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By Capt. Christian Venhuizen
GUERNSEY, Wyoming – The Wyoming Army National Guard expanded its unmanned aircraft system credentials from simply providing the secure airspace to the actual flight training.
The 213th Regional Training Institute, based in Guernsey, graduated the first 10-day long basic operator’s course for the RQ-11 Raven class in the fall of 2014, a mix of Army National Guard and Air Force students.
The second class, all Army National Guardsmen, graduated in April 2015, after conducting their field training at the Wyoming National Guard’s Camp Guernsey Joint Training Center.
“It’s a very advanced class and you basically hit the ground running at a very fast paced,” said Sgt. 1st Class Aaron Oakes, of Cheyenne, Wyoming, a guest instructor with the RTI.
Ravens, weighing just over 4 pounds, are carried by soldiers into battle and provide an aerial view, including infrared night vision, of the battlefield. The classes of eight students, separated into two groups, learn to setup the remote system and pilot the aircraft using telemetry fed to both a computer and a control box.
“They learn how to fly, they learn instruments, they learn emergency procedures paramount to safeguard the aircraft in case anything happens to the aircraft. The aircraft is about a $30,000 system,” said Oakes. “They learn a little bit about the weather and they learn a little bit about themselves as well.”
Camp Guernsey is no stranger to providing training areas for artillery or UAVs. The camp’s location, across the street from the RTI, and its proven record of hosting units using unmanned aircraft helped make the Raven course possible, drawing students from multiple Army and Air disciplines. Additionally, the rural training area and secure air space allow the students to fly the aircraft without coming near residential communities.
By Capt. Megan Hoffmann
Public Affairs Specialist
Wyoming Military Department
CHEYENNE, Wyo. – The best relationships are like fine wine - they get better with
time. This paradigm holds true in that in order to build trust, understanding and vitality in
any relationship, the concept of time is a key component.
The National Guard’s State Partnership Program is no exception to this idea. Its
roots have grown deeper, stronger and more complex in the more than 20 years since the
program’s inception. According to the National Guard, the SPP first evolved in 1991 with
the idea that it would be beneficial to pair soldiers and airmen with military partners from
host nations, therefore bridging the physical, political, economic and military gap between
the United States and foreign territories. It was the hope that this partnership would
become a mutually beneficial tool for both the U.S. and the host nation, facilitating
cooperation, understanding and friendship along the way.
The Wyoming National Guard was able to jump on-board with the SPP program in
2004 when they partnered with Tunisia, a small country in Northern Africa that sits between
Libya and Algeria.
Wyoming’s pairing with Tunisia was far from coincidental as the decision was made
due to commonalities the state and country shared in climate, environment, economy and
military interests. Militarily, the Wyoming Air National Guard operates C-130 aircraft, as
does the Tunisian military; the Wyoming Army National Guard is heavily focused on field
artillery, as is the Tunisian military; the Wyoming Army National Guard flies UH-60 aircraft,
and Tunisia is in the process of procuring that airframe and training prospective UH-60
pilots. The partnership just made sense.
Members of the Cheyenne Frontier Days committee, local elected officials and staff
at the University of Wyoming, have had the opportunity to visit Tunisia while in their official
capacities, with the goal of fostering this mutually beneficial relationship with the Tunisian
military and civilians.
The SPP has also allowed the Wyoming National Guard to consistently have a
physical presence in-country serving as the bilateral affairs officer. Currently, Maj. Terry
Oedekoven is serving in that capacity.
“I see having a presence in Tunisia as being crucial for the program,” Oedekoven
said. “Where else could a major in the military help guide and mold a partner military? To
me, the State Partnership Program goes beyond just the events, exercises and
engagements. I have made lifelong friends here.”
By Capt. Tom Blackburn
Deputy Public Affairs Officer
Wyoming National Guard
Brian Nesvik let one principle guide him early on through his military career:
Let the needs of the organization dictate his professional direction, over his personal goals.
He started that journey when he was 17, and 24 years later, the organization chose him as the 115th Field Artillery Brigade commander.
