The Year in Review: Guard Members Reflect on a Busy 2018 and Look Ahead to 2019

Soldiers with the North Carolina Army National Guard’s 690th Brigade Support Battalion assist North Carolina Department of Transportation personnel with recovering snowplows and assisting stuck drivers during a winter storm, Dec. 9, 2018. (Photo by SGT Joe Roudabush.)

ARLINGTON, Va. – The Army National Guard closed out a busy year that saw its members deploy overseas, take part in international training exercises, and respond to emergencies and large-scale natural disasters at home. 

Those natural disasters included two back-to-back hurricanes, starting with Hurricane Florence, which made landfall in mid-September along the North Carolina coast. After coming ashore, the storm moved slowly across the region, causing massive flooding and isolating many communities in North and South Carolina.

“We’ve dealt with this before, but not at these record levels,” said MG Bob Livingston, adjutant general of the South Carolina National Guard.

Ultimately, more than 6,600 Soldiers and Airmen from nearly 30 states supported civil authorities in response to Florence. The Guard was still responding to Florence when Hurricane Michael slammed into the Florida Panhandle in early October.

Within hours of the storm making landfall, the first elements of the Florida Army National Guard’s Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 124th Infantry Regiment, arrived in affected areas, providing not only security, but also general assistance to citizens.

“Our unit’s part was not only facilitating local agencies but [helping] the residents, so they can clean up, and at the same time feel like their stuff was secure when they were not home,” said SPC Victor R. Reyes-Soler.

Those storms were still yet to come when family, friends, and service members gathered in February for an award ceremony and remembrance of PFC Emmanuel Mensah, of the New York Army National Guard’s 107th Military Police Company. He died in an apartment fire in the Bronx, New York, after rescuing four people and heading back into the burning building to save others.

“Difficult though it may be, please think of this ceremony as an opportunity not to mourn, but to celebrate PFC Mensah, an unselfish Soldier of incredible bravery, who sacrificed his own life to save several others and while attempting to save more,” said LTG Timothy Kadavy, director of the Army National Guard, during the ceremony.

PFC Mensah, who died Dec. 28, 2017, was posthumously awarded the Soldier’s Medal, the Army’s highest award for bravery and valor outside of combat.

While LTG Kadavy and others remembered and honored PFC Mensah, other Guard members were responding to winter storms that clobbered many Eastern States during the early part of the year, helping stuck drivers and conducting wellness checks.

Winter weather also meant athletic competition, as Guard members took part in the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea. The Soldier-athletes, including four members of the New York Army National Guard, took part in the luge and bobsled events. CPT Mike Kohn of the Virginia Army National Guard served as the bobsled team’s assistant coach.

“I know that I can count on everybody on my team,” said SGT Justin Olsen, who competed in the four-man bobsled event. “Especially because they’re Soldiers. [The other team members] are extremely more accomplished in their military career than I am. So, whether they look up to me in the sport, I look up to them for what they’ve done off the ice.”

While none of the Soldiers received medals in the games, many will continue training for future competitions.

“Going to the Olympics isn’t enough for me,” said SGT Emily Sweeney, a luge athlete and military police officer with the New York Army Guard, who crashed during her final run in the 2018 games. “The work isn’t over.”

As winter faded into early spring, Guard members were called up to duty along the Southwest border, assisting U.S. Customs and Border Protection as part of Operation Guardian Support. Roughly 2,100 Guard members were on duty throughout the year at various locations along the border providing engineering, communications, vehicle, and logistical support.

In May, volcanic eruptions in Hawaii saw almost 400 Guard members from Hawaii and other States assist local authorities by monitoring air quality, evacuating affected areas, and providing security.

With summer heat came wildfires in many regions of California and other Western States, and Guard members responded.

California Army National Guard aircrews took on wildfire suppression duty, using UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters – the newest version of the venerable helicopter – to fight them. For aircrews, the new model made a difference.

“It’s a more efficient rotor system, particularly at the low airspeeds that we’re operating at with regard to firefighting operations,” said CW2 Doug Martine, a pilot with the California Army Guard’s 1st Assault Helicopter Battalion, 140th Aviation Regiment. “The engines are a little bit more unleashed, so we get some more torque and lift out of it.”

Guard members spent the fall months battling the Camp Fire, one of the largest wildfires in California history. For some, the wildfires proved to be extraordinarily challenging.

