National Guard January 2012 : Page 40
STATE ROUNDUP Stopping the Music N LESS THAN two years, the volume of the Air National Guard’s band system will be greatly diminished. Air Guard officials say they are cut-ting six of the Air Guard’s 11 bands across the nation that have spent de-Airman-musicians stunned by recent decision to cut Air Guard band force by more than half cades supporting troops overseas and singing their praises at home to civil-ian audiences. The six groups are scheduled for decommissioning in 2013 as part of a decision to consolidate Air Force bands across the country. I | “This was a decision that was kind of in the works about two years ago,” says Lt. Col. Tom Crosson, a spokes-man from the National Guard Bureau. “[Officials] looked at these six bands and geography was really the big factor in which bands would get decommis-sioned.” Crosson says that the six bands are located close to existing active-compo-nent Air Force bands, and often cre-ate overlapping areas of responsibility. None of the active component’s 12 bands are being cut. The bands being decommissioned include the 530th Air Force Band (Georgia), 555th Air Force Band (Ohio), 560th Air Force Band (Wash-ington state), 561st Air Force Band (California), 567th Air Force Band (Massachusetts) and 571st Air Force Band (Missouri). Each group has an authorized 40 Na tional Guard
Airman-musicians stunned by recent decision to cut Air Guard band force by more than half
IN LESS THAN two years, the volume of the Air National Guard’s band system will be greatly diminished.
Air Guard officials say they are cutting six of the Air Guard’s 11 bands across the nation that have spent decades supporting troops overseas and singing their praises at home to civilian audiences.
The six groups are scheduled for decommissioning in 2013 as part of a decision to consolidate Air Force bands across the country.
“This was a decision that was kind of in the works about two years ago,” says Lt. Col. Tom Crosson, a spokesman from the National Guard Bureau. “[Officials] looked at these six bands and geography was really the big factor in which bands would get decommissioned.”
Crosson says that the six bands are located close to existing active-component Air Force bands, and often create overlapping areas of responsibility. None of the active component’s 12 bands are being cut.
The bands being decommissioned include the 530th Air Force Band (Georgia), 555th Air Force Band (Ohio), 560th Air Force Band (Washington state), 561st Air Force Band (California), 567th Air Force Band (Massachusetts) and 571st Air Force Band (Missouri).
Each group has an authorized strength of 35 enlisted musicians and one commissioned commander/conductor.
Some of those bands have long and storied histories, and some have even garnered national accolades for their performances.
The Toledo, Ohio-based 555th Air Force Band, known as the Band of the Great Lakes, has existed for nearly 90 years. It started as the 148th Infantry Band in the Army in 1923 and its members served in the Pacific theater during World War II.
After the war, it was reconstituted in 1948 as the 555th, says Master Sgt. Matthew Wittman, a tuba player in the band.
Most recently, it has been the band for a large area of responsibility, including Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and West Virginia, playing shows for troops and communities alike.
“The main focus has been community relations and military functions as well as deploying with and augmenting active-duty units,” says Senior Master Sgt. Philip Smith, trombone player and superintendent of the band.
Smith says all members of the band are traditional, part-time Guardsmen. Therefore, they invest a lot of their personal time in order to perform at a high level. They also run their sound equipment and drive the vehicles that transport the band and its equipment to performances.
The Ohio band has deployed in the last several years to England, Hungary and Iraq.
Missouri’s 571st Air Force Band, known as the Band of the Central States, has taken a similar path. It was one of the first Air Force bands deployed to the Middle East in 2006 and helped pave the way for bands after it.
It recently completed another tour overseas, and its rock group known as Sidewinder became a viral YouTube hit with its cover of the popular Adele song “Rolling in the Deep.” The video has been viewed more 2 million times and the band has appeared on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” and one of its lead singers, Staff Sgt. Angie Johnson, was invited to audition for NBC’s “The Voice.”