Now, as he has passed on that command to Lt. Col. Gregory Phipps, Nesvik moves on, following the path that best suits the Wyoming Army National Guard.
Since June 2010, Nesvik oversaw a transitional period for the brigade artillery element based out of Cheyenne. The brigade was completing a deployment to support Operation Iraqi Freedom and the counterinsurgency training focus had pushed core artillery tasks to the side.
“We had to regain that fires edge,” the colonel said. “We had lost that ability after several non-standard missions.”
Nesvik’s training focus shifted to sharpening those artillery skills, which will be put to the test when soldiers from the 2-300 Field Artillery Battalion, a subordinate unit to the brigade, deploy this year. It will be the first deployment for the Wyoming Guard since Korea in which artillery support will be the primary mission. “That was music to my ears,” Nesvik said, when he first learned about the deployment. “They will exceed all expectations, no doubt,” he added.
But he won’t take credit for the brigade’s success, or own the vision he set forth in 2010 alone. “When I sat down (with the brigade staff and leaders), it wasn’t my vision, it was our vision,” he said. “I don’t believe in sitting down and setting a vision that doesn’t involve the other members of the team.”
Lucky for Nesvik, he got to see that vision through, as he completed his command at the end of the Army Force Generation cycle, a deployment model that outlines training cycles.
But as a young lieutenant, Nesvik said he didn’t think his career would lead to a command as high as the brigade.
“When I got in, I was really focused on the aviation side of things, my intent was to go to flight school,” he said. “Long-term, I never thought the brigade command was there, I probably didn’t look that far out.”
Half-way through his Officer Candidate School, requirements changed and he couldn’t pursue a pilot slot. So, instead he hung his hat on artillery.
“I never regretted it.”
Artillery was something that quickly piqued his interest, even though no flying was involved.
“I grew up an artillery guy; I was fascinated with it and the tactics. I was very interested.”
That attraction of the king of battle would foster into a moving career as he would serve as a battery and battalion commander within the Guard. But, even as his career progressed, brigade command was not something on his mind.
“My personal goals were not that lofty,” he said. “My intent was to serve the organization,” he added. After a visit from the brigade commander when he was a battalion commander and a suggestion was made for him to compete for the position, Nesvik did consider it.
“I decided as long as I could contribute, and still do it, and balance family and work, I would do it.” The balancing act was crucial, as Nesvik was not a full-time guardsman, but a traditional soldier, much like the rest of men and women he would command in the brigade. Having a fulfilling civilian career and retirement eligibility, Nesvik didn’t necessarily need the opportunity, and the extra workload, from being brigade command. “For me, the military is simply about service and serving my state,” Nesvik said.
Taking the reins of the brigade allowed him to pull from his earlier rule in serving the organization first.
“I served with some great leaders and served with some great soldiers,” he said. “I saw soldiers with the Global War of Terror serve something bigger than themselves and saw leaders who were so successful when they weren’t worried about their own career, and the organization. Once I got a taste of that early in my career I decided that was the right thing to do.”
There were challenges for the full-time civilian commander. “There were days were I didn’t know if I would get it done,” he said. Key support from his family and employer were pivotal in helping him keep his focus on the soldiers in the brigade.
To help support his command, Nesvik needed to select the right leaders and support personnel, a key tenet of his leadership.
“I was not going to let the status of the guardsmen affect my decision making in selecting the right people,” he said. “We kept our eye on the ball, realized what our makeup of our leadership was, and not lose focus on that soldier drilling in Lander, Wyoming, who doesn’t do this job every day,” he said.
The many different challenges of leading a brigade taught Nesvik an important lesson. Not one leadership method fit for every situation and interaction with other leaders. This was learned through many different conversations with junior leaders on his visits, and was helped by his experience in his civilian job. “I became more proficient at adaptive leadership as a brigade commander, than I did with my other commands.” Lessons learned in both professions helped shape him more as a leader.
Two things Nesvik did pride himself on was the accomplishments the brigade made in regaining the perishable core artillery skills and his one-on-one interactions with leaders two levels down at the battery level.
