National Guard August 2011 : Page 104

STATE ROUNDUP BLAST Final Atlantis launch was a bittersweet moment for Florida Guardsmen who have long been a part of the space shuttle mission 104 More Than a HILE THOUSANDS GATHERED near Cape Ca-naveral, Fla., to watch the final launch of a space shuttle July 8, Florida Air National Guardsmen supporting the mission paused to reflect on the end of the historic program. “I’m a native to Florida, so I remember seeing the first several launches from my parents’ rooftop,” said Master Sgt. Gregory Jones, a member of the 114th Range Op-erations Squadron. “My dad was part of the space pro-gram here as well, so I’m a second-generation guy. To be able to see this thing go from cradle to grave is a unique experience.” Jones’ unit works closely with the active component’s 45th Space Wing at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station to ensure rocket launches don’t pose a threat to public safety. “We ensure that if any launch goes catastrophic that no debris rains down on people,” said Jones, a veteran W | Na tional Guard

State Roundup

More Than a BLAST<br /> <br /> WHILE THOUSANDS GATHERED near Cape Canaveral, Fla., to watch the final launch of a space shuttle July 8, Florida Air National Guardsmen supporting the mission paused to reflect on the end of the historic program.<br /> <br /> "I'm a native to Florida, so I remember seeing the first several launches from my parents' rooftop," said Master Sgt. Gregory Jones, a member of the 114th Range Operations Squadron. "My dad was part of the space program here as well, so I'm a second-generation guy. To be able to see this thing go from cradle to grave is a unique experience."<br /> <br /> Jones' unit works closely with the active component's 45th Space Wing at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station to ensure rocket launches don't pose a threat to public safety.<br /> <br /> "We ensure that if any launch goes catastrophic that no debris rains down on people," said Jones, a veteran of some 40 shuttle missions.<br /> <br /> During the countdown for the launch of the space shuttle Atlantis last month, Jones was in the Morrell Operations Center at the Cape, monitoring air and sea traffic in a 60-mile swath of ocean east of the launch pad.<br /> <br /> If a boat or aircraft had wandered into the safety zone or restricted airspace, he would've coordinated Coast Guard and security aircraft to assist in clearing up a potential "show stopper" during launch countdown.<br /> <br /> Maj. Kyle Beatty, the range operations commander, said he has mixed feelings about the end of the shuttle program.<br /> <br /> "I've been doing the launches for 10 years, between my active-duty time and my Guard time, and this is the ultimate experience," Beatty said. "It feels awesome. It's something people think about when they're growing up and they see it on TV. To come here and be a part of it, you feel like you are part of history."<br /> <br /> Master Sgt. Daniel Alonso said he watched several space shuttle launches growing up in Florida, and later was able to support 10 launches when he joined the Air Guard.<br /> <br /> "My dad came here in 1974," Alonso said. "He came here with the NASA program, so NASA has been a part of my life, and this shuttle has been a part of my life since I can remember. When I was growing up here in the 80s, we would stop what we were doing in class to go outside and see the shuttle launch. 'Shuttle hysteria' was a big deal."<br /> <br /> The shuttle program began in 1981 and has carried more than 350 astronauts into space. It's also a source of pride and employment for the local community.<br /> <br /> Maj. Michael Deimeke, a range control officer and traditional Guardsman who has been a part of 10 shuttle missions, said he has friends who are losing their civilian jobs now that the shuttle program has ended.<br /> <br /> "I love the missions that we do here on the range, so to see the shuttle fly out [will be difficult]," he said before the launch. "As a part of the community on the 'space coast,' you really feel it. But being a part of the program for me is a privilege."<br /> <br /> Master Sgt. Mark Farmer, an aerospace control officer and forward observer-ground, said it felt "a little surreal" to watch the end of manned spaceflight from Cape Canaveral.<br /> <br /> "We're pretty passionate about manned [space] missions, so there is some sadness," he said. "But, it's been a great ride for the Guard personnel here at the 114th. We'll forever have the knowledge and subject-matter expertise of manned missions."