Natural Disasters Inspire Guard Members to Re-enlist

TOPEKA, Kansas – No one wants bad things to happen, especially in their communities. However, for two Kansas Army National Guard members, the devastation of recent floods was a rejuvenating experience.

Torrential rains and thunderstorms hit Kansas in late May, and flooding became an imminent danger for several communities downstream from levees and dams that were close to overflowing. With the addition of a destructive tornado that hit Douglas and Leavenworth counties, the emergency in Kansas escalated to disastrous proportions.

Members of the Kansas Army National Guard were asked to help. One of them was Staff Sergeant (SSG) Michael Eicher of the 891st Forward Support Company, who had no problem volunteering.

“That’s why I signed up to be in the National Guard,” SSG Eicher says, “to help people.”

Although not a Kansas native, his active duty service led him to the State when he was stationed at Fort Riley in 1993. It was not long after he met his wife that he decided to leave the military to raise a family.

“Then 9/11 happened,” he says. “My wife looked at me one day and said, ‘You miss it, don’t you?’ I said ‘Yeah, big time,’ and she said, ‘You do what you (have) to do.’”

SSG Eicher restarted his military career by enlisting in the Kansas Army National Guard. However, as he closed in on completing 20 years of service, he had it in his mind to finally retire from military life.

To get to his 20 years, SSG Eicher would have to extend his enlistment another year. His fellow Soldiers were trying to convince him to sign up for another six, so he joked with his wife that he would do it. She gave him a response that he wasn’t expecting: “At least you finally made up your mind.”

Later that month, the flooding began, and SSG Eicher was called to State active duty, where he immediately started running missions to deliver supplies to multiple communities in southeast Kansas. The tasks included dropping off pallets of water and other supplies for water rescue.

Finishing those missions, he and his team went back to home base in Iola, where they received their next mission to deliver 18 pallets of water to Coffeyville – a town that was preparing for flooding if the Verdigris River levee should break.

“When we were done with the water, we got the word to go and start helping with the sandbags. We did that well into the night,” he explains.

After finally getting some rest when other Soldiers came to relieve them at around 3 a.m., SSG Eicher and the rest of the Guard members finished helping the community members with the sandbagging late that next afternoon.

MAJ Polen (left), executive officer of the 891st Engineer Battalion, gives the reenlistment oath to SPC O’Neill (right), assigned to 891st Forward Support Company, June 2, atop of pallets of water that are ready to be distributed to communities in Kansas devastated by flooding in May. (Photo by 105th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment.)

The whole experience reminded him of why he joined the Army National Guard in the first place, and he began reconsidering his decision to retire. After completing his final mission to Valley Falls, he told his commander he would re-enlist in the Guard.

“I’d been thinking about it for a while, but just helping others was what made me decide,” SSG Eicher says. “I was there in the fire station in Valley Falls and something clicked in my mind that said, ‘Hey, what are you doing? You love this! Why are you getting out?’”

SSG Eicher wasn’t the only one who felt that way. Lawrence resident Specialist (SPC) Russell O’Neill of the 891st Forward Support Company, also realized it was not quite time to let go.

SPC O’Neill was coming to the end of his first enlistment and had already decided to conclude his service at the end of his contract because he felt like he was doing less and less of the job he signed up to do.

But then disaster struck south of Lawrence when a tornado plowed through on its way toward Kansas City.

SPC O’Neill, who works for a landscaping company in Lawrence, says several of the houses he worked on were damaged. Several of his family and friends who lived in the vicinity of Linwood, Kansas, were affected and had damage to their homes.

That next weekend, SPC O’Neill would get the chance to help. One of the vehicles used to deliver supplies broke down while his unit was drilling. His experience working on those trucks made him the go-to guy to fix it.

While these events were not the only reasons SPC O’Neill decided to stay in, they helped him confirm he needed to continue his service. He also realized the benefits he would get for his three children would outweigh the little time he would be away. The biggest reason, however, was the realization that he didn’t want to let go of the camaraderie he’s found while serving in the Army National Guard.

“I feel that with my fellow Soldiers it is a brotherhood that I haven’t had since high school. The weekend drills, I get to go be around a bunch of guys that I enjoy being around, and I’ve had a lot of them call me throughout my hardships and ask how I’m doing.”

By the end of the June drill, SSG Eicher and SPC O’Neill had reenlisted, standing on pallets of water to be delivered for the flooding.

“When the State active duty stuff comes around and people need your help, that is what we are here for,” says SSG Eicher. “If you are thinking about retiring and you’re thinking about getting out, think about all these things that could happen.”

“Who knew that the flooding was going to take place? Nobody – and that’s why you joined in the first place.”

