Sunday, April 8, 2018

CAMP WILLIAMS - On any given spring weekend, one might stumble upon the tired, the hungry and the physically beaten down. What may sound like song lyrics aptly describes Soldiers and Airmen as they trudge into the home stretch of the Utah National Guard Best Warrior Competition. Each April at Camp Williams, the competition hosts the best and brightest the guard has to offer, testing them physically and taxing them mentally.

“This is why I wanted to do Best Warrior,” said Capt. Garry Wellisch, a Nurse Practitioner with the Utah Air National Guard’s 151st Refueling Wing based out of Salt Lake City.

 “I keep myself in good condition physically and I have good coping skills, but I think with this competition, the best thing I can do is take things one step at a time and not get ahead of myself.”

Competing warriors experience late nights, early mornings, and physical demands designed to test their resolve and push them to their breaking point. Like clockwork, unpredictable Rocky Mountain spring weather follows competitors wherever they go.

“The weather was nice the first day we were out,” said Spc. Brighton Bluth, a heavy vehicle operator with the 1457th Engineering Battalion, Utah Army National Guard. “But today there was a bit of an overcast early in the morning.”

He continued dryly, “In the afternoon it became a downpour. As they say ‘ if it’s not raining it’s not training.”

Bluth’s enthusiasm for the conditions isn’t universally shared among his peers, but an esprit de corps forms among competitors at the shared struggle. Contestants begin the competition with an Army Physical Fitness Test, which measures their strength and endurance. Following that they are subject to numerous interview situations with senior leaders, where they are tested on their knowledge of military tactics and history. The first day wraps up with them firing weapons late at night, with limited visibility, and day two begins approximately 2.5 hours after the first day ends.

“There are things you can’t prepare for,” said Spc. Kameron Howell, an equipment repairer from the Utah Army National Guard who is a first-time competitorin the event.

“You can work out, you can study, but you can’t throw grenades, you can’t place mines. I didn’t prepare for the night land navigation. Also I didn’t think I’d be hurting as bad as I am,” he chuckled.

“I found myself physically holding my head while I was marching because I was weighed down so much. It was fun though. I was smiling the whole time, even though I’m tired and my back hurt.”

Howell added that he had never done a ruck march as long and as taxing as what the competition called for, and it had been 15 years since he had thrown a hand grenade. As a joint-service event, the competition honors the Army as the senior service and as a result, Air Force competitors must adapt to Soldier tasks and challenges.

“That has been an experience in itself,” said Airman First Class Nicole Ligeza, a first-year competitor who serves with the 151st Air Refueling Wing as a Public Health Technician.

“I think you rise to the level of your competition and training.” she continued. “As Air Force people, we don’t dabble in this training environment. But I’m super competitive and I am learning things on the fly and moving through the lanes by the seat of my pants.”

Through the tough competition, Airmen like Ligeza manage to not only keep up with the competition, but thrive, and in some cases teach their Army counterparts a thing or two.

“Being here with all these competitors, both Army and Air Force and admiring them, I’ve found that I can keep up with them,” said Bluth.

“So mentally, I feel like when I go back to my unit, I should be doing more. I can train harder and I can teach.” he said.

“That’s really what stands out the most,” he added. “Realizing that you are with the very best Utah National Guardsmen, both from the Army and the Air Force in the state. It makes you realize that you really are at that level. I think everyone should experience that.”

“Anyone who is considering doing this, should do it,” he added, “because they should know how it feels to be the best in the state.”

Friday, July 3, 2015

American Independence and the Might of Words

By SSG Rich Stowell

Is the pen really mightier than the sword?

I’ve often thought regarding those who say it, sometimes mindlessly, that they never saw an Apache Helicopter light up a target.

But in reflecting on the case of American Independence, I have to be more mindful myself. In the latter half of 1775, American militia and an Army raised by the Continental Congress defied the world’s most powerful military. Patriots had strategic successes in land battles at Lexington and Concord, Bunker Hill, Montreal, Quebec, and Norfolk.

Yet, by the time 1776 rolled around, Americans were unable to achieve their goals militarily, and many patriots were still unsure about the cause of independence from the British Crown.

