in the organization, I would have never thought about,” Crane noted. “We actually ordered some lactation pods, and we’ve done some different things to make sure that people have the opportunity to feel a part of the organization, and have an opportunity to do the things they need to do to be there and participate.”

In addition to lactation pods for breastfeeding Guard members, Crane noted the recent creation of a “child development center,” which provides child care for serving members. 

For more information about the West Virginia National Guard, including the programs offered or how to join, visit wv.ng.mil

The RealWV would like to thank Del. Rick Hillenbrand for allowing us access to the January 30 meeting of the Legislative Veterans Caucus. 

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