The Vietnam War was in full swing when Gen. William E. Ingram Jr. was a student at NC State in the late 1960s. Protests against the war were in full swing, as well, and Ingram can remember being released from exams one year because of protests taking place on campus.
But Ingram was the son of a military man. His father had fought in World War II and then come home to Elizabeth City, N.C. and started a National Guard unit.
So when Ingram graduated from NC State in 1970, as the war was starting to wind down, one of the first things he did was join the Army National Guard. “Being in the Guard was a logical decision for me,” he says.
More than four decades later, Ingram is now the man in charge of the Army National Guard. We spoke with him recently from his office in the Pentagon for a story in the fall issue of NC State magazine.
The National Guard that Ingram joined was dramatically different from the National Guard that he commands today. “It’s so dramatically different,” he says. “It’s so different that you couldn’t compare the two.”
Ingram says the Guard that he joined suffered from the “weekend warrior” stigma and was seen as a refuge for those who wanted to avoid combat in Vietnam. The Guard then concerned itself primarily with helping with the recovery from natural disasters.
Today’s Guard, though, has fought side-by-side with the regular Army in Iraq and Afghanistan. They have been trained and given the equipment necessary to make them full partners in combat situations, along with their continued role helping when natural disasters occur.
“We have a mission not unlike the militia of Revolutionary times,” Ingram says, “to serve the state where we come from. And we take an oath to the constitution of our state as well as to the United States Constitution. We’re manned, trained and equipped as a reserve of the Army to be able to do the warfight mission, which we’ve done rather well in the last decade.”
Ingram, a former adjutant general in charge of the National Guard in North Carolina who was deployed to the Balkans twice in the late 1990s, has had a front-row seat to the Guard’s transformation. For almost 30 years, Ingram had a civilian job and served at the Guard as a part-time citizen-soldier. He now oversees an Army National Guard that has people in 86 different countries.
Ingram now finds himself part of the military leadership charged with finding ways to shrink the size of the Army, and possibly the Guard, in response to budget cuts as combat troops in Iraq and Afghanistan continue to draw down. Leading that effort is another NC State alum, Gen. Ray Odierno, chief of staff of the Army.
As that discussion plays out, Ingram says the National Guard is in position to be an effective advocate for the military.
“We’re probably more visible than the rest of the Army,” he says. “The Army is working very diligently to connect with America, and I guess the best ombudsmen there are are members of the Guard and Reserve, who live in communities and relate to their friends, neighbors and co-workers. They know that we are the Army in our community, so it’s an opportunity to connect more with America.”