Enter Thomas Paine, an immigrant whose prose “accomplished what even the bloodshed at Lexington and Concord could not—a wholesale annihilation of the emotional and intellectual ties that bound the American colonists to the British Crown and country."[i]

Many scholars believe that Paine’s 49-page pamphlet Common Sense was the single greatest contributor to the cause of independence.

Thomas Jefferson wrote six years after the event, "It is well known, that in July of 1775, a separation from Great Britain and the establishment of a republican government had never entered into any person’s head."

Paine was born in the small town of Thetford, England to a modest family. During his 37 years in England, among other professional pursuits, he sold his literary talents to politicians and political organizations; for a time he was a one-man political ad agency in London.

Common Sense was a commissioned work. Its financial backer, Dr. Benjamin Rush, along with Ben Franklin and Samuel Adams, wanted desperately to convince their countrymen that independence was the most desirable outcome of the decade-long political crisis.

A wealthy young Philadelphia doctor, Rush met Paine in the bookstore of Paine's then boss at the Pennsylvania Magazine. Rush proposed that the newcomer to the colonies write a tract that shed light on the subject of independence and "dispel the irrational fears that attended the idea in the minds of many of their fellow citizens."[ii]

Paine ended up writing a scathing pamphlet that went far beyond merely casting a more favorable light on separation. It openly advocated it, mocked monarchy, and shattered the delicate sensibilities that forbade casual use of the phrases, "independence" and "republicanism."

Common Sense achieved unprecedented circulation. In an era when an average newspaper reached only about 2,000 readers, Common Sense sold between 120,000 and 150,000 copies in its first three months of circulation. In the English language press, it went through 25 editions that year, and had been printed over half a million times by the end of 1776. Certainly, since each copy was read by more than one person, total readership was much higher.

Of course Common Sense wasn't universally praised. John Adams, most notably, thought Paine's rhetoric too inflammatory and feared it would cause undue "mischief."[i]. Even his firebrand cousin, Samuel, was hesitant to endorse it outright. But it induced a torrent of material in the various newspapers and magazines, letters and tracts either supporting or denouncing it, to which Paine responded in kind. In short, Common Sense breathed life and vigor into the debate over independence.

While Washington was struggling to keep his Army from collapsing, Paine brought public opinion around to Washington’s cause. Later that year, he wrote the first of a series of essays called, “The Crisis,” which Gen. Washington read to his beleaguered troops at Valley Forge.
These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: … Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as Freedom should not be highly rated.
Momentum began to turn as a localized rebellion turned into a full-scale insurgency, with the support of a majority of Britain’s American colonists. And that facts seems to owe a lot to a writer.

So I continue to wonder. Is the pen mightier than the sword? As with both instruments, it depends upon who wields it.

[i] Liell, Scott. (2003). 46 Pages: Thomas Paine, Common Sense, and the Turning Point to Independence. Philadelphia: Running Press. p. 17. 
[ii] Liell, 2003, p. 56
[iii] Paine, Thomas. (2003). Common Sense, Rights of Man, and Other Essential Writings of Thomas Paine. New York: Penguin. p. x. 

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Six Simple Pleasures of not Being Deployed

By SSG Rich Stowell

We are home after a nine-month deployment, just in time for the holidays. We are all elated to see husbands, wives, children, parents, nieces and nephews, and even dogs. All these make everything else pale in importance. Still, a few simple things make life enjoyable. You take them for granted, unless you’ve been deployed.

Here are six such things. Everyday conveniences and indulgences that we have missed for the past nine months.

Taking a shower without flip flops
In the Army we call them “shower shoes.” Utahns used to call them “thongs.” They sell for one dollar at the Post Exchange, and they are mandatory for trips between a Soldier’s hooch and the community latrines. We washed our bodies in all manner of shower stalls, none of which you’d want to come into direct skin contact with.

At home, the shower shoes are optional.

Not shaving
Another hygiene related pleasure is skipping the razor. (For the females, ironically, picking it up again might be on the downside of returning from a combat zone). Going to work with a clean-shaven face goes without saying for full-time service members. So not shaving is basically an indication of not going to work. Eventually, most of us will get back in the habit of a daily shave, but not having to think about it for a while is nice.

Here’s to stubble!