“I probably learned more from them, than they did from me. It was one the more fulfilling events as commander, to talk to young officers.”
Now, looking back, one item that Nesvik will retain and share for the rest of his life was the accomplishments the soldiers in the brigade had achieved during his command time, which culminated with a praiseworthy performance during the 2014 Warfighter exercise.
“We had achieved the vision we had set four years ago, and I can say with confidence the brigade can go and do its mission,” he said proudly.
By Capt. Tom Blackburn
Deputy Public Affairs Officer
State Public Affairs Office
Hay bales dot the landscape of Harvest Farms as parents watch their children climb hay mountains, ride fast-moving four-wheeler led trains, and scavenge for the biggest and brightest pumpkins.
This year marked the second year that Child and Youth Programs from the Wyoming Military Department held an annual fall event at Harvest Farms in Wellington, Colorado.
“We wanted to do something different,” said program coordinator Amy Wilson, “Harvest Farms is a good location.”
The event, which saw an increased attendance from last year, had plenty to offer for all the families involved.
“This year we had 60 RSVP’s. This being our second time, this is great, and it’s a great way to kick off our Month of the Military Family events as well,” said Wilson.
Families from the Wyoming National Guard took part in various games and activities that Harvest Farms provides. An obstacle course was set up with tires and hay bales, tempting young and old to take a turn on navigating to the finish. A giant corn maze, with a completion time of approximately one hour, presented a great challenge. But the pinnacle course was the hay bale trail and mountain, situated in the center of the festival-like atmosphere. A sprawling structure, families took turns helping each other climb its behemoth edges.
Wilson’s team also offered several activities for the families.
“We have pumpkin patch bingo and a family crest activity, where families can create their own crests like a medieval family,” Wilson said. “These games and activities are our way to convey appreciation to our guard families.”
Later, lunch was provided by a local barbecue vendor to every guardsman and their family. Kids sat around their parents under a tent, cheerfully recounting their rides on tractors or struggles on hay bales. Other children huddled in the pumpkin shed, scouring the landscape for the right pumpkin.
“We want to foster relationships through kids and their parents,” Wilson said as children ran around. “Here, we are doing that.”
By Sgt. Meredith Vincent
Public Affairs Specialist
197th Public Affairs Detachment
CHEYENNE, Wyo. – When Master Sgt. Mark Withers first decided to reenlist for the Wyoming Air National Guard, he did not expect it to be anything out of the ordinary.
With 30 years of service under his belt, Withers has seen his fair share of reenlistments; this was old news for the Cheyenne father of three.
So when he received a call asking if he'd be willing to participate in a special ceremony during the Thunderbird show at Laramie County Community College (LCCC) Wednesday, he was surprised. Even more unexpected – the enlisting officer would be the Director of the Air National Guard, Lt. Gen. Stanley Clarke.
“It was definitely a unique experience,” said Withers. “I think if anybody gets the opportunity to do this, they should - it's once in a lifetime.”
Withers was joined by two other reenlisting Wyoming Air Guard Airmen and 13 active Air Force recruits. In front of a crowd of hundreds of spectators, the future and current Airmen lined up in the closed-off street, ready to take their oaths. After being introduced, Clarke addressed the audience, thanking them for their support.
“I appreciate the opportunity to do this,” the lieutenant general said to the crowd. “I appreciate the opportunity to be here and I appreciate the great hospitality here in Cheyenne.”
As family members and the audience looked on, Clarke swore in first the re-enlistees, then the new recruits. Senior Airman Andy Vang, of Nebraska, said the event was a much bigger spectacle than his previous enlistment.
“There were a lot more people,” said the six year service member. “Doing it in front of a crowd of people was definitely more nerve-wracking.”
Directly following the ceremony, the Airmen took a seat at a table nearby to sign their reenlistment paperwork. They reflected on their own initial enlistments after standing near the new recruits. What words of wisdom would they pass down to a new generation of Airmen?
