From our family to yours, the Kentucky National Guard wishes everyone a joyous and safe Thanksgiving. We count our blessings everyday and are incredibly thankful for the men and women of our organization and their families.
This year, we are especially thankful for our Soldiers and Airmen that are unable to be home for the holidays, like the 1163rd Area Support Medical Company in Afghanistan, the 441st Survey and Design Team on their way to the Middle East, and Bravo Company, 351st Aviation Support Battalion currently preparing to return home. Keep up the great work Soldiers and Godspeed!
Around your dinner tables this holiday, we ask that you keep these brave Guardsmen in your thoughts and prayers.
By Sgt. Brandy Mort, 133rd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Maj. Gen. Edward W. Tonini doesn’t officially retire until Dec. 7, 2015. Representatives of the Kentucky Army and Air National Guard, distinguished guests, along with friends and family members gathered to honor Tonini’s legacy during a retirement ceremony in Louisville, Nov. 21.
After nearly 47 years of service, Tonini leaves behind an unprecedented legacy, not only to the service members he’s led and citizens of the commonwealth of Kentucky, but also to those he’s served alongside.
“On behalf of the Chief of the National Guard Bureau and the other adjutants general not in attendance, we owe you a great deal of gratitude, we thank you for your distinguished service, both in the state and National level,” said Lt. Gen. Joseph L. Lengyel, Vice Chief of the National Guard Bureau.
“On behalf of us all, thank you for all that you have done and will continue to do.”
It was an emotional event for Tonini as countless amounts of awards, gifts, and tokens of gratitude were bestowed. As he stood at the podium in the ballroom, he couldn’t help but to pause before addressing the crowd.
“I am so spectacularly proud of what my units, both Army and Air have been able to accomplish. When you talk about Kentucky, I guarantee you they are at the top of any list. I want to look around this room and look upon every single one of your faces and say…” With tears in his eyes he said, “Thank you all.”
After first retiring in 2003 following a stint as the director of the National Guard’s “Your Defenders of Freedom” program at the Pentagon, Tonini was chosen as the 51st adjutant general of the Kentucky Guard.
Just a year later Tonini provided the decisiveness and effectiveness the commonwealth needed to respond to a catastrophic ice storm in 2009. The storm was the largest call-up of Kentucky Guardsmen in state history and it set the tone for the operational tempo of Kentucky’s Soldiers and Airmen.
Thousands of Kentuckians would deploy overseas and remain fully committed to the needs of the commonwealth. Under Tonini’s watch, a new emergency operations center was built, business was expanded at Bluegrass Station and numerous facilities’ construction projects were completed, all benefiting the Guard and the state.
Tonini took on the responsibility of multiple national-level positions during his tenure including president of the Adjutant General Association of the United States where he testified before government officials as a staunch advocate and defender of the National Guard.
While it’s hard to summarize a such a long military career, the Kentucky Guard ensured Tonini received the gratitude of a state for eight years of dedication.
“Forty seven years is a long time and I can tell you this is incredibly difficult for me,” said Tonini. “I can promise you I will stay engaged in the best interest of the Kentucky National Guard, because I will always be a Guardsman.”
By Olivia Burton, Kentucky National Guard Family Programs
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Each year the President signs a proclamation declaring November Military Family Month. This month, the Kentucky National Guard aimed to honor and celebrate the commitment and sacrifices made by the families of Kentucky Guardsmen.
With the support of local communities joining forces across the commonwealth, Kentucky truly leads the way in providing care for their military families.
Families of the 1163rd Area Medical Support Company, currently deployed to the Middle East, gathered in Louisville Nov. 7, to hear about services offered in their area.
Community leaders, veterans’ organizations, the local armory and the University of Louisville teamed up to recognize family members and even provided free admission to the Louisville Cardinals football game. As spouses and parents of deployed Service members received information on services offered, their children spent the day together decorating cookies and making new friends.
“I believe these events are beneficial not just for learning about the programs available to the military family, but also it helps to interact with others going through the same situations,” said military spouse, Kim Beard. “Our kids can play and maybe feel comforted by knowing they all have a daddy that is working far away.”
Many services presented their benefits and programs, including Active Heroes, Athena Sisters, Military One Source, American Red Cross, and the Enlisted Association National Guard of Kentucky.
“This event gives my family the opportunity to obtain unknown information then spend the evening together at the football game. It is a must for us to stay busy with fun things to keep the kids’ minds busy and full of things to talk about with their daddy when he calls,” Beard said.
