What are your retirement plans? Buy an RV and explore America? Take up painting or woodworking? Relax with the remote?

Or, maybe you want to lead a national DoD program devoted to strengthening relationships between Guard and Reserve members and their employers. That’s what retired Air Force Gen.  Craig R. McKinley is doing with his retirement, having taken the helm as ESGR’s new National Chair June 1.

The experience McKinley brings with him to ESGR is nearly unmatched in both breadth and distinction. With a resume that boasts accomplishments on par with the top military officers in the nation, McKinley brings to ESGR insights from a 38-year career, much of it spent in high-level leadership positions.

In addition to leadership, McKinley also brings an almost career-long focus on the Reserve Component. “It is an honor to continue to serve our National Guard and Reserve community,” said McKinley of his appointment. “The work ESGR does is invaluable to Reserve Component members and the employers who support them throughout their military commitments.”

A long and illustrious career

McKinley notched a couple of key firsts during his career. Among them, he became the first four-star general in the National Guard and the first Chief of the National Guard Bureau to serve as a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, after Congress approved a seat on the council for the National Guard. He led the National Guard Bureau from 2008 until his retirement in 2012.

As a member of the Joint Chiefs, he was a military adviser to the President, the Secretary of Defense, and the National Security Council, as well as the DoD’s official channel of communication to the Governors and to State Adjutants General on all matters pertaining to the National Guard.

Most recently, McKinley served as president of the Air Force Association until 2015, when he moved to the nonprofit sector to become the president of the National Defense Industrial Association. From there he stepped into the ESGR National Chair position.

With this appointment by Secretary of Defense James Mattis, McKinley embraces another personal first–being in a volunteer position and overseeing more than 4,000 volunteers spanning all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. It will require a different kind of command structure to work with a predominantly volunteer base, but one that he is well suited for, having been in both military and non-military leadership roles.

“My vision for the future is for every single employer to support and value their military service member employees,” said McKinley. “I also want every one of those employers to know how important and valued they are. Our citizen warriors would not be able to focus on their mission of protecting our country if they had to worry about having meaningful civilian employment back at home. The amazing men and women who volunteer for ESGR are going to help our country achieve that vision!”

A pilot first

McKinley knew from a young age he wanted to be an Air Force pilot. He grew up in Jacksonville, Fla., and went to high school in Minnesota. He earned his private pilot’s license at the age of 15, before he even had a license to drive.

McKinley continued his path to the Air Force by joining the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps program. From there, an ROTC scholarship led him to Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texax, where he graduated with distinction from the ROTC program and earned a degree in Business Administration.

In 1974, he received his commission, beginning his long career as a pilot and a leader. As a young officer, he served in numerous assignments in flying and operations, as well as command positions at group, wing, sector, and field operating agency levels.

During his career as a command pilot, he logged more than 4,000 flying hours, primarily in the T-38, F-106, F-16, and F-15.


  • Defense Distinguished Service Medal with oak leaf cluster
  • Homeland Security Distinguished Service Medal
  • Defense Superior Service Medal
    Legion of Merit
  • Meritorious Service Medal with two oak leaf clusters
  • Air Force Commendation Medal with two oak leaf clusters
  • Air Force Achievement Medal with two oak leaf clusters
  • Air Force Outstanding Unit Award
  • Combat Readiness Medal with four oak leaf clusters
  • National Defense Service Medal with bronze star
  • Global War on Terrorism Service Medal
    Humanitarian Service Medal
  • Air Force Longevity Service Award with silver oak leaf cluster
  • Armed Forces Reserve Medal with silver hourglass

In 1980, McKinley transitioned from Active Duty Air Force to the Florida Air National Guard, where he spent much of his time with the 125th Fighter Wing based in his hometown in Jacksonville, Fla. In the 90s and 2000s, he began to take on more national leadership positions, culminating in his directorship of the Air National Guard (2006-2008) and in his leadership of the National Guard Bureau (2008-2012).

Along the way, McKinley also received a Master’s degree in Management and Economics at Webster College, St. Louis, Missouri, in 1979, and a degree in National Security Management at the National War College, National Defense University, in 1995.

Among his many awards and accolades, McKinley has received the Defense Distinguished Service Medal and Homeland Security Distinguished Service Medal (see sidebar for complete list).

Please join ESGR and the Guard & Reserve Network in welcoming Craig McKinley as the new ESGR National Chair.