COLUMBIA — Gov. Henry McMaster nominated the South Carolina National Guard's chief deputy as the first appointed leader of the state's military force that fights in wars and responds to natural disasters.
Major General Van McCarty is poised to become the state's adjutant general, succeeding Bob Livingston, the state's last elected military chief. Voters changed the law in 2014 to allow the governor to appoint the adjutant general.
McCarty, who is Livingston's second-in-command supervising daily operations, still needs to be vetted and approved by the South Carolina Senate.
"Van McCarty is quite a man and quite a soldier," McMaster said Thursday as he announced his appointment. "This is an experienced soldier. He has been in combat, overseas. He's served his country well. He serves our state well."
The adjutant general currently manages roughly 9,300 Army National Guard service members and another 1,200 personnel in the Air National Guard. The position also oversees the South Carolina State Guard and their volunteers and the Emergency Management Division, which is at the center of hurricane response in South Carolina.
Outside of the governor, the adjutant general often serves as a primary face of the response to natural disasters, going on television to inform people of emergency response efforts.
McCarty's appointment comes as the state has repeatedly faced powerful storms that flooded swaths of the coast and inland counties. The role of the South Carolina National Guard was on full display last year, as its members erected temporary barriers on the highways near Conway that were threatened by Hurricane Florence's floodwaters.
"We stand ready to meet both the hurricane issues that we have and the winter storm type issues," McCarty said. "I feel comfortable we are ready."
The biggest challenge the National Guard faces, McCarty said, is recruitment, though he noted that South Carolina boasts some of the best personnel numbers in the country.
"We've got to recruit, and we've got to retain the best and brightest young men and women that we can," he said. "It is a challenge, though we work to meet that challenge each and every day."
McCarty, a Citadel graduate, started in the National Guard as an artillery officer and has served in Iraq and Afghanistan. He also worked for nearly 25 years with the S.C. Department of Natural Resources law enforcement division.
"I don't know anything but wearing a uniform, whether it is DNR greens or Army greens," McCarty said.
Livingston, elected twice to the state's highest military office since 2010, said last year he did not plan to lead the guard once it became an appointed post. McMaster said Livingston helped him select McCarty as his replacement.
"I'm just so proud of our organization," Livingston said Thursday. "I'm proud of the governor's selection. I look forward to great things on that end."