Capt. John Arata, the conductor and commander of the 571st, said his band heard about the decommissioning in November. Many members were upset at the sudden news.
“Musicians tend to bond and so do military colleagues, so we have double the connections there,” he says.
One of the main jobs of National Guard bands is to provide a face of the military. Playing more than 40 gigs a year, the 571st, Arata says, has more contact with the public than most other military units.
“I still believe that the National Guard has room to improve in educating the American public about who we are and what we do,” he says. “The public appearances of Air National Guard bands educate Americans about citizen-soldiers in ways that our activeduty colleagues do not.”
And the products bands produce in the form of public relations and troop morale often don’t show up on a statistics or budget sheet.
Success is evident when veterans are brought to tears by music that reminds them of their time in the military, or when deployed service members get a taste of home from the band’s musical performances.
Crosson says the decommissioning process for the six bands will be completed by September 2013. The units are no longer accepting new members. Twenty musician positions are being reallocated to other units across the nation, and other members will be offered the chance to reclassify into new positions.
Most states also have Army Guard bands, and some members may join those groups, though many of those units are already at full strength.
“The group is handling this situation very professionally,” Smith says. “Our plan is to go out with class. We are going to keep mission focused. We want the last memories of the 555th to be that we did our best until the end.”
—By Andrew Waldman
Death Star: Imposing Bunker Deters Enemy in Afghanistan
Named the Death Star, the observation post sits on a ridgeline of mountains overlooking several villages and Combat Outpost (COP) Najil in Laghman province, Afghanistan.
Its name may have come from the tyrannical amount of weaponry it boasts or the daunting hike it takes to reach it.
Life is simple at the outpost for soldiers of Company A, 1st Battalion, 179th Infantry, 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team—eat, sleep and protect the COP.
Below the Death Star, Najil is filled with fortified fighting positions and wooden buildings called B-huts. The only running water is in the shower area and the self-service laundry. Resources are few and far between. Supplies have to be in flown in.
“We make do with what we got,” said Pfc. Charles Brake.
He described living on the COP as an ironic juxtaposition.
“You look around and see nothing but beauty,” Brake said. “The mountains are breathtaking and the valleys are amazing. Yet mountains that should be used for hiking and sightseeing are filled with fighting positions.”
The fighting holes are used by insurgents to stage attacks on the Oklahoma Army National Guard soldiers when they are outside the compound walls or to occasionally disrupt day-today life at the COP with mortar and rifle fire.
“We don’t get attacked on the COP too much anymore, but we can go right outside the wire and get into fire fights,” said Staff Sgt. Michael Duff. “I really think they are afraid of the Death Star.”
—By Spc. Leslie Goble
Airlift Unit Opens Doors, Hearts To Very Young Cancer Survivor
A five-year-old boy who recently battled cancer got the chance to be a Guardsman for a day at Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station, N.Y., last month.
Donovan Benzin was selected by a nonprofit charity to receive some special attention. The charity’s mission is to “create dream bedrooms for children with life-threatening illnesses.”
The organization redecorates the child’s bedroom in one day and makes arrangements for the family to have a fun time outside of the house while they work. The charity contacted the 107th Airlift Wing of the New York National Guard to request the base tour.
“He’s totally in love with anything military,” said Leah Benzin, Donovan’s mother.
Donovan, along with his mother, sister and great uncle, started their day with a limousine ride to the air base.
Lt. Col. Gregory Miller, a pilot with the New York Air National Guard wing, presented Donovan with a flight jacket, complete with name and unit patches. A flight simulator temporarily at the base gave the boy a chance to “fly” a C-130.
Donovan toured a C-130 aircraft and took a seat in the cockpit. Other highlights of the family’s visit included trying out night-vision goggles and watching a C-130 practice an airdrop.
Donovan was diagnosed earlier this year with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a form of cancer rarely seen in children. He had surgery and aggressive chemotherapy that required a lengthy hospital stay to beat the disease.
