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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National Guard Answers the Call for Hurricane Florence

A Soldier with the South Carolina Army National Guard pauses for a moment while working with the South Carolina Department of Transportation to fill sandbags as a result of flooding caused by Tropical Storm Florence on Sept. 15, 2018. (Photo by SSG Jorge Intriago.)

A Soldier with the South Carolina Army National Guard pauses for a moment while working with the South Carolina Department of Transportation to fill sandbags as a result of flooding caused by Tropical Storm Florence on Sept. 15, 2018. (Photo by SSG Jorge Intriago.)

CHARLESTON, S.C. – National Guard members flowed in from at least 28 states to help North and South Carolina units responding to Tropical Storm Florence.

More than 6,600 Air and Army National Guard members have responded to Florence, according to the National Guard Bureau.

Meanwhile, the Guard continues to respond to storms affecting Hawaii and Guam, and to wildfires affecting Western states, in addition to providing support to the Southwest border and to the fighting overseas.

In the aftermath of Florence, the National Guard provided aircraft and crews – including UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters; C-17 Globemaster and C-130 Hercules military transport aircraft; and KC-135 Stratotanker refuelers – as well as swift-water boats and high-water vehicles for rescue; security; generators; communications; road clearing; debris removal; food, water, and cot deliveries; and support to shelters and distribution points.

The North Carolina and South Carolina National Guard are both focused on lifesaving, search and rescue, and relief, having conducted hundreds of such missions as of Sept. 16.

Supporting States include Alaska, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. The District of Columbia National Guard is also supporting the response.

In the three days after the storm made landfall, Florence brought more than 40 inches of rain, leaving communities in both States bracing for flooding potentially affecting thousands of miles of roads.

In North Carolina, Guard members’ first priority is safeguarding lives and property. Hundreds of missions, mostly east of Interstate 95, had been completed, including search and rescue, swift water rescue support, sandbag operations, commodities distribution, evacuations, and support to local law enforcement and first responders.

“We’ll be standing in a very long line of National Guardsmen that goes back nearly 400 years; it’s uniquely a National Guard mission,” said Army MG Gregory A. Lusk, adjutant general, North Carolina National Guard.

Kentucky sent 60 members of the Kentucky Army National Guard’s 63rd Theater Aviation Brigade. The unit’s command and control center was charged with synchronizing aviation efforts of communication, rescue operations, and overall assistance to those affected by the storm.

“This is one of the best parts of being a Guardsman, answering the call for help from citizens of our neighboring states,” said Army COL Dwayne Lewis, commander, 63rd Theater Aviation Brigade, Kentucky National Guard. “As an aviation unit, we know the expertise we bring is sometimes the only hope that those in need may have, and we take the mission of supporting our neighbors and rendering life sustaining aid very seriously.”

The Army National Guard has a dual mission to serve State and Nation. Service is part-time, which allows you the flexibility to pursue a civilian career or attend school by taking advantage of the Guard’s education benefits.

Soldiers are also trained in a military occupational specialty (MOS). There are about 130 to choose from in fields like administration, engineering, mechanics and maintenance, infantry and more. Check out our job board for details, and contact your local recruiter for more information.

From an original article by National Guard Bureau, which appeared in the news section of NationalGuard.mil on Sept. 16, 2018.

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Guard Helicopter Crew Awarded for Saving 6 Lives

Sometimes even first responders can get caught up in the same dangerous predicament as the people they’re trying to help, especially during flash floods.

Four members of the Louisiana Army National Guard were honored last month by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) Enforcement Division for their aerial rescue of six people, including the LDWF’s SGT Rusty Perry and Winn Parish Firefighter Buddy King. The men’s boat capsized as they tried to evacuate people from a flooded area in Winnfield, La., on March 10, 2016.

The Guardsmen, CW5 Jack Mucha, CW2 Corey Sayer, SSG Chad McCann and SGT Aaron Adam, all members of the Bayou 69 Black Hawk Helicopter crew, were awarded the Citizens Exceptional Bravery Awards for their efforts.

When Perry and King could not be reached by other vessels or high water vehicles, the Black Hawk crew performed an aerial rescue in a less than ideal spot that required precision hover work, as told by the crew in the video below:

“There was probably only about 10 feet between the power lines and the edge of the trees,” said SSG McCann, whose job it was to lower SGT Adam down to the stranded men. Adding to the pressure was the fact that no one knew whether the power lines were still active, said Pilot CW5 Mucha.

“It was a nail biter for sure,” said CW5 Mucha, whose mind was also on the mission he and the rest of Bayou 69 were originally scheduled to be doing that day – a flyover of a memorial honoring the MOJO 69 crew – four fellow Louisiana Guardsmen and seven Marines – who had been killed in a helicopter crash on March 10 one year prior.

“We did not want to be accident No. 2,” he said.

It was also a close call for Perry and King, who needed immediate medical attention after being stuck in cold water for a few hours, according to COL John Plunkett, who is now Bayou 69’s commanding officer.

At the awards ceremony last month, “The one individual said that he was actually hypothermic, and close to not being able to hold on to the item he was holding on to,” said COL Plunkett. “[The Guardsmen] were pretty much their last hope for getting those guys out of there.”

After safely retrieving the two men, the crew then returned to the area to rescue the two people Perry and King were trying to help, plus two other stranded first responders.

CW5 Mucha said the only comparable mission he could think of was the hoist work and rescues he had done during Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

“The most rewarding mission you can do is doing Medevac, and saving lives in combat and here in the State,” said CW5 Mucha, who has been a pilot since 1980. Mucha said most of his Medevac missions have been along the coastline, “so it was nice to help some people in our local area.”

So if you’re looking for a job with a mission, the Army National Guard offers 130 career choices, and not just in aviation. Check out our job board for more information on careers in administration, military police, infantry, mechanics and maintenance, logistics support, and more. For a complete rundown of the benefits of joining the Guard, contact your local recruiter.

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