Gov. Jerry Brown announced Gen. David Baldwin as the new head of the state National Guard on Saturday, swearing in the Afghanistan veteran at a California Cadet Corps celebration here.
Brown took a short break from his campaign on the state budget to join the ceremony, looking on as hundreds of elementary, middle and high school Cadet Corps members from around California marched in unison to a National Guard band at Los Alamitos Army Airfield.
The cadet program is dear to Brown's heart. In 2001, while he was mayor of Oakland, he founded a military school that hosts a cadet program. Some of the students present Saturday hailed from that institution, for which Brown still raises money.
Under a makeshift canopy in a stiff wind, the governor administered the oath of office of adjutant general to Baldwin, who spent 30 years in the Guard and served as deputy commanding officer of the Army's 101st Airborne Division's Tactical Command Post in eastern Afghanistan. The 47-year-old Fair Oaks resident is a Stanford graduate and holds master's degrees from the University of California and the United States Army War College.
"It's an honor and a privilege to lead the 21,000 men and women in the California National Guard and Air National Guard," Baldwin said in brief remarks. "Years ago, when I was a young cadet, I would never in my wildest dreams believe that I [would] become the adjutant general."
Through programs like the Cadet Corps, he said, "each of you has opportunities where you can meet or exceed your wildest dreams."
Baldwin's Guard experience includes stints as chief of the Joint Staff and as emergency plans and operations officer. He also served as a spokesman during a 2005 investigation into charges that a battalion of California guardsmen abused detainees and harassed civilians in Iraq and subsequent allegations of domestic spying by state Guard troops.
After Saturday's ceremony, Baldwin said the biggest challenge he faces "is that we continue to have several thousand soldiers and airmen deployed around the world prosecuting the war on terror."
"In addition," he said, "we have to meet our commitments to the governor and the people of California to maintain readiness for state emergency response in the event that we're the next place to get hit with an earthquake or tsunami."
Baldwin replaces Mary Kight, the first woman and first African American to lead state's militia. During Kight's tenure, the Guard was embroiled in scandal. Federal authorities are investigating claims of fraud involving up to $100 million in student loan repayments and cash bonuses handed out as recruitment incentives. Investigators are also probing whether top Guard officials received double and triple their allotted pay.
The Guard's troubles were the subject of a state Senate hearing in Sacramento last month. Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman and state Sen. Louis Correa (D-Santa Ana) said at that hearing, "You have to change the attitude, the personality of the Guard in California."
Brown alluded to some of the problems as he left Saturday's event but said, "I don't think now's the time to try to hash out all the different issues. I think the main thing is, I wanted someone that I picked and that understood my vision for the Guard." He did not expand on that vision.
Baldwin said he, too, was aware of the problems but also declined to comment.
"I just got back from Afghanistan about a week ago," he said. "I'm … putting together my team in consultation with the governor and his staff."
Baldwin, a Republican, must be confirmed in the nonpartisan post by the state Senate, which has a year to do so. His pay is $180,201.
Brown said Saturday that he would continue to travel the state, appearing at the opening of a Sikh temple in San Jose on Sunday and planning to be in the Bay Area on Tuesday to sign a bill requiring California utility companies to obtain a third of their energy from renewable sources by 2020. Existing law requires 20% of utilities' energy to be from "green" sources by 2012.
The governor couldn't resist alluding to the state's budget stalemate in his remarks to the crowd in Los Alamitos, saying the cadets could serve as a model for GOP legislators. Republicans in Sacramento have refused to go along with the governor's push for more taxes to help close the budget deficit.
"People are having a hard time deciding what our common purpose is," Brown said. "I see in our California Cadet Corps a training of our future leaders, leaders that rise up above their own narrow selfish interests and think about the state and the country first."