“It was definitely the most intense mode of flight that I’ve flown,” said 1LT Vincent Sherrill, another helicopter pilot with the 1/140th. “When you’re in a service mission like this, people’s homes are at risk, people’s lives are at risk, and you’re doing some pretty serious flying in some pretty serious conditions.”

While many Guard members were busy battling wildfires, others were battling cyber threats.

Cyber specialists throughout the Guard were not only on duty deterring cyber threats, but also took part in numerous training exercises throughout the year. That included Patriot Warrior, a training exercise held at Fort McCoy, Wis.

“These scenarios provide our Soldiers, and also the Airmen, with a very realistic outlook on what both entities could expect in the real world,” said MAJ Robert Bell, operations and plans officer with the Delaware Army National Guard’s 261st Theater Tactical Signal Brigade.

In addition to cyber exercises, Guard members also continued to participate in joint and multi-national exercises throughout the world.

More than 700 Soldiers from the Indiana Army National Guard’s 76th Infantry Brigade Combat Team took part in Pacific Pathways. The brigade served as the command and control element for the exercises, marking the first time a Guard unit has served in a leadership role overseeing the training event.

More than 18,000 service members from 19 countries participated in Saber Strike, held in Poland and the Baltic region of Europe. For Soldiers with the Michigan Army National Guard’s 464th Quartermaster Company, that meant running 24-hour operations to provide laundry and shower services for many of those taking part.

“We are here to help boost the morale of the Soldier,” said SGT Carlo Grier. “There is nothing better than a hot shower and clean clothes after a long day’s work.”

Other Army Guard Soldiers took part in brigade training rotations at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., or the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, La. Those and other training scenarios were part of Army Guard 4.0, which represents the next step in realistic, intensive training to prepare for deployment. As part of that, Soldiers spend more time in the field honing their skills, allowing the Guard to deploy more quickly and effectively to a variety of missions worldwide.

“Our high-priority units – such as armored brigade combat teams, Stryker brigade combat teams, attack-reconnaissance battalions, and critical enablers – must be ready on short notice for unspecified missions,” said LTG Kadavy, the Army Guard director of Army Guard 4.0. “We have to maintain the readiness of these units in order to respond to emerging demands.”

That increased focus was clear to Soldiers with the Kentucky Army National Guard’s 149th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, who, in June, took part in a two-week training exercise directly tied to the Army Guard 4.0 initiative.

“It definitely felt like we were on deployment,” said SGT Dustin Mullins. “The brigade trained much closer together, and the tempo was much faster.”

That focus on more intensive training was brought home to many Guard units that deployed this year. Many of those deployments were to Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait, and the Horn of Africa.

PVT Hayden Johnson, center, a cavalry scout with the Mississippi Army National Guard’s Troop B, 1st Squadron, 98th Cavalry Regiment, aims an FGM-148 Javelin anti-tank missile during a combined arms live fire exercise as part of Desert Observer II at the Udairi Range Complex near Camp Buehring, Kuwait, Dec. 12, 2018. (Photo by SPC Jovi Prevot.)

PVT Hayden Johnson, center, a cavalry scout with the Mississippi Army National Guard’s Troop B, 1st Squadron, 98th Cavalry Regiment, aims an FGM-148 Javelin anti-tank missile during a combined arms live fire exercise as part of Desert Observer II at the Udairi Range Complex near Camp Buehring, Kuwait, Dec. 12, 2018. (Photo by SPC Jovi Prevot.)

For about 220 Soldiers with the New York Army Guard’s 27th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, deployment meant serving in Ukraine to work with and mentor Ukrainian army units. Part of the Joint Multinational Training Group – Ukraine, the Soldiers focused on training based on interoperability with NATO elements.

The year 2018 marked significant milestones for the Guard.

In May, the Guard celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Department of Defense’s State Partnership Program (SPP), which pairs National Guard elements with partner nations worldwide. The SPP now includes 75 partnerships with 81 countries. The 75th partnership – the West Virginia National Guard and Qatar – was announced in May.

“I think it’s a testament to the men and women of the West Virginia National Guard, to our governor, to our [elected officials] who all came together to say we want to be a broader part of the Nation’s defense and take on an even greater role with the establishment of this partnership with Qatar,” said MG James Hoyer, adjutant general of the West Virginia Guard.