Watching whatever I want on a television, live
Deployed service members get their TV, if they want it. But American Forces Network (AFN) caters to a narrow demographic, and sports are usually delayed broadcasts. Tuning in to a program in high definition on a 40-inch screen (or bigger) is a custom that we could get accustomed to. And seeing a football game live is going to be nice.

We got home in time for Christmas, yes, but it was the college bowl gods who smiled upon us biggest.

Leaving the wire without a weapon
It went without saying that a trip outside the base required a full combat load of ammunition. We took our rifles and often a sidearm, with many pounds of rounds for each. None of us (in the MPAD) discharged our weapons, but it was a friend at our side in case things went haywire. Thankfully, they didn't.

And we are more thankful that a trip to the store in the United States doesn't require armaments.

Stepping away from Facebook for a while
A few things really help service members stay connected to their lives back home while they are deployed, and Facebook was a life-saver for us at times. We made a lot of friends on the social network, and were able to tell ours and others’ stories from Afghanistan. But some things in life are better in person, so we are enjoying some real face time, and putting away the computer for longer stretches.

We can be real life friends again!

Jogging with headphones!
I might have been guilty of wearing the contraband from time to time even while running in uniform on a secure base. But I went for a long jog this morning with my wife and four-year-old, listening to an audio book. Not once did I worry about another Soldier calling me out for violating the regulations for uniform wear and appearance.

Exercise doesn't have to be boring anymore.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Savages in Afghanistan at the beginning of the 21st century

By SSG Whitney Houston

When reflecting on September 11th, 2001, most every American could tell you exactly where he or she was, and exactly what they were doing. It was a day when our people and our culture came under attack. Approximately 3,000 Americans were murdered and some of the nation’s most iconic buildings were turned into flames, rubble and dust.

In response to blood spilled on U.S. soil, we occupied Afghanistan with determination to snuff the enemy out of their strongholds and bring justice to their doorstep.

The people of the United States were infused with a nationalism and resolution to bring those responsible to a swift judgement. U.S. citizens are known around the world to show strong patriotism when the right circumstance calls for it. But I believe it’s a fragile quality, that we could easily lose if we don’t remember and reflect upon the cost of our victories. The freedoms we enjoy have demanded the blood of tens of thousands of our own as we've stood up to tyrants and have fought for peace over the centuries. It would be a shameful thing if we as a nation forgot that.

Our national pride forms an adhesive that binds the country together, and gives us determination to see difficult times through to their end. It transcends gender or race, and invites people from all over their country to hold onto an ideal that we are all Americans.

Cultural prejudices and inequality is cancerous, and can destroy any hope of any united ideal.

Afghanistan has struggled to live under the same flag for centuries because of inequality amongst its many tribes. The country can be described as a complex weave of culture, race and religion. The country's range of diversity of people and landscapes is what makes Afghanistan so beautiful. Many things that could have served to unite them have been taken away from them because of bigotry, ignorance and various forms of extremism. 

Afghans deeply identify with their history and land in which they live. Before the events of September 11th, 2001, Afghans experienced a similar attack to their heritage and people. A national treasure that represented peace and diversity was taken from them very suddenly.

(taken from Wikipedia)
In January of 2001, under the order of Mullah Omar, the Taliban took 170 Hazara men from their homes in the Yakawlang village in the Bamiyan valley and massacred them simply because of their heritage and religion. Then in March, the same Mullah Omar ordered that the great Buddhas of the Bamiyan valley be destroyed, in the name of a holy war against idolatry.

“In a strange twist, the Hazaras—descendants of the conquering Mongol hordes who stormed Bamiyan in the thirteenth century—had come to venerate the giant Buddhas that once dominated their valley as symbols of their very different religious identity.” (From The Buddhas of Bamiyan by Llewelyn Morgan) The Hazara people practice a form of Shia Islam that is widely scrutinized in Afghanistan.

