On a recent summer day, U.S. Rep. Donna Edwards (D-4) had the unique opportunity to soar with the Falcons of the 113th Wing, District of Columbia Air National Guard (DCANG). “It was the ride of a lifetime,” she said as she suited up and boarded the aircraft for an F-16 orientation flight at Joint Base Andrews. This is just one of the many missions of the DC National Guard (DCNG), known as the Capital Guardians, which is commanded by Major Gen. Errol R. Schwartz.

The DCNG is the only National Guard unit activated directly by the President of the United States. As the commanding general, Schwartz ensures the DC Army and Air National Guard units, with an authorized strength of 2,700 soldiers and airmen, are ready to perform missions at a moment’s notice.

There are many reasons the District of Columbia National Guard (DCNG) is exceptional; the DCNG is the first National Guard unit to deploy Lakota helicopters. The DCNG has supported many historic events such as the inauguration of our first African-American president, Barack Obama, and the DCNG recently supported the unveiling of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. In addition, it has supported Hurricane Katrina victims, and provides continuous support to Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and Operation New Dawn in Iraq.

The DCNG is comprised of both Army and Air units. Both units perform a variety of missions from transporting members of Congress and the Senate around the world, to augmenting the active duty components in combat overseas. The DCNG also supports local authorities in the event of emergencies in the District of Columbia.

Some of the Army units assigned to the DCNG include the 74th Troop Command and the 372nd Military Police Battalion. All three companies of the 372nd MP Battalion have been deployed overseas and one of them, the 273rd Military Police Company, is preparing for a one-year deployment in Afghanistan in the spring.

The DCNG includes the 113th Wing, the 201st Airlift Squadron, the 121st Fighter Squadron, the 121st Weather Flight and Detachment 1. “The Air Sovereignty Alert Team is a detachment of the 121th Fighter Squadron that remains in the DC area to protect the skies over Washington,” said Schwartz. The 113th Maintenance Group and 121st Fighter Squadron are currently deployed, and the 113th Civil Engineer Squadron is scheduled to deploy later this winter.

The major general enlisted in the army in 1976 and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in 1979. Schwartz said he happened to be going past the DCNG Armory and went inside to talk to the recruiters. He enlisted as a private and since then he has never looked back. He has had a successful career leading thousands of soldiers and airmen.

“I was born in Georgetown, Guyana,” Schwartz said. ”I came to America with the goal in mind of seeking a higher education.” After settling in the United States, he first looked in the Yellow Pages to seek career opportunities. He later enrolled at Federal City College which is now the University of the District of Columbia. “I sought my degree in electrical engineering because of my technical background,” Schwartz said.

Schwartz has been in command of the DCNG since 2008, and his military career has come full circle. He has now risen to the rank of general officer and leads one of the most unique National Guard units in the country. Traveling the path from a private to a two-star general, Schwartz credits his success to his leadership approach, that has proven to be both effective and inspirational.

“Leadership is the ability to influence people to get the job done through some form of ‘followship,’” Schwartz said. “Once my leadership style is engrained in my troops, I believe in leading from the middle. I look for leaders to take initiative, and I am here to mentor them and push them forward.”

The major general is a well-rounded leader according to the soldiers and airmen he leads. “His passion not only rests in the well-being of our soldiers and airmen, but he finds himself dealing with civic leaders as it relates to our youth in the District of Columbia. Schwartz goes face to face with leaders both locally and nationally to gain support with building a better enrichment program that will help the youth succeed,” said Major Sandra Young, DCNG secretary of the General Staff.

Schwartz sees himself as having the dual responsibility of caring for his troops as well as honing in on service to the community. He is also active with the Youth Challenge program that gives a second chance to students who have dropped out of high school. “Given the way society is today and the tough parameters presented, something obviously causes them to drop out. This is a very interactive program and our goal is to get involved with the youth and try to discover what caused them to drop out of high school,” Schwartz said.

It continues to be Schwartz’ aim to inspire positive change in everything he does. His vision for his organization involves creating an environment in which team spirit, communication, mutual support, and commitment to core values leads to meaningful relationships and outstanding performance.

“Meaningful relationships are buried in those words, Schwartz said. “I am riding on every word and the DCNG is still a work in progress. My vision is to continue to make it the best place it can be!”

For more information about the District of Columbia National Guard please visit http://www.dc.ng.mil