Like Beard, many families share the same hardship and cling to their communities and each other for support, especially during the deployment cycle. It is our responsibility to ensure our families are always taken care of across Kentucky.
Please join the Kentucky National Guard this month as we honor their daily sacrifices. Contact your local Family Assistance Center if you know of a family in need or are a family member seeking information on ways your community supports you.
For a special way to give back this holiday season, please check out Operation Military Cheer at this link: http://kentuckyguard.com/family-programs/child-youth-services/
By Sgt. 1st Class Gina Vaile-Nelson, 133rd mobile Public Affairs Detachment
GREENVILLE, Ky. — In a competition there is one thing that is certain: only one winner will prevail.
The Kentucky National Guard’s 2016 Best Warrior competition is no different. Only one Soldier, NCO and Senior NCO is named with the top honor at the conclusion of the strenuous three-day competition. A gauntlet that puts the NBC-hit American Ninja Warrior TV competition to shame.
But as the leaders who competed and supported the competition learned, one person may come out on top, the Kentucky National Guard is one team.
“I learned that no matter what unit you’re from, at the end of the day we are all Soldiers,” said Sgt. Amanda Marlow, human resources specialist, Joint Force Headquarters NCO of the year.
“Throughout this competition we’ve had competitors continuously cheer for everyone,” she said. “Whether it was cheering on at the end of the run, or coming back to the finish and cheering for those finishing the ruck march. For me that was a neat thing to be a part of.”
It wasn’t just competitors who kept each other going. Marlow said State Command Sgt. Maj. David Munden was instrumental in keeping her and other Soldiers focused on finishing and not giving up.
“Sgt Maj. Munden finished up my last leg of running the IMTG course with me,” she said. “That was pretty awesome to see the state command sergeant major come out and run with his Soldiers. He did that throughout the competition with various events, but that’s something I’ll remember.”
It is the Warrior Ethos, engrained in each of the 2016 competitors, that makes the Best Warrior challenge different than other competition. Never leaving a Soldier behind may be associated with battle scenarios, but it holds true even in competition. It is knowing that you’re only as strong as your weakest link, and digging deep to help make the weak stronger.
For Sgt. Christopher Jones, infantryman, Delta Company, 1st Battalion 149th Infantry NCO of the Year and the 2016 Kentucky NCO of the year, this year’s ruck march was a poignant reminder of the Ethos.
“I’ve never had that much competition before,” he said.
“For the whole five miles, it was three of us, just constant. He was ahead of me, I was ahead of him, it was the worst. But we couldn’t quit. It pushed us harder.
“It was my most memorable moment,” he said. “This weekend, especially on the ruck march, I had a lot of guys supporting me from my unit. They rucked with me on the way and switched out every mile. They stayed with me.”
Spc. Jacob Heath, a medic assigned to Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 149th Infantry and the 2016 Kentucky Soldier of the Year, said this experience was fun and value-driven.
“Even though we were in competition, I respect the hell out of these guys,” he said.
For 1st Sgt. Josh Baker, first sergeant of 299th Chemical Company, 149th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, as a senior leader and Kentucky’s NCO of the year for 2016, he said hopes that this experience makes the competitors stronger leaders and in turn, that trickles through the ranks.
“I think that sometimes we get caught up in our day-to-day with the Guard and we forget what a privilege it is to serve with other Soldiers,” Baker said. “This weekend, the caliber of Soldiers who have been here has reminded me, again, what a privilege it is to stand in front of them.
Baker said he hopes to take his experience from this competition and create unit-level competitions that will not only prepare his Soldiers for future Best Warrior events, but also build the esprit de corps among his ranks.
“Pride in service is one of the most important aspects that can get lost on that M-Day Soldier on a drill weekend, so I really want to remind them of the caliber of Soldiers who are in the Kentucky National Guard,” he said. “And show them where they can go if they put their minds to it.”
The 2016 Kentucky National Guard’s Best Warrior competition was held Nov. 5-7 at the Wendell H. Ford Regional Training Center in Greenville, Kentucky. Fifteen Guardsmen competed for Kentucky’s top enlisted honor.
By Walt Leaumont, Kentucky National Guard Public Affairs
FRANKFORT, Ky. — Sgt. Joshua Kemp with the 2nd Battalion, 75th Recruiting and Retention Command received the 2015 Sexual Assault Prevention Innovation Award Oct. 23.