On a grander scale, “the two colossal figures of the Buddha overlooked the fertile Bamiyan Valley on the Silk Road in Afghanistan. Witness to a melting pot of passing monks, merchants, and armies, the Buddhas embodied the intersection of East and West… The Buddhas represented a confluence of religious and artistic traditions from India, China, Central Asia, and Iran, and even an echo of Greek influence brought by Alexander the Great’s armies.” (From The Buddhas of Bamiyan by Llewelyn Morgan)

The assault on the Hazara and the Bamiyan valley’s relics was an affront to any tolerance to diversity, and was an attack on Afghanistan as a whole. It was a testament etched in history of Taliban brutality and how the people of Afghanistan would fare if they adopted their extreme norms.

Up to that point in history, the Hazara were no strangers to persecution from both the Taliban and Al Qaeda and other groups across Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan. In 1997, 3,000 Taliban were executed by an Uzbek politician in Mazar-i-Sharif named Abdul Malik Pahlawan. In response to the execution, over 8,000 Hazara men, women and children were slaughtered by the Taliban in the same city. In recent years Al Qaeda in Quetta, Pakistan has claimed responsibility for the deaths of over 13,000 Hazara, and wounding 15,000 more. 

(Afghanistan on my mind Facebook)
(The massacre of the Buddhas and Hazara of the Bamiyan has brought to light many things about  Taliban stewardship.  It demonstrates their savagery and intolerance; it gives awareness of a race in Afghanistan that has been extremely scrutinized, persecuted and senselessly murdered; and the scarred cliffs of Bamiyan serve as a reminder for future generations what is at stake if intolerance is embraced.           

During my time here in Afghanistan, my heart has grown akin to the Hazara people. I have met and served with many of them who are interpreters for the U.S. They have put their lives on hold and their families at risk for more than a decade in hopes to help make Afghanistan a better place for their future.

The Hazara are more and more recognized and represented in Afghan government today, but they still face a long road of prejudice. It is my hope that Afghanistan’s melting-pot heritage does not die with the standing Buddhas of Bamiyan, but that the country will embrace and find identity through it’s diversity.

It's important to note that Afghans are currently fighting for their heritage. In ancient Buddhist texts, a third Buddha that dwarfs the other two giants is said to be sleeping in the Bamiyan valley. To learn more, watch the National Geographic documentary Lost Treasures of Afghanistan. 

Thursday, December 4, 2014

On Leadership and Taking Care of Service Members

By SSG Lyndsey Prax

Recently I had the opportunity to travel with the Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff as a photographer while he was visiting troops in Afghanistan. To be totally honest, I had never heard of Marine Sgt. Maj. Bryan Battaglia before and when I was assigned the mission and asked to miss the 128th MPAD Thanksgiving Race Car Derby,  I was less than excited.

But after meeting him and his staff, I was extremely grateful for the opportunity because it put into perspective how important it is to be a leader and take care of each other. 

Sgt. Maj. Battaglia preaches and practices leadership to the fullest and while only a few out of the thousands of Soldiers in Afghanistan had the opportunity to sit in his town hall meetings and hear what he had to say, I had the opportunity to attend every one and listened to his speech four times. Each time he spoke he did it with sincerity and truly had our best interests at heart.  He discussed several issues that are on our minds, to include the transitioning of the force and help for separating veterans.

With the reduction of forces, we will become smaller and leaner, but Battaglia ensures we will maintain a level of readiness, posture and poise to answer any emergent requirement that the president may direct.

For those who are making the switch to civilian life, to include active members of the National Guard returning from deployment, Battaglia acknowledged that the change can be difficult and guarantees that we are not alone in these efforts.

“There are two types of separating service members, those who separate prior to reaching 20 years, which is the majority of our force, and those who make it to 20 years for retirement,” he said.  “It’s irrelevant to us whether a service member served four years or four decades. The message here is that they served and that’s important in and of itself. Someone who separated from the active, guard or reserve with an honorable discharge says a lot about one's character; they served in America’s military and no one can ever take that away.”

Earlier this year, the Departments of Defense and Labor jointly launched the Veterans Employment Center, This site aims to link veterans with job opportunities in their career field.

Another tool introduced by Sgt. Maj. Battaglia is the Noncommisioned Officer and Petty Officer Backbone of the Armed Forces book.  This book was written by a team of enlisted leaders representing the U.S. Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard with the participation and support of the National Defense University. The book is not a “how to” or instructional manual, but is focused on defining and characterizing the noncommissioned officer and petty officer.