“The main thing would be to pursue an education while you're in the military,” said Withers. “The nice thing about being in the Air Force is you can change career fields anytime you want. You can get a vast knowledge built up in several different career fields.”
That know-how and expertise can easily be translated into a career outside the Air Force, continued Withers.
“If you don't make the military your career, you still have all that experience [to use] in the civilian world,” he said.
The ceremony was just one of the many stops on Clarke's agenda while here in Cheyenne. On Tuesday he toured the Wyoming Air National Guard facilities, including the recently-renovated Building 16 and the 153rd Maintenance Squadron. While at LCCC, he visited not only with the enlisting Airmen, but also the Thunderbird staff, accompanied by Wyoming National Guard Adjutant General Luke Reiner. However, for the three reenlisting Airmen, it was this morning that will stick out for years to come.
“It was a great experience,” said Vang. “Definitely another story to tell.”
By Staff Sgt. Meredith Vincent
While nothing is guaranteed, national, state and local officials believe the 3.6 million pounds in sand that have been laid in the last five days in Saratoga, Wyoming, should keep damage to a minimum as floodwaters crest this weekend.
The North Platte River is expected to rise to a peak of 10.5 feet, barely topping 2011’s level of 10.49 feet in the small town. It’s this rising water that prompted a joint preventative effort by several civilian and military organizations over the past week. Multiple Wyoming Air and Army National Guard units are providing support to local civilian authorities, filling and piling more than 72,000 sandbags along the riverbank.
Saratoga Mayor John Zeiger said they have been monitoring the snowmelt and water levels closely for some time and were prepared to react when levels began to rise dramatically.
“We’ve been keeping a close eye on it because, unfortunately and fortunately, we’ve been here before and knew what to expect and what to look for,” said Zeiger. “Once the levels began to rise dramatically, we worked with the Governor’s Office through the Wyoming Office of Homeland Security to bring in the Wyoming National Guard to begin preventative work.
“I think that early work was essential, so when we reached higher and higher flood stages we weren’t scrambling to keep up,” he said. “We already had a good foundation in place and have been able to keep up with the rising threat. Of course, there are always places that have to be repaired or shored up, but I feel like we are keeping up pretty well.”
Spc. Josh Berry, a bridge crewmember for the 1041st Engineer Company, said the military’s mission, while requiring a great deal of coordination and hard work, was also fairly simple.
“With all the snow this year, snow pack is much higher than usual,” he explained. “So with the warm weather lately, the runoff has been very extreme to this point. The Platte is expected to overflow its banks and we were called in to basically mitigate that via sandbags. We’ve been filling a lot of sandbags and laying a lot of sandbag walls, day in and day out.”
Soldiers from the Wyoming Guard’s 94th Troop Command arrived Sunday to begin the relief effort. They were joined Wednesday by the Army Guard’s 2/300th Field Artillery Battalion and the Air Guard’s 153rd Airlift Wing. The National Guard responded in 2011 when flooding threatened the same area, so there was room for all involved to learn from previous experience.
“I think things have went a lot smoother,” Zeiger said. “I think we had a lot of great lessons learned on how to do things, as far as the sandbagging and just getting people together.”
For some, the call was personal. Spc. Luke Frauendienst, also a member of the 1041st, has a cabin in the immediate area and knows Saratoga well. He said being able to help in an area that is near and dear to him means a great deal.
“It’s motivated me, hard core,” Frauendienst said. “When I was coming through Encampment, coming home from the cabin over the weekend, I saw how much that river was flowing – it was almost up to the trailer parks there. So I went straight back to Cheyenne, got my gear, got the phone call from my commander and I just booked it here. It just motivated me more – I just wanted to help.”
This is Frauendienst’s first flood mission, although he did spend time deployed overseas. He said the ability to help a Wyoming community means just as much as the deployment patch on his right arm.
“I like to know that the work I’m doing is helping out the people,” he said. “It is much more emotional, because these are your fellow Americans, citizens and people you personally know.
“Being overseas, all you knew about were the fellow soldiers you were deployed with. But being here in the states, it’s just much more of a connection,” he continued. “Especially with being up in and around this area all the time, you have that connection; you want to help, you don’t want to see it go to waste.”