The award recognizes Service members and Department of Defense (DoD) civilians whose work in support of the military community has been particularly noteworthy. DoD created the award to spark creativity and incentivize efforts to address not only sexual assault prevention, but also ideas that enhance overall command climate. Kemp was recognized for proactively participated in peer-to-peer mentorship on topics of healthy relationships, responsible drinking, and bystander intervention in social settings.
Maj. Gen. Edward W. Tonini, Kentucky’s adjutant general presented the award during a presentation that was held in conjunction with a video teleconference with Gen. Frank J. Grass, chief of the National Guard Bureau.
“This was a collaborative effort with the Sexual Assault Response Center, this award is for all who helped with this project,” said Kemp. “And I have to thank my command staff for creating a climate that allows for developing and implementing creative solutions.”
One of the creative solutions Kemp developed was a mobile marketing campaign centered on wrapping General Services Administration (GSA) vehicles with the DoD Safe Helpline logo and contact information. The campaign is also an example to the Soldiers and Airmen of the Kentucky Guard that the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response program has the support of senior leadership and sexual misconduct will have severe consequences.
“We have a zero tolerance in Kentucky for such actions, and we’re not afraid to spread the word of our program,” said Maj. John Harvey, the state’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Officer.
“Without Sergeant Kemp’s enthusiasm and ingenuity, the car wrap idea never would have culminated into a finished product, for so many people to see as this car drives by.”
According to Harvey Kemp has played an integral role in raising awareness of sexual assault since arriving at Joint Force Headquarters in 2009. Not to be deterred by rank restrictions inhibiting his ability to serve as a Victim Advocate, Kemp has found creative ways to make an impact in other areas by leveraging his passion, talent, and dedication for sexual assault prevention.
He constantly mentors his peers on attitudes, behaviors, and personal responsibility when in social settings and informs fellow Service members of sexual assault prevention and response information and resources. He leads hip-pocket training on responsible drinking and bystander intervention methods so Soldiers can be better prepared in the event a sexual assault occurs. Kemp also indirectly supports families of Kentucky Guard Soldiers by providing context to his wife, Rebecca, a Family Readiness Support Assistant, on the regulations and policies pertaining to dependent members of the military affected by sexual assault.
“Regardless of the message, the Kentucky Guard is a family and we must make sure everyone knows what we stand for and how we can help when the time comes,” he said.
“This is about getting the word out and this is just one more way we can do just that.”
By Sgt. 1st Class Aaron Hiler, 133rd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
By Sgt. 1st Class Gina Vaile-Nelson, 133rd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
GREENVILLE, Ky. — The Kentucky National Guard has named the 2016 Soldier, Noncommissioned Officer and Senior NCO of the year for the Commonwealth:
Soldier of the Year: Spc. Jacob Heath, a medic assigned to Detachment 2, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 149th Infantry
NCO of the Year: Sgt. Christopher Jones, an infantryman assigned to Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 149th Infantry
Senior NCO of the Year: 1st Sgt. Josh Baker, first sergeant with the 299th Chemical Company
The three Guardsmen received ribbons and trophies in a brief awards ceremony Nov. 8, at the Wendell H. Ford Regional Training Center in Greenville, Kentucky, following the competition.
“So many times we get caught up in the day-to-day, conducting the Guard business, all the mandatory training, that it is easy to lose sight, sometimes, of what a privilege it is to stand shoulder to shoulder with these guys,” said Baker. “The caliber of Soldiers who were here, I’m just speechless of the caliber of competition.”
Warriors were tested on their military knowledge and military history; completed an Army Physical Fitness Test; conducted weapons qualification on the M4 rifle and 9 mm pistol; were physically and mentally strained on a stress-shoot obstacle course; ran land navigation and 5-mile ruck march and completed numerous Warrior Task skills before appearing before boards.
“I’ve had a 17-year career in the Guard, I’ve seen a lot of what right looks like,” Baker said. “Now I want to do that for my Soldiers. I want to impart everything I’ve learned here on my Soldiers.”
Kentucky’s six brigades sent their best and brightest representatives for the annual Best Warrior competition held Nov. 5-7. The three-day competition pushed each of the 15 competitors to their mental and physical limits. The competition is designed to prepare the three winners to represent the Commonwealth at the regional and national level competitions.
For Jones, he’s well aware of how difficult the regionals can be. In 2015, he represented Kentucky as the Soldier of the Year at regionals. After learning from his experience there and competing as a NCO for 2016, Jones said he has one goal.
“Hopefully to win it all this year and take the national,” he said.