His mother says that he is now cancer- free and it is likely that he will live a long life.
—By Capt. Elaine Nowak
Small Afghan Market Provides Big Boost for Struggling Village
Just off the busy Afghan Highway 7, near the village of Gerdy Katz, a little market has emerged out of the dust and debris. Although small, the shop is bursting with promise and hope for the villagers.
The market is the most recent addition to a list of achievements the Kansas National Guard’s Agribusiness Development Team and their Afghan counterparts have struggled to reach together.
Two years ago, the ADT cleared 10 jaribs of land—roughly 50 acres—adjacent to Combat Outpost Xio Haq.
That initiative resulted in a boom of farming and agriculture to include greenhouses, a well-supplied irrigation system and citrus fruit and nut tree orchards. The Guardsmen trained about 120 farmers in greenhouse technology, soil analysis, drip irrigation, pest management and animal husbandry.
The culmination was the ribboncutting ceremony for the market, owned and operated by Wasir Kahn, a local malik, or leader. Kahn and his team of laborers worked hard to see a business bring hope to their district.
“Because it’s close to the highway, the people of Kabul and Jalalabad, they want to buy something from here, so we have market here,” Kahn said.
The closeness to the highway, combined with a lack of anything else like it in the area, may spell success for this long-awaited market.
Phil Blake, a U.S. Department of Agriculture agricultural advisor, said, “We are seeing more and more of a pullback of advisors and U.S. forces here, so in the coming months the Afghans are pretty much going to be on their own. We see this as a perfect opportunity for them to stand up for themselves and stand up the business here that is already proving to be successful.” —By Staff Sgt. Luke Graziani
Part of History: Guard Soldiers Help Bring Close to New Dawn
Some Minnesota Army National Guard soldiers helped bring the last pieces of U.S. military equipment out of Iraq last month.
“It is an honor to be here now and provide the support needed to facilitate the drawdown,” said Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Gamble, a member of Delta “Drifter” Company, 1st Combined Arms Battalion, 194th Armor, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division.
“Historically speaking, we are right in the middle of something big,” he said. “Our footprints will be [some] of the last made by U.S. forces in Iraq. And looking back 30 or 40 years from now, that is something we will be able to tell our children and grandchildren. We all take great pride in that.”
As the number of troops leaving Iraq daily continued to increase, so too did the amount of equipment being brought to Kuwait.
Delta Company has provided security support for convoys transporting the equipment troops have used throughout the war.
“This is no small task,” said 1st Lt. Christopher Bingham. “In the past 10 years, there has been a massive amount of equipment collected throughout Iraq, and we want to be sure we bring with us anything serviceable and not waste taxpayer money.”
The Minnesota Army National Guard soldiers recognized that danger existed even in the drawdown’s final days.
“The job doesn’t end until every last soldier is back home in the arms of their loved ones,” said Capt. Ryan Rossman, the Delta Company commander. “What the soldiers from the 1-194 CAB have done these past four months in Kuwait and Iraq is remarkable, but we will not lose sight of our ultimate goal of returning home with everyone.”
—By 1st Lt. Travis Tomford
School Supplies Brighten Day For Afghan Kids, Guardsmen
More than 600 children received a surprise Dec. 3 when Kentucky Army National Guard soldiers showed up at their school in Kapisa province, Afghanistan, with more than 50 boxes of school supplies.
The gifts were the culmination of an effort that began when the Guardsmen noted that many Afghan students lacked even paper and pens.
“After visiting three of the local schools, I e-mailed several friends of mine in the Kentucky school system,” said Sgt. Heather Carrier. “Not even a day later, a personal friend sent me a message to inform me she would make it this year’s National Guard Youth Symposium community project.”
Donations of notebooks, pens, tablets, crayons and English textbooks were delivered to the sixth annual National Guard Youth Symposium in Louisville, Ky., last year.
Another soldier had the same response while visiting schools.