Contributing to their surrounding communities is a significant part of the National Guard experience – and a vital part of their mission – for many soldiers and airmen. While serving one’s country is a common inspiration for joining the Guard, very often service members get the chance to serve their own home state in times of need.
“The opportunity is great, just to be able to put others above yourself and help the community,” said Barry. “And the relationships that you forge here – the camaraderie –just grows stronger. We have multiple units here, and you wouldn’t know it. Everyone’s interacting like we’re all just brothers-in-arms.”
Up to a half dozen different organizations came together over the week, including Saratoga’s local civilian authorities, the Wyoming National Guard units and volunteer groups from Team Rubicon, the Church of Latter Day Saints and the Red Cross.
On Friday, the effort was assisted by up to 70 student and staff volunteers from the University of Wyoming, a large majority of them members of the UW football team. Josh Smith, wide receiver for the team, said he felt honored to be able to give something back to the university’s fans.
“It feels great, you know?” he said. “These people from this community, they support us all year long with football … and it just feels great to come out here and give back to the community.”
With so many organizations operating side-by-side, it would be easy for chaos to ensue. However, Barry said the amount of coordination and teamwork between the different groups has been impressive.
“It’s been pretty seamless, actually,” he remarked. “The communication between the Army, Air Force and the civilians has been pretty good. It’s been really nice to get the help that we need to establish the massive sandbag walls that we’ve been building.”
That massive sandbag wall is protecting a local population of just more than 1,600 people. As water levels continue to rise, flooding is a very real threat for many homes located right along the North Platte’s riverbank, and relief groups often find themselves in people’s backyards, preventing the water from getting any closer. After their experience in 2011, the presence of the military units and their efforts is appreciated by many local townspeople, said the town’s mayor.
“After 2011, I think the community knows what to expect,” Zeiger said. “They are very appreciative of the support and help and try to show it any way they can. And I believe the National Guard has felt warmly welcomed to our town.”
The town’s kindness has not gone unnoticed by the visiting units, said Frauendienst. He has had nothing but positive encounters with the local community.
“They welcomed us with open arms,” he said. “They fed us, they’ve taken care of us, they gave us a place to stay, to crash and bunk up. Everywhere you go, you get a smile and a wave. And if they have the chance, they’ll stop you to thank you. It’s great, how they treat us so well.”
As of Friday afternoon, 55,500 sandbags have been filled and placed by participants and volunteers, and the operation is expected to continue through the weekend.
By 1st Lt. Megan Hoffmann
Public Affairs Specialist
State Public Affairs Office
CHEYENNE, Wyo. – On June 26, 1943, Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence Griebel, formerly of Riverton, received the news that their son, Staff Sgt. Robert Griebel, was killed in action against the Japanese in the South Pacific Theater.
Griebel, a member of the 43rd Bombardment Group, 65th Squadron, a ball turret gunner on the B-17E Flying Fortress – nicknamed naughty but nice – shot down a Japanese fighter plane that hotly pursued them over the Japanese military base in Rabaul, New Britain. Then, the bomber was hit twice by anti-aircraft fire, eventually succumbing to the damage on its return leg home and fell from the sky, killing all but one crew member.
Griebel, who went down with the bomber, was not alone in those last moments, as he carried someone very close to his heart – literally.
In August 1942, Griebel married his sweetheart, Betty Hoopengarner, whom he’d met during a social gathering for farmers several years after graduation. Longing to do something more than farming, Griebel also enlisted in the U.S. Army that same year and went to basic training in Arizona, which is where the couple married and saw one another for the last time.
Before Griebel left for the South Pacific, he had scraped and saved to get Betty a nice ring for their wedding ceremony in Arizona - a gesture that Betty was unable to
return. So, in an act that would be remembered nearly 72 years later, Betty gave her new husband her high school class ring to take with him to remember her– a gesture that would have great meaning to her later in life. Because the ring was so small, Griebel was unable to wear it on any of his fingers so he vowed to wear it around his neck alongside his dog tags, and close to his heart.
