Business leaders gain appreciation for National Guard training, mission

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Jon LaDue
  • 115th Fighter Wing
With monthly and annual training dates to serve, schools to attend, professional development to fulfill and the never-ending opportunity to serve overseas, being a Citizen Soldier or Airman in the National Guard can be demanding.

Aside from the service members and their families, perhaps no one realizes these demands more so than employers of National Guardsmen.

More than 60 civic and business leaders from seven midwestern states took a trip to Volk Field Combat Readiness Training Center, Wis., Aug. 19 through 21 as part of Business and Industry Days sponsored by the National Guard Bureau.

Many of the leaders walked away from the event with not only a better understanding of National Guard training, but a deeper appreciation for the skills that training provides.

"I came here not knowing what to expect," said Gary Carter, nuclear facility engineer at Michigan's Detroit Edison Energy. "I never realized how the National Guard is so well prepared to serve our communities ... you just don't see that on the daily news too much."

Establishing positive relationships with employers is important to servicemembers because it helps to minimize the stress that sometimes comes with balancing military and civilian life.

Col. Gary Ebben, Volk Field commander, said hosting Business and Industry Days at Volk Field provides a great location with wide-scale opportunities to see the varied training the Soldiers and Airmen are expected to undergo.

"It better educates our industry partners on the training their [Guardsmen]get so that when we ask to use them to deploy, they understand what it is they're getting back in return, in terms of leadership development and those types of skills," said Ebben.

Lt. Gen. Harry M. Wyatt III, director of the Air National Guard, emphasized the importance of both sides coming together so the mission gets accomplished and Guardsmen aren't forced to choose between their civilian and military lives. "It's all for this unity of effort that you are here," said Wyatt. "We need to work together, for us to learn more about what you do, and hopefully for you to learn more about what we do." 

Warrant Officer Candidate Jamie Bender, Wisconsin Joint Force Headquarters, helped set up the High Risk Entry Facility (HREF) facility and said the demonstration and tour the leaders received really gave them an idea of what today's service members and law enforcement personal do on a daily basis.
"I think they can see 'hands-on' what they do, and why they need so much training ... because there is so much involved in the training that goes on here," said Bender.

The HREF was just one of many stations the employers were able to experience. They also participated in simulated Tactical Training that allowed them to experience convoy operations in a Humvee simulator and become familiar with pneumatic powered guns like the M-9 pistol and the M-2 .50 caliber machine gun. The group also toured the Combat Training Center where pilots learn air-to-air and air-to-ground combat tactics.

"I've always had a big appreciation for our military, Carter said. "Of course, when you get closer to the action and closer to the training, you realize more what those folks go through and you have a greater appreciation for them."

The leaders arrived at Volk Field on two National Guard KC-135 Stratotankers. During their flight they were able to get a feel for military flight operations and tour the in-flight refueling aircraft. Another benefit to the flight was the opportunity for employers to get acquainted with the adjutant and deputy adjutant generals, and command chief master sergeants, from their respective states who attended all of the events as well.

The leaders hail from Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin and West Virginia, and represent top businesses like Wells Fargo and Wal-Mart, and fields ranging from agriculture to law enforcement.

Shawn Wheeler, Brown Electric, W.V., employs Capt. James McCormick, West Virginia Air National Guard, as a safety officer at Brown Electric. Wheeler said he's had many family members serve in the National Guard and he was glad to have made the trip to Wisconsin.

"I've been around the National Guard all my life, but this is reminding me of how effective the National Guard is ... for the future of this country," said Wheeler.

Business and Industry Days events are usually held two times a year and it's up to each state's adjutant general to invite a cross-section of employers to each event.

For Carter, two times a year is perhaps not enough.

"I'm really encouraged by what I've seen here today," he said. "I'm just thinking it's too bad that you can't have more employers come through this Business and Industry Days, because it's really an eye opener."

The program began in 1972 following the Vietnam War as a way to establish communications between business leaders and military forces following strained relationships from the war.