Jones said one of his downfalls in 2015 was tackling the state and regional competition as if it was meant for infantrymen, and not encompassing the whole Soldier concept.
“This isn’t infantry of the year, this is Soldier of the Year,” he said.
That same sentiment is what Heath said kept him going through the competition.
“I serve in a platoon of medics; it goes to show that there’s no limits, nothing there to stop you,” said Heath.
Heath said that his preconceived idea that the Best Warrior competition was only for an infantryman is something he wants to ensure other Soldiers don’t think.
“I’ve got motivation to make my peers better Soldiers and better competitors,” he said.
Kentucky State Command Sgt. Maj. David Munden said he was not only proud of the winners, but also of the spirit and resiliency the other competitors exuded.
“These (15) are the best and the brightest of what the Kentucky National Guard has to offer,” he said.
He also thanked the competitors for staying motivated and pushing each other through the stress.
“When you came in on Thursday night, I asked you one thing,” he said. “While you’re driving home, can you look within yourself and say I left it all out there. I did everything I could do, to do as well as I can. And I hope that you did.
“I hope you go home with a satisfied mind and a satisfied soul,” he said.
Kentucky’s Soldier and NCO of the Year will continue to train with senior leadership to compete in the regional competition in Spring 2016. This years runners up included:
Soldier of the Year Runner Up: Spc. Michael Miller, a paralegal assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 149th Brigade Support Battalion
NCO of the Year Runner Up: Sgt. Justin Gottke, an engineer assigned to the Western Kentucky Training Center
Senior NCO of the Year Runner Up: Sgt. 1st Class Lance Warmath, automated logistics specialist, Joint Force Headquarters
By Maj. Dale Greer, 123rd Airlift Wing Pubic Affairs
ORLANDO, Fla. — The Kentucky Air National Guard’s 123rd Airlift Wing has been named the top airlift or tanker unit in the Air National Guard by the Airlift/Tanker Association, a group of aviation professionals dedicated to the support of military airlift.
Lt. Gen. Stanley Clarke III, director of the Air National Guard, presented the 2015 Major General Stanley F.H. Newman Award to Kentucky’s adjutant general, Maj. Gen. Edward Tonini, during the A/TA’s annual convention in Orlando, Fla., on Oct. 30.
“Once again, the Airmen of the Kentucky Air National Guard have demonstrated that the 123rd Airlift Wing is truly a world-class organization,” Tonini said. “From providing combat airlift in support of wartime taskings in Southwest Asia to helping stop the spread of Ebola in West Africa, the 123rd always answers the call to duty with unsurpassed excellence.”
The 123rd Airlift Wing won the award for exceptional service from July 1, 2014 to June 30, 2015. During that time, the unit mobilized more than 250 Airmen for wartime and humanitarian deployments to the U.S. Central Command and U.S. Africa Command areas of responsibility, supporting Operations Enduring Freedom, Freedom’s Sentinel and United Assistance.
In Southwest Asia, the wing’s 123rd Operations Group flew 403 combat and 625 combat-support sorties, airlifting 4,000 troops, more than 3,500 tons cargo and hundreds of wounded service members.
In Africa, the wing’s 123rd Contingency Response Group established an airlift hub to process and forward troops, cargo and medical supplies into Liberia as part of Operation United Assistance, the multi-agency effort to stop the largest Ebola outbreak in history.
Additionally, Airmen from the wing’s 123rd Special Tactics Squadron were deployed overseas for more than 2,000 days, supporting 270 combat missions and 50 Combat Search and Rescue sorties in U.S. Central Command.
The wing also deployed aircraft and crews to the Netherlands, Norway and Germany, interoperating with multiple NATO partners; and supported information exchange programs with Burkina Faso, Chile, Columbia, Djibouti, Jordan and Thailand.
The 123rd Airlift Wing, based in Louisville, Ky., is one of the most decorated units in Air Force history with 16 Air Force Outstanding Unit Awards. Last year, the wing won its sixth Distinguished Flying Unit Plaque and its fourth Curtis N. “Rusty” Metcalf Trophy from the National Guard Bureau as the top airlift wing in the Air National Guard.
The wing’s primary mission is tactical military airlift. It is equipped with eight C-130 Hercules aircraft and has been heavily engaged in airlift missions in dozens of countries around the world for more than 25 years, including multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.
The wing is unique in that also supports two other major operational missions. It is home to the only contingency response group in the Air National Guard, and the ANG’s only special tactics unit with both combat controllers and pararesecuemen.