It wasn’t until 1985, 42 years after the initial destruction of Griebel’s B-17, that the remains of Griebel and several other crew members were finally recovered and successfully identified with the help of DNA testing.
Then, according to the Department of the Army, in 2001, the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) returned to the area where Griebel’s plane crashed, in an attempt to recover the remaining crew members. During a search that covered several trips and two years, in 2011, personal items were discovered, and among them, was a high school ring.
Because the ring had been out in the elements for over 70 years, the engravings on the ring were extremely hard to decipher. However, there were two key engravings that
were still legible on the ring: the year 1936 and Betty’s initials, BH.
According to the Lander Journal, when Betty, now 94, received the report about the findings, her daughter, Mary McAleenan sat with her and read parts of it aloud.
“I just about fell off my chair,” said Betty when she heard the rings description. “I said, for God’s sake, Mary, that’s my ring”
Last fall, Mary contacted the Department of the Army Repatriations Branch in hopes of getting her ring returned. Although it took some time, Mary was finally granted her wish in January as Lt. Col. Robert Fisk, a member of the Wyoming Army National Guard, presented the ring to her in a small ceremony at the American Legion in Lander on Jan. 10.
When Betty finally received the ring, all she could do was weep and reminisce about the day she gave it to Griebel, almost 72 years ago.
Betty can now rest easy as the final piece of her beloved husband has made it home and the circle of life is now complete.
By Sgt. Trisha Pinczes
Public Affairs Specialist
197th Public Affairs Detachment
GREYBULL, Wyo. – Residents stood on a rise over the Big Horn River and watched as community volunteers and National Guardsmen worked together filling sandbags and stacking them at the edge of lurking waters. Family homes, farms and businesses were threatened as jagged bricks of ice created a dam forcing water levels to rise to unimaginable heights.
The 920th Forward Support Company arrived on Friday evening followed by the 153rd Airlift Wing. Together they formed rapid assistance teams (RAT) one and two in order to provide assistance for local flooding and prevention in the Bighorn county area. As the mission progressed, members of the 2nd Battalion, 300th Field Artillery Regiment provided additional support forming RAT three March 10.
Working as a Joint Task Force, units came together with a common goal and determination.
“It’s a neat thing when all of the forces can come together on one mission,” said Sgt. 1st Class Scott Dillon the non-commission officer in charge of the 920th. “We all work a little different but always find the common way to weave together and make things work.”
The organization of any joint task force mission is challenging, but something military leaders prepare for constantly.
“Pulling people from all over the state and the coordination to get everyone on one page in a single area is the hardest part,” Dillon said. “Once people are together, there’s plenty of work to be done and it’s easy to get started.”
Working long days and short nights, the service members came prepared to work and maintained positive outlooks on seemingly endless tasks.
“Our guys are trained to work, it’s our job. Every drill we are working from sun up to sun down and when we come here that’s what we want to do,” he said. “They know the job needs to be done and they don’t have any problem working hard while still enjoying it and making it fun.”
Physically demanding tasks are expected in the military and the chance to put your energy and time into your own hometown is something many National Guardsmen will not often get the chance to do.
“I believe that the guys enjoy the work,” Dillon said. “If you’re going to join the National Guard you probably have that bred in to where you work hard and you enjoy doing things in your community.”
Over 60 soldiers and airmen dropped what they were doing in order to come support their towns in need.
“The guys showed up on short notice, on short sleep and executed this mission,” he said. “They asked for volunteers, and that’s why we wear this uniform, the National Guard is here to protect our state and communities and everyone here seems to understand that.”
Relief efforts accelerated helping to minimize flood damage as the National Guard and Air Guard worked alongside local residents and emergency services.
“Of course when you have the community willing to help us as well, everything works together hand in hand and we can get the job done a lot quicker,” said 2nd Lt. Leslie Lee Ary, the distribution platoon leader with the 920th. “That really, really helps not just our guys on the ground but the guys that are supporting us from elsewhere and the communities as well.”