November 2018 also marked the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, a war that saw more than 103,000 Guard members killed or wounded.

“We remember the battles that raged here in the fields, the forests, and the towns,” said GEN Joseph Lengyel, chief of the National Guard Bureau, during a ceremony marking the occasion. “We also remember the sacrifice made in the cause of freedom – because the United States honors her war dead.”

The National Guard comprised 18 of the 43 Army divisions the United States sent to France in World War I.

While some reflected on the Guard’s part in the First World War, others looked to new roles the Guard took on in 2018. The headquarters of the 54th Security Force Assistance Brigade (SFAB) was activated this year as part of the Indiana Army National Guard. One of six such brigades throughout the total Army, the SFABs focus on training, advising, and assisting forces of partner and allied nations.

“When deployed, SFAB Soldiers will be the day-to-day experts combatant commanders need to train, advise, and assist [allied and partner security forces],” said MG Courtney P. Carr, adjutant general of the Indiana National Guard.

Training and preparation were among the key elements at play in early December when the District of Columbia National Guard took part in the state funeral of former President George H.W. Bush, who died in Houston on Nov. 30 at age 94.

“The goal is to make it look like it was easy,” said MAJ Mark Ballantyne, operations officer and mission planner with the D.C. Guard’s Multi-agency Augmentation Command. “Because then, that means we did our job right.”

As 2019 unfolds, the Guard is prepared to continue its legacy of taking on any mission – here at home or overseas.

As you look ahead in this new year, consider being a part of something bigger. With the opportunity to serve in your home State, learn lifelong transferrable skills, and make a difference in your country and community, the Army National Guard can be your ticket to a college degree and the adventure of a lifetime. Explore current opportunities on our job board or contact a local recruiter today.

From an original article by Tech. Sgt. Erich B. Smith and Sgt. 1st Class Jon Soucy, which appeared in the News section of NationalGuard.mil in December 2018.

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Cyber Yankee Training Helps Guard Defend Nation from Cyberattacks

JOINT BASE CAPE COD, Mass. – More than 400 eyes stare at a sea of laptops in a hallway of rooms. These eyes belong to the participants of Cyber Yankee 2018, an exercise between multiple National Guard cyber units and civilian agencies that trains participants to defend critical networks against domestic cyberattacks. 

At first glance, it may not appear as though much is happening, but not all military maneuvers take place on a traditional battlefield.

“They look at those in cyber and think, ‘Oh, they are just behind computer screens not doing anything.’ Well those guys could be the ones defending you, getting your orders properly, [or] your position, where you’re located,” said CPT Lee Ford, assistant team lead with Cyber Yankee and a member of the Massachusetts Army National Guard Defensive Cyber Operations Element (DCOE).

“Technology is engrossed in every facet of our lives, texting mom in California, or ensuring clean water inside your faucets, technology is in every industry,” he said.

During the Cyber Yankee exercise, the Red Cell, or the bad guys, strike the defense, the Blue Cell, with different cyberattack scenarios. These simulated attacks are targeting a water supply networking system, a power company and a Department of Defense network. The Blue Cell mission is to make sure the region remains operational.

The cyber teams are prepared for battle due to their training, specific to the Soldier’s military occupational specialty (MOS), and/or their civilian careers.

In fact, here’s a short video about the Guard’s cyber training:


“We have a bunch of network monitoring software out there. A lot of it is based on skill, too. You have different people who are good at certain things,” said SSG Ryan Beaudoin, Rhode Island National Guard DCOE.

Due to the part-time nature of Guard service, many of the Soldiers on cyber teams come from civilian backgrounds in defense or intrusion detection, working for companies like IBM, Akamai, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

SPC Adam Wong works for MIT Lincoln Laboratories and is also a network and host base forensics analyst with 136th Cyber Security Support Team Detachment, New Hampshire Army National Guard.

“In the event of an intrusion, I will analyze malware files,” said SPC Wong. “I’ll conduct forensics, try to attempt to reverse-engineer the malware to figure out what it’s doing and also trace back into the network logs and try to figure out how it got there.”

He said the group is learning to hone its skills as a team and adapting to work in panic mode.

Part of the team is comprised of military analysts, who provide different angles on how to fight the scenarios.

“We can come in and we can analyze, look up that threat, see if they’ve had any issues in the past, see what they’re motivated by, whether it is money, political affiliation or something like that,” said SSG Tara O’Keefe, military intelligence analyst, 136th Cyber Company, Massachusetts Army National Guard.