<br /> <br /> While most people considered Atlantis' final flight as the end of an era, Lt. Col. Todd Oller, the squadron commander considered it just another part of daily operations for his unit.<br /> <br /> "It was definitely a historic mission for the space industry, but for us it was really just another launch," Oller said from the unit headquarters at nearby Patrick Air Force Base after the launch. "We did our job with this launch to ensure public safety, but we have another launch next week and another next month. They may not have astronauts in them, but it doesn't minimize our responsibilities as far as tracking the launch vehicles and ensuring the public safety."<br /> <br /> Oller's unit of more than 110 airmen supports up to 24 spacecraft launches a year, the majority being unmanned. While about 85 percent of the 114th is made up of traditional Guardsmen, Oller said the level of expertise is what often sets his unit apart from its activecomponent counterparts.<br /> <br /> Many of his people work as civilian contractors in the space industry and have supported 30 to 50 launches each during their careers.<br /> <br /> Those seasoned veterans, Oller said, can make the difference between a safe space launch and a disaster, and have no doubt contributed to the 114th earning Air Force Outstanding Unit Awards for three consecutive years.<br /> <br /> "If an anomaly occurs, you may have five seconds to make a life or death decision," Oller said. "Having 10 years of experience under your belt makes the difference."<br /> <br /> –By Master Sgt. Thomas Kielbasa<br /> <br /> Minnesota<br /> <br /> Border Crossing: Guardsmen Provide Neighbors Helping Hand<br /> <br /> Good neighbors are nice to have and the North Dakota National Guard has been getting an invaluable assist from its neighbors to the east during the stubborn flood season.<br /> <br /> The Minnesota Guard deployed about 120 personnel to assist in the Minot area last month. Their involvement was part of the Emergency Management Assistance Compact.<br /> <br /> "The Minnesota Guard soldiers have displayed an excellent attitude while assisting Minot during this disaster," said Command Sgt. Major Norman Deschene of the North Dakota Army Guard's 136th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion. "They are tackling their missions with a commitment to do the right thing, being helpful to citizens and take care of Minot."<br /> <br /> "We felt like we were North Dakotans ourselves," said Lt. Nathan Sokolowski of the Minnesota Guard.<br /> <br /> He said his engineers were involved in debris removal and clean-up as the water started to recede.<br /> <br /> Another visitor from across the border, Sgt 1st Class Chris Swoboda, said, "Communication with the North Dakota Guard has been outstanding. It seems like we've been working together for years."<br /> <br /> The Minnesota soldiers were working for two-week shifts before being replaced.<br /> <br /> –By Spc. Cassie Simonton Iowa<br /> <br /> Rifle Company 'Loved' Its Time In Rough, Remote Afghanistan<br /> <br /> Capt. Kevin Hrodey and 1st Lt. Elliott Henderson were all smiles June 30 as they sat under a camouflage net stretched between a HESCO barrier and a connex trailer, knowing the countdown to home was short.<br /> <br /> The two officers were the last soldiers from B Company, 1st Battalion, 133rd Infantry, to leave Bad Pech and the district center that had been home to the unit for two months.<br /> <br /> It was one of the most remote assignments in all of northeastern Afghanistan, requiring the soldiers to sleep in hand-dug fighting holes for the first three weeks after arriving in May.<br /> <br /> "We got dropped off here in the middle of nowhere on a plateau," said Hrodey, the company commander. "When we got here, the HESCO barriers were just being added. The perimeter was pretty much concertina wire, [and] our guys were living in fighting positions on the border."<br /> <br /> Still, the soldiers loved it, Henderson said. "Out here is the mission we always wanted," he said.<br /> <br /> Hrodey's soldiers spent their first six months in Afghanistan on what they called an easy and boring assignment providing security at Torkham Gate on the Pakistan border. They had a nice dining facility, working toilets and showers.<br /> <br /> All that changed in early May when B Company left for Bad Pech.<br /> <br /> The district center was born in early April at the end of Operation Bullwhip, in which elements of the active-component Army's 101st Airborne Division cleared the Galuch Valley of most insurgent strongholds.<br /> <br /> Today, it's recognized as a form of government in the valley.