Maj. Gen. Robert E. Livingston Jr., South Carolina's adjutant general, was the featured speaker at the Fifty Plus Club's March 6 meeting, reflecting on his decades of military service and offering some insight into situations he has faced since the late 1970s, when he enlisted in the South Carolina National Guard.
He expressed approval for the current system's reliance on National Guard units in day-to-day operations. "As somebody that really appreciates what makes our nation great, I would say that is the right answer, and the reason I would say that it's the right answer is, it is easy to forget that we're still fighting a war on terrorism, but when the engineering unit from down the road, in Graniteville, is activated and goes to Afghanistan, you're reminded, 'Hey, we're still at war, and by the way, my brother-in-law, the banker, the mayor, all just left,'" he said.
He described the National Guard as bringing "a good, cost-effective force to supplement our active brethren." The South Carolina National Guard, he said, is "one of the most ready National Guards in the nation, and the National Guard as a whole on the individual and squad level is more ready than the active-duty, and that's not a knock on the active-duty."
He added, "Over 90 percent of my people can immediately go into combat, and that's including all of the sick, the people who have been injured and were working through the process and through the system. That's including the trainees. We have a very proficient force."
Livingston also noted that the National Guard brings civilian skills into the arena. Recalling a personnel shortage in Afghanistan, he said, "We were able to take advantage of civilian skills – policemen – and take them out of transportation, take them out of maintenance and put them out into combat operations with the police."
South Carolina's employers, he said, "get it," in terms of offering tremendous support. "Our unemployment rate among our traditional Guardsmen – those who have civilian jobs – is less than 2 percent in South Carolina, which is a pretty cool statistic that eight years ago was at 16 percent."
He also fielded questions on a variety of topics, ranging from the Taliban to recruiting – a success story – around the state. "We're growing. We've been identified as a 'growth state,'" he said. "We're growing about 100 a year, and that's a good growth factor.
"People in South Carolina are very patriotic, and we've got to make sure that we take care of our people, and … for the size of our state, we've got a very large National Guard."
Livingston, first elected in 2010, was reelected in 2014 (as a Republican, running without opposition). He is apparently on track to be South Carolina's last adjutant general to be elected to that position, as the state's voters approved an amendment in 2014 to allow the governor to choose who fills the post.