SGT Colton Williams, 126th Cyber Protection Battalion, Massachusetts Army National Guard, is a 31B Military Police Officer retraining as a 25B Information Technology Specialist.

“The level of skills of these individuals, it blows me away,” he said of the cyber teams.

SGT Williams said he believes that this training is important because the network is everywhere, and the Guard needs to be able to activate stateside to help out citizens.

“There’s no dedicated front line, so having a Soldier who’s capable of operating both on the home front and overseas is absolutely necessary,” he said.

So if you’re interested in protecting your Nation, consider joining the Army National Guard, where you can work in a critical field like cyber or intelligence. Check out our job board to explore all of our opportunities and to learn more about our benefits, like money for college and low-cost health and life insurance. You can also contact your local recruiter for more information.

From an original story by SFC Laura Berry, Massachusetts Army National Guard, which appeared in the news section of NationalGuard.mil, in June 2018.

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Army Guard’s Cyber Warriors Protect State and Nation

Much like the Army National Guard has a dual mission to respond to State emergencies and overseas combat missions to support the Nation, the Florida Army Guard’s Defensive Cyberspace Operations Element (DCO-E) works to protect both the Sunshine State and the Nation from cyberattacks. 

As a 255A Information Services Technician for the Florida Army Guard, Chief Warrant Officer 2 (CW2) Tripp Thompson is assigned to the DCO-E, which is considered a State asset that can also be activated to assist with a national mission. 

Most recently, his group provided cyber support for the State during the national elections in 2016.

“We weren’t the people with our hands on the keyboards, he explains. “We were the ones who would look at things like the network architecture, look at some of the security controls and provide advice.”

The DCO-E has also done joint training exercises with the State of Florida to help employees become more aware of cyber threats and ways to protect themselves.

On the Federal side, CW2 Thompson’s team was on-site in Washington, D.C., in January to support cybersecurity elements during the Presidential Inauguration.

CW2 Thompson likes the challenge of his Guard Military Occupational Specialty (MOS).

“I like the technical nature of the work,” he says. “It makes me think.”

CW2 Tripp Thompson

It also aligns with his educational background in computer science and engineering, and his civilian career as a consultant in the information technology field.

But in his 30 years of part-time service in the Guard, CW2 Thompson has worn many different hats. Before his current MOS, he was a logistics officer, an information assurance officer, and a medical service corps officer.

He was already in college when he joined as a way to help pay for school, starting his Guard career as a forward observer in field artillery. He later joined ROTC, which is an elective that allows students to commission straight out of college as a second lieutenant. Even after rising through the ranks to become a major, he essentially took a step backward rank-wise and became a warrant officer in the Guard to avoid mandatory retirement.

“I enjoy what I do, and that just gave me an option to stay longer if I wanted,” he says.

Warrant officers are considered the Guard’s technical and tactical experts, as opposed to an officer like a major or lieutenant who may work in different fields.

“Officers have more of a well-rounded background, whereas warrant officers pretty much find an area and dig in deeply to become more of an SME, or subject matter expert,” says CW2 Thompson.

And for anyone considering getting into the cyber field in the Guard, be assured the Guard does not expect Soldiers to be experts when they join.

“If you’ve got basic computer skills, if you’ve got any programming or scripting skills, and just a general knowledge of networking, we can leverage that, and give you additional training to get you to where you need to be,” says CW2 Thompson.

Some of that training will include industry-specific certifications like Security+ or Certified Ethical Hacker.

Keeping up to speed in the cyber world does mean a “fair amount” of trainings, according to CW2 Thompson, who was headed off to a 2-week cyber exercise consisting of a week of training and a week of defending against simulated cyberattacks.

For an example of what a cybersecurity competition looks like, check out the video below. The Florida Guard’s DCO-E was one of the teams participating in this event, held last year. CW2 Thompson can be seen providing assistance at about the 5-second mark.

 

The DCO-E also has its own “cyber range,” where the Guard can run attacks in a controlled environment and respond to them.

So if you’re interested in becoming a cyber warrior, or are thinking about a career in a different field, the Army National Guard offers more than 150 choices. Visit our job board to search careers by keyword, category or location. And for personal advice, contact your local recruiter, who can also explain the benefits of service like money for college or vocational school

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