<br /> <br /> Hrodey and Henderson also said the company enjoyed adopting a more traditional infantry role at Bad Pech– patrolling the area with their Afghan counterparts.<br /> <br /> And conditions at the center have improved. There are still no showers or latrines, but troops now sleep in airconditioned tents and have an Internet connection and the ability to call home.<br /> <br /> "It's going to sound funny, but turning this place over to Company A, 1st Battalion, 61st Cavalry Squadron, is going to be bittersweet," Hrodey said. "I want to go home and see my wife and family, but I'd like to see the progress here continue."<br /> <br /> –By Staff Sgt. Ryan C. Matson<br /> <br /> Indiana<br /> <br /> Out of the Shadow: UAV Fielding Has Troops Looking to Future<br /> <br /> The RQ-7 Shadow, an unmanned aerial vehicle used primarily for surveillance and marking targets, was fielded recently to the 76th Infantry Brigade Combat Team.<br /> <br /> The Shadow is the result of the Army's continued search for an effective battlefield UAV after the cancellation of the RQ-6 Outrider aircraft. It has been in use in Afghanistan since 2003, and has flown more than 650,000 hours in support of the war on terrorism.<br /> <br /> AAI Corporation, the aerospace and defense development and manufacturing firm that developed the Shadow, sent instructors to teach the Indiana Army National Guard soldiers how to operate and maintain the UAV.<br /> <br /> "Most of us had no experience with the Shadow prior to this training," said Sgt. 1st Class Matthew C. Carson, the platoon sergeant for Tactical Unmanned Aerial Systems, Detachment 1, Company B, 76th Sustainment Brigade. "I'm really excited about it. UAVs are the wave of the future and we are on the ground floor."<br /> <br /> "We are getting a lot of hands-on time with the Shadow here in the training. I'm hoping we get to fly a lot of missions with these things," said Pvt. Cody A. Carlson, a UAV maintainer.<br /> <br /> –By Staff Sgt. Matt Scotten<br /> <br /> North Dakota<br /> <br /> Victims Themselves, Guardsmen Help Others Battle Flood Waters<br /> <br /> Sometimes National Guardsmen answer the call to help others even while their own property is threatened.<br /> <br /> In Minot, N.D., that's the case for several citizen-soldiers who have been on duty during historic flooding for several weeks.<br /> <br /> "I had to juggle the task of being on duty, as well as having to take care of getting my house evacuated, my furniture evacuated and getting my family someplace where they're safe," said 1st Sgt. Scott Mai.<br /> <br /> With the help of friends and neighbors, Mai saved what he could, but he still felt the flood's sting at his house in Burlington, N.D.<br /> <br /> "I probably ended up with water at my house up to 2 feet high on the main floor, so I'm looking at damage to the basement of my house, as well as the main floor," he said.<br /> <br /> Sgt. Victoria Goodman had to evacuate her house, as well, even while serving on duty to help others.<br /> <br /> "I knew a lot of people with pickup trucks. We ended up doing lots of loads with lots of pickup trucks," she said. "And now we run into the challenge of, 'Now that I've got it out, what do I do with it?'<br /> <br /> "My family is living in a trailer that somebody was kind enough to allow them to use and I'm living out of the armory."<br /> <br /> Still, despite the troubles in their personal lives, the soldiers understand their first responsibility.<br /> <br /> "Even though I'm in a situation where my family's also involved in this flood, there are 11,000 people in this town that need help … and rely on us to be on duty," Mai said. "That's my motivation to continue to do what I do."<br /> <br /> –By Sgt. Darron Salzer<br /> <br /> Texas<br /> <br /> Native Iraqi Served Saddam, Now Soldier for Uncle Sam<br /> <br /> A soldier with the 36th Infantry Division now serving in Iraq has come full circle.<br /> <br /> Sgt. Mahad Ahmed was born in Baghdad in 1976, three years before Saddam Hussein came to power. Through an amazing chain of events, including several brushes with death from U.S. weapons while serving in the Iraqi army during the invasion in 2003, Ahmed's story is one of survival.<br /> <br /> Ahmed's good fortune began after he deserted the Iraqi army and later bumped into an American platoon. Because he had learned English from movies on television, he was invited to become a translator for the U.S. Army.<br /> <br /> Assigned to a unit near the dangerous city of Tarmiyah, he soon became a target of his own people because of his work with U.S. troops.