Service members also received support from local residents, businesses and volunteers.
“It’s been great, people in this area really appreciate what we are doing here,” Dillon said. “We are a volunteer force coming up to help them and their communities. They are always offering to provide anything we need, we don’t have to ask for anything.”
Currently living in Billings, Mont., Dillon expressed his reaction in getting to come to the Big Horn County area to help.
“It’s a good experience, I always enjoy coming to Wyoming.” He said. “It’s where my heart is so it’s always good to come down here.”
Working in the military, helping a community and helping your neighbors is something rarely found at the same time.
“We love Wyoming, we love to work and we love to help out our state and that’s what we’re here for,” Ary said. “That’s why we are in the National Guard, that’s our whole job and our whole duty, not just to support our the nation but to support our state, and know that we are here doing what we’re originally intended to do.”
Photos available at Flickr Big Horn County Flood set
By Capt. Thomas Blackburn
Deputy Public Affairs Specialist
Wyoming National Guard
CHEYENNE, Wyo. - Gen. James Mattis was the honorary speaker at the 94th Troop Command and 115th Fires Brigade leadership conferences Feb. 8 at the Holiday Inn, in Cheyenne.
For two hours the retired general spoke about many topics, to include small unit leadership traits, his lessons learned during his career, and even took questions from the audience. He shaped his words to embody the Wyoming National Guard's traditions.
"When you look at Wyoming's cowboy culture, if you wanted a framework for small unit leadership and if you look at this culture, you have the qualities and attributes that can take you to the ends of the earth," said Mattis to the more than 200 assembled National Guard soldiers. "If you go into a fight, you will be tested mentally, physically, and spiritually. If you look at the Code of the West, you are built for a fight on the frontier."
Mattis spoke from experience after a 40-plus year military career in the U.S. Marine Corps. During the initial invasion of Iraq in 2003, he commanded the 1st Marine Division and led that unit during the tumultuous Battle of Fallujah. He was later appointed commander of U.S. Central Command, with overall authority of military theaters in Iraq and Afghanistan, before retiring in May 2013.
In front of the assembled members of the 115th FIB, Mattis shared many stories, discussing what he had learned during his career, focusing on his recent time as a commander in both Iraq and Afghanistan. He zeroed in on what a small unit leader, such as an entry level officer, like a platoon leader, or a squad leader in charge of six to 12 men, would need to be successful. In the battlefield environment in Iraq and Afghanistan, the small unit leaders are the ones considered to have "boots on the ground" during the patrols. "
A general officer’s leadership is not as material as a small unit leader," Mattis said when referring to the current battlefield. "Small unit leaders do the fighting."
Mattis mentioned that during his time as commander in the Middle East, he was amazed that a small unit of approximately 40 men could operate just as effectively, if not more so, than larger elements in a fight. "
Why was a platoon (of approximately 40 men) as capable as a 200 man formation? It came down to the expectations of the small unit leaders and the fact that they had the persuasive force of personality to bring out the best in their troops."
The general listed several traits that he thought were great attributes of successful noncommissioned officers, the leaders that would make a lot of the decisions in the small unit fights.
"The two qualities I look for in the NCOs are initiative and aggressiveness," Mattis said. "If people didn't have that, then I couldn't have them as subordinates; I couldn't give them command and control." However, he emphasized the ability to listen as another quality to have when in a combat zone.
"What we don't need today are NCOs and officers who think ‘it's my way or the highway,’" he said, adding he wants young leaders who will listen and be persuaded by those they talk to, if it be a tribal elder or a local citizen on a patrol.
The words of wisdom left by the general were felt appropriate and inspiring to the 115th's brigade commander.
"We were absolutely blessed to have the opportunity to hear from such a talented military leader,” said Col. Brian Nesvik, brigade commander. “His comments regarding how soldiers, NCOs and officers at all levels can positively impact their organization were incredibly relevant.”
For all the soldiers in the audience, Mattis left behind a question that embraced the Wyoming National Guard's legacy. "Do you have the guts to do what is right, to live by the code of the west?"