If you’re passionate about giving back to your community, join the Army National Guard where you can serve part-time in your home State, and be the one your neighbors look to in times of need. With hands-on training in over 130 career fields including ground forces, logistics, and transportation, you can be part of a team that’s prepared to handle anything. Visit the job board to browse open opportunities today.

From an original article by the 105th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, Kansas National Guard, which appeared in the news section of NationalGuard.mil in June 2019.

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Guard Snapshot: Virginia

Fake Quake Tests Guard’s Medical Evacuation Skills for State Disaster Relief Missions

Virginia Army National Guard aviators provide aviation support during a National Disaster Medical System Full Scale Exercise held June 7, 2014, at the Chesterfield County (Virginia) Airport. —Photo by Staff Sgt. Terra C. Gatti

Virginia Army National Guard aviators provide aviation support during a National Disaster Medical System Full Scale Exercise held June 7, 2014, at the Chesterfield County (Virginia) Airport. —Photo by Staff Sgt. Terra C. Gatti

Virginia Army National Guard flight crews from the Chesterfield-based Detachment 2, Company G, 2nd Battalion, 135th Aviation Regiment provided medical evacuation support to a National Disaster Medical System (NDMS) full-scale exercise at the Chesterfield County Airport during their two-week annual training. The exercise included about 150 participants from more than 20 local, Federal, and State agencies.

“The NDMS exercise was a great opportunity to work with local agencies and exercise how we fall in on and support those agencies,” said Capt. J. Erin Jones, commander of the unit. “The NDMS exercise was also the first opportunity we have had to practice a patient transfer with the medical equipment configured on the aircraft and the medics providing en route medical care.”

The NDMS, a federally coordinated system, aims to create an integrated national medical response capability to assist State and local authorities in handling the medical impacts of a major peacetime disaster. NDMS identifies sites across the Nation where patients impacted by a major disaster can be transported in order to alleviate the strain on hospitals and medical facilities in the impacted area.

The Chesterfield County Airport is designated as a patient receiving site, and the county is responsible for having plans and procedures in place that outline the roles and responsibilities associated with the activation of the NDMS. A full-scale exercise is required to be conducted once every three years.

The scenario for this year’s exercise involved an earthquake affecting the Memphis, Tenn., area, with casualties from that incident requiring transport to medical facilities outside of the impacted area. In the scenario, two C-130 airplanes arrived with 50 patients each, all requiring medical attention. The majority of the “patients,” played by actors from various organizations, were transported via ambulance to local hospitals, but two “patients,” played by Soldiers of the 135th, were transferred to Charlottesville via HH-60 Black Hawk helicopters where they, along with two flight medics, traveled via ambulance to the medical center at the University of Virginia.

“From the beginning, my goal as commander has been for each of my Soldiers to be exceptionally proud to be a part of this unit and the unit’s mission,” Jones said. “I thought that if we could accomplish that, then everything else would naturally follow and the unit would be the best it could possibly be.” Along the way, the flight medics reacted to the mock injuries of the patients, monitoring their vitals and providing updates to the flight crews along the way.

“As a Guard unit, we must train for both our deployment mission and for state disaster-relief missions,” Jones said.

The opportunity to participate in the exercise allowed the Soldiers to experience working with multiple agencies and allowed them to solidify procedures for patient transport to the University of Virginia hospital.

“The NDMS exercise allowed our unit to demonstrate our capabilities and mission to a broad range of agencies at both the State and Federal level,” said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Shane Leipertz, one of the standardization pilots for the Virginia Guard and a member of the medevac detachment. “The exercise also allowed us to exercise our MEDEVAC plan for the use of the University of Virginia Medical Center furthering our Virginia Guard aviation medical air evacuation readiness.”

“It was an ideal partnership,” said Michelle Oblinsky, deputy coordinator of emergency management for Chesterfield County and exercise director, of working with the medevac detachment. “They’re fantastic to work with.”

During the unit’s two-week annual training, it also conducted live hoist training for the first time, worked with students at Fort Lee on medical evacuation techniques, trained with Soldiers from the U.S. Army Reserve at Camp Pendleton in Virginia Beach, and participated in an exercise with the Virginia Guard’s Chesterfield-based Detachment 1, Company A, 2nd Battalion, 151st Aviation Regiment and Chesterfield fire and rescue teams.

“Annual Training 2014 was purposeful and relevant,” Leipertz said. “We tested the unit and the unit performed. Superior performance is not something that comes easy – it’s deliberate, very deliberate. Job well done by all.

If you have what it takes to perform under pressure, visit the National Guard’s jobs board and contact a recruiter today.

Original article by Virginia National Guard SSG Terra C. Gatti appeared in the news section of arng.army.mil last month.

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