<br /> <br /> "The bad guys had worked a deal with an Iraqi army guy to invite me to lunch and kill me," he said. "I had to live on base and be a stranger in my own country."<br /> <br /> With his life in danger, he was encouraged by an American soldier in the National Guard to apply for the Special Immigrant Visa Program created in 2008. It helps Iraqis who work for the U.S. government to obtain special immigrant visas.<br /> <br /> During his trip for the interview at the U.S. Embassy in Syria, he was again threatened with death, but escaped and became the first person to arrive in the United States under the program.<br /> <br /> Aided by Iraqis who had been in America for some years, Ahmed was able to find his way to Texas. Barely able to make a living with low-paying jobs, he was encouraged by his former American boss in Iraq to join the Texas National Guard.<br /> <br /> "I did it to prove a point–that all Iraqis are not bad guys," he said.<br /> <br /> His first deployment to Iraq was with the 56th Infantry Brigade Combat Team. He was stationed a mere 15 miles from his old home.<br /> <br /> Unable to find a good job after that deployment ended, Ahmed jumped at an opportunity to deploy again.<br /> <br /> "Iraqis were victims, trapped in a cage for 35 years under Saddam Hussein," he said. "But the U.S. Army, we came and opened that cage wide open. The uniform I'm wearing, I wear first for my people."<br /> <br /> –By David Bryant<br /> <br /> Oklahoma<br /> <br /> Team of 'Seasoned' Soldiers Going Strong in Afghanistan<br /> <br /> The members of Regional Security Force Assistance Team Tomahawk are a little older than your typical U.S. Army unit in eastern Afghanistan.<br /> <br /> But don't say that to team members. They prefer to call themselves "seasoned."<br /> <br /> "Our youngest guy is 36," said Col. Kevin Staring, the team's senior adviser, who handpicked the team from the 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, hoping to bring maturity and experience to the fight.<br /> <br /> "Nobody is here to check a block, everyone on my team is a stakeholder," Staring said.<br /> <br /> The Oklahoma Army National Guard team was established to advise Afghan officers and noncommissioned officers serving in the Afghan National Army's 203rd Thunder Corps, a unit that also has many "seasoned" soldiers.<br /> <br /> Lt. Col. Joel Potts, a member of the team, sees the experience of his Afghan partners as an asset.<br /> <br /> Potts, who has served for more than 30 years, said he is a grandfather eight times over and has a son, Capt. Justin Potts, who is also serving in Afghanistan.<br /> <br /> One member even came out of retirement to be part of the team. "I told [Staring] if he could get the paperwork approved, I'd go," said Master Sgt. Curtis Stapleton, an adviser to Afghan operations officers.<br /> <br /> "He's an old guy like me," Staring said. "We like to challenge the young guys to see if they can keep up." To keep up, the young guys will have to get up pretty early.<br /> <br /> "If you ever want to find us all in one place, just come to the gym at 4 a.m.," said Lt. Col. Shannon Jordan, the Team Tomahawk chief of staff .<br /> <br /> –By Capt. Kenneth Stewart<br /> <br /> Vermont<br /> <br /> First Lady Visits Guardsmen To Say 'Thank You' for Nation<br /> <br /> First lady Michelle Obama visited hundreds of Vermont National Guardsmen and their families June 30 to thank military members and their families for their continued hard work.<br /> <br /> "I come here today on behalf of a grateful nation to say two simple words that you all should hear every single day: Thank you. And I come here to celebrate the people who serve right alongside you without ever wearing a uniform, your amazing families, our heroes right here at home," she said.<br /> <br /> Obama spoke about the Joining Forces campaign, which recognizes, honors and serves military families. The intention is to help take care of troops and their families throughout the duration of a deployment.<br /> <br /> She also spoke about the community of Hyde Park, which came together and did nationwide fundraisers to build Pfc. Andrew Parker, an activecomponent soldier who was wounded in Afghanistan, a wheelchair-accessible apartment within his family's home.<br /> <br /> "For her to join us in our great little state of Vermont is a great honor," said Maj. Gen. Michael Dubie, the Vermont adjutant general.<br /> <br /> –By 1st Lt. Dyana K. Allen<br /> <br /> Washington<br /> <br /> Air Guard JTACs Decisive In Face of Massive Ambush<br /> <br /> Joint terminal attack controllers (JTACs) from the 116th Air Support Operations Squadron directed multiple airstrikes May 25, helping outnumbered U.S. and Afghan troops fight through an ambush and free a district center from insurgents.