115th Fires Brigade Public Affairs Officer
CHEYENNE, Wyo. – The soldiers of Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 115th Fires Brigade, were presented with the Meritorious Unit Commendation, on Dec. 8, for the unit’s tour in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
The company, which provides command and control support for the brigade, received the battlefield honor for the deployment that lasted from April 15, 2009, to April 14, 2010.
The deployment of the 115th Fires Brigade and its subordinate units was the single largest mobilization in the history of the Wyoming Army National Guard. More than 800 Wyoming soldiers were joined by 1,100 National Guard members from Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Hawaii, Minnesota and North Dakota.
The brigade was augmented with more than 200 reservists, 300 active-duty component Army soldiers, and 400 Sailors from the Navy and Coast Guard. The 115th Fires Brigade performed security and force protection missions in seven different countries in the Middle East, primarily in Kuwait, Iraq, Afghanistan and Qatar.
“For the Wyoming-based brigade, it was a chance to prove their worth in serving the nation,” said Col. Brian Nesvik, the brigade commander. He and Command Sgt. Maj.Harold Pafford, presented the award to the unit and attached the streamer to the
brigade’s colors. Nesvik was also commander of the brigade’s 2nd Battalion, 300th Field Artillery, during the deployment.
“The brigade’s mission emphasized the support of combat forces in both Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, which included Afghanistan,” said Capt. Kevin Messamer, the brigade sustainment officer. “To us it was just convoys, but to the soldiers to the north of us it was life support.”
“We put over two million miles on our vehicles during convoy security missions and on gateway missions, which included securing busses heading to the (Kuwait) airport so soldiers could go on leave,” said Sgt. Maj. Mark Beyl. At the time of the deployment, Beyl was the noncommissioned officer in charge of maintenance and supply for the brigade. In addition to ensuring vehicles were mission-capable, Beyl oversaw the brigade’s acquisition of new vehicles.
“The brigade was able to change out all the vehicles in that short time, which was a Herculean task,” said Beyl. “We upgraded all of our vehicles.”
“What I was proudest of is that, in the maintenance and supply world, we were able to not miss any missions,” added Beyl. “Our trucks went that many miles and we never had any catastrophic breakdowns that would put Soldiers in harm’s way. We were never an easy target.”
The Meritorious Unit Commendation Award is presented to units for exceptionally meritorious execution of their missions. A unit must display outstanding devotion and superior performance, but not only to complete the difficult tasks set before it, but to rise above other units with a similar mission.
The award citation stated that the service members who constituted the 115th Fires Brigade during the deployment, demonstrated effective teamwork, perseverance, and bravery in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The unit substantially advanced the freedom of the Iraqi people by facilitating responsible reduction of Coalition forces in the theater of operation. The unit’s safe, successful and timely accomplishment of all assigned tasks attests to the excellent training and professionalism from the staff, leadership and soldiers.
Photos available at: Flickr
131208-Z-9999X-001.JPG - Col. Brian Nesvik, the commander of the 115th Fires Brigade, Wyoming Army National Guard, attaches the Meritorious Unit Commendation streamer to the unit guidon, Dec. 8 in Cheyenne, Wyo. This award was presented to the unit for the effective teamwork and perseverance it displayed in Operation Iraqi Freedom from 2009-10. U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Michael A. Cotignola III
131208-Z-9999X-002.JPG - Col. Brian Nesvik, the commander of the 115th Fires Brigade, attaches the unit’s most recent honor, a Meritorious Unit Commendation, to the units guidon Dec. 8 in Cheyenne, Wyo. The unit guidon of the 115th FIB bears many streamers, each of which marks the unit’s participation in different military operations. U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Michael A. Cotignola III
131208-Z-9999X-003.JPG – The 115th Fires Brigade guidon displays the Meritorious Unit Commendation streamer the unit earned during its most recent deployment from 2009-10. The 115th FIB’s exceptional performance in Operation Iraqi Freedom contributed to the theater’s successful support mission. U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Michael A. Cotignola III
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