“I hated going to the local schools and seeing the children without the basic school supplies,” said Sgt. Jerred Stevens. “After my last school visit, I made a phone call to my mom and told her about the youth program here.”
Stevens said his mom, an elementary- school teacher, immediately put the word out to schools in her district about starting a donation for the schools in Afghanistan.
“The students in her classroom helped with the supply drive and it took off from there,” Stevens said. “Before we knew it donations were coming in from students, parents and businesses throughout Rockcastle County, Kentucky.”
The Afghan teachers and students were overjoyed by the supplies.
“It is great the soldiers care about our education and have come to help my people rebuild my country,” said Nagahia, a 10th grade student at Nasaji Gulbahar Girls School.
—By Sgt. Tamika Dillard
District of Columbia
End of an Era: Army’s Last Huey Completes Long Career of Service
The last UH-1 Huey helicopter in the Army made its final flight last month in Washington, D.C., where it had been serving the District of Columbia National Guard.
“It’s the end of an era,” said Sgt. george Warner, a production control manager for the 121st Medical Company.
Nearly four decades old, the classic helicopter has been flown to Arkansas where it will be refurbished and used as a trainer for Air Force flight students at Fort Rucker.
The Huey became an iconic symbol of the war in Vietnam. More than 17,000 were bought by the Army after it first went into production in 1964.
“Many more thousands of people flew Hueys or had a memorable ride in one in combat,” said Lt. Col. Maureen Bellamy, the D.C. Guard’s state Army aviation officer. “Every time we brought a Huey to an air show, it would draw a crowd of people with a smile and a memory to share.”
Even when the Huey became outdated for combat, Bellamy said, it was put to other use. Hueys with the D.C. Guard provided medical evacuation following hurricanes Katrina and Rita and on the Southwest border for Operation Jump Start, for example.
Chief Warrant Officer 5 Steven Mueck, an instructor pilot with the D. C. Guard, said, “It really felt like losing an old friend. In 30 years of flying, it never left me without a ride home, never had an accident or incident. . . . [It] was a workhorse and will be dearly missed.”
—By Lt. Col. Kevin McAndrews
Good Idea: Ammo Pack System Recognized as Innovative Step
Sometimes necessity is the mother of invention.
Upon arriving in Afghanistan in late 2010, Staff Sgt. J. Winkowski, Spc. Aaron McNew and Spc. Derick Morgan, all members of the 1st Battalion, 133rd Infantry, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division, looked for a way to carry a full combat load of Mk-48 machine gun ammunition.
“This was a new piece of equipment for us, and we struggled to come up with a solution for carrying and employing ammunition for it due to our small team size and the inability to have a designated ammo bearer, as is common doctrine with the standard M-240B machine gun,” Winkowski said.
He wondered aloud how a single gunner could carry a combat load of ammo.
A reference was made to actor Jesse Ventura’s character in the movie Predator, who carried an M-134 mini-gun fed by an ammo box on his back.
And in a case of life imitating art, the three Iowa Army National Guard soldiers developed the Ironman Pack Ammunition Pack System for Small Dismounted Team, which was recognized as among the most innovative advances in Army technology during the Army’s recent greatest inventions competition.
Winkowski developed the prototype by welding two ammunition cans together—one atop the other after cutting the bottom out of the top can— and strapping them to a lightweight pack frame. He then added a modular, lightweight load-carrying equipment pouch to carry other equipment.
The high-capacity ammunition carriage system enables an Mk-48 machine gunner to carry and fire up to 500 rounds of linked ammunition from a rucksack-like carrier.
“The prototype pack worked just like we wanted it to and we knew right then we really had something,” Winkowski said.
The original prototype has been retooled by the Army’s Natick (Mass.) Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center, and is now being used in the field.
—Iowa National Guard release Iowa
Read the full article at http://www.nationalguardmagazine.com/article/State+Roundup/932140/94496/article.html.