<br /> <br /> The Washington Air National Guard airmen, in communication with coalition aircraft, directed aerial attacks on enemy positions while U.S. and Afghan soldiers fought to drive insurgents from Do Ab, a tiny village in Nuristan province, Afghanistan.<br /> <br /> Approximately 40 U.S. service members, including two JTACs, and about 20 of their Afghan counterparts went to Do Ab after intelligence reports indicated insurgents had overrun the district center in the village.<br /> <br /> The U.S. and Afghan troops fought an enemy force numbering in the hundreds, killing more than 100 insurgents in an intense seven-hour battle. Coalition forces suffered no casualties.<br /> <br /> "If [the JTACs] hadn't been there dropping bombs, I don't know that we would have gotten out of that valley," said Sgt. Edward Kane, an infantry team leader with the Iowa Army Guard's 1st Battalion, 133rd Infantry.<br /> <br /> The airmen spoke modestly of their involvement.<br /> <br /> "We were very lucky," said Tech. Sgt. Tavis Delaney.<br /> <br /> He and Senior Airman Michael Mc- Caffrey, a JTAC apprentice, along with the soldiers, were carried by CH-47 Chinook helicopters to the fight and landed in the middle of an ambush.<br /> <br /> Under fire, Delaney began to guide jets to drop the first bombs.<br /> <br /> With Delaney and McCaffrey guiding ordnance onto the enemy positions, the small force escaped the open landing zone. They took cover in nearby abandoned mud huts and rockwalled animal pens.<br /> <br /> For six hours, the coalition troops fought off the enemy. Despite a hail of bullets and rocket-propelled grenades, Delaney and McCaffrey continuously ran between the huts to control airstrikes on the advancing enemy.<br /> <br /> The Taliban targeted the JTACs each time they sprinted across open ground.<br /> <br /> "Every time Sergeant Delaney lifted his foot, a bullet kicked up dust in the footprint he had just left," McCaffrey said.<br /> <br /> "It got to the point where the enemy had maneuvered within 200 meters of the team," recalled Tech. Sgt. Jaime Medina, another JTAC. "[Delaney] made the gutsy call to recommend a danger-close mission to the ground commander."<br /> <br /> Dropping bombs that close to U.S. forces left no room for error.<br /> <br /> "It had to be done, however," said Delaney. "We were in direct danger of being overrun."<br /> <br /> The soldiers and airmen said the bombs made the difference in the battle.<br /> <br /> The day after the platoon returned to its forward operating base, several of the soldiers and leadership individually approached Delaney and McCaffrey's team leader, Maj. Raed Gyekis, the air liaison officer.<br /> <br /> "Your two JTACs saved our lives," they told him.<br /> <br /> –By Staff Sgt. Ryan Matson<br /> <br /> Ohio<br /> <br /> Capital Air Defense Mission Goal of Missile Unit's Training<br /> <br /> Soldiers from 2nd Battalion, 174th Defense Artillery Brigade, have been training far from the limelight for one of the most visible jobs in their specialty.<br /> <br /> They will mobilize later this year for Operation Clear Skies, which provides defense over the nation's capital. The mission was put in place after the Sept. 11 attacks. The Ohio Army National Guard unit last undertook it in 2006.<br /> <br /> "Not everyone gets this kind of opportunity to translate their training into a real-world mission with this type of importance," said Sgt. 1st Class Jeffery Wise, who was on the mission five years ago.<br /> <br /> The air defenders focus on protecting Washington, D.C., by monitoring the skies overhead and keeping their Avenger missile system ready at a moment's notice.<br /> <br /> In preparation, they repeatedly rehearse each step of their alert system through a variety of classroom scenarios, hands-on training activities and table-top simulators.<br /> <br /> "The talking piece is the most important," Wise said. "The communication has to be precise. God forbid, but if the time comes, all the training up to that point comes into play and muscle memory kicks in."<br /> <br /> Sgt. Andrew Woldbold, who was not on the mission in Washington the first time, said he looks forward to seeing the national monuments and landmarks he and his fellow soldiers will be guarding.<br /> <br /> "I'm looking forward to going on the mission this time," he said.<br /> <br /> –By Sgt. Peter M. Kresge<br /> <br /> Final Atlantis launch was a bittersweet moment for Florida Guardsmen who have long been a part of the space shuttle mission <br />

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