The wing also provides explosive ordnance disposal, fatality search and recovery, two Critical Care Air Transport Teams, a CBRNE Enhanced Response Force Package, civil engineering, and security and support forces to combatant commanders in support of national security objectives, and to civilian leaders during homeland crises.
By Staff Sgt. Scott Raymond, Kentucky National Guard Public Affairs
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James, Kentucky Adjutant General Edward W. Tonini and senior military officials joined the families of fallen Service members at Churchill Downs for the sixth annual Survivors Day at the Races Nov. 1 in Louisville.
The day was designed to recognize the surviving family members of military service members who have given their lives in defense of our nation since September 11, 2001. More than 850 family members and guests from Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and West Virginia attended the event.
“Days like today help all of us move forward,” said James. “I have been inspired today as I’ve met family members today and what you’re doing in the aftermath, you are all moving forward, you’re doing it together. Together with your friends, family and in some cases, with people you’ve never met.”
Organized by Survivors Outreach Services, the event is one of the largest of its kind in the country recognizing families of each Service branch. Those attendance were treated to a buffet lunch in the historic track’s Millionaires’ Row, live music, activities for children and the best view of the races on the track below.
Highlighting the day was a race named in honor of the Survivors of Fallen Military Heroes. Family members joined the winning jockey and horse in the winner’s circle to present the race trophy.
Lt. Gen. Joseph Lengyel, Vice Chief of the National Guard Bureau paid his second consecutive visit to the event and was thrilled with its growth.
“It’s great to be back here, see a bigger program and see these families getting so much out it,” said Lengyel. “The most important thing we do is make our units strong, make our families strong and our communities strong and our commitment to these survivors is something we hold dear and will never give up on.”
Humana Government Business Services also helped sponsor the event and joined forces with U.S. Bank and Military Warriors Support Foundation to give away a mortgage-free home to a wounded Soldier.
Orie Mullen, president of Humana Government Business and Dave Lieske with Military Warriors presented Jason McAlister and his wife Lendie with a key to their brand new home in LaGrange, Kentucky.
McAlister served eight years and two deployments with the 10th Mountain Division and was wounded in an IED attack in Afghanistan in 2004. He and Lendie both agreed this has and will change their lives and the future of their family.
“This just leaves me speechless,” she said. “The outpouring of support is simply overwhelming. We are so blessed and fortunate that he’s still here, that he survived all that he went through.”
“And to be here with all these families and their heartache, it’s just an amazing honor. It’s taken our breath away.”
Military Warriors is a 501(c)(3), nonprofit organization that supports wounded Service members and surviving family members. Lieske said they plan to return to next year’s event and give another home away.
Mullen echoed that sentiment by indicating that Humana would like to return as a sponsor next year as well.
“Humana is so humbled to be a part of such an honorable and emotional event,” said Mullen. “A day like this deserves our utmost support, which is why we aim to be here in 2016.”
More than 600 Kentucky military service members have given their lives in the defense of the nation since 9/11. Eighteen Kentucky Guard Soldiers have died in a theater of war in that time, fourteen in Iraq, four in Afghanistan.
By Sgt. 1st Class Rebecca Wood, 149th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade Public Affairs
SPRINGFIELD, Ky. — More than 80 family members, friends, Kentucky National Guardsmen and the City of Springfield said farewell to 14 Soldiers from the 441st Engineer Survey & Design Team Oct. 31, at the Kentucky National Guard Armory in Springfield.
The Soldiers will finish their training at Fort Bliss, Texas prior to deploying to the Middle East for an estimated 10 months. Their mission will be to travel throughout the Persian Gulf region to plan and test for engineer work projects, address facility site location environmental concerns, and survey for construction projects and boundary identification throughout various areas of operations.
A representative from the Battalion, Capt. Stephen Strack said even though the unit is small, the job the Soldiers will perform will make a huge difference.
“The teams specialty starts off any construction job that is going on,” said Strack. “The building plans they form with the local populace will help win hearts and minds, while the projects they help construct on the bases will provide force protection, moral, welfare and recreation for the other deployed troops.”
Since 2011, the 441st has served as the Kentucky Army National Guard has had its very own survey & design team. This new unit has always supported Kentucky Guard engineers in vertical and horizontal construction projects, but has never deployed, until now.
The 441st commander, 1st Lt. Cody Lasseigne said though only one of the 14 Soldiers has been deployed before, this team is ready.
“This is the best bunch of guys I have ever encountered,” said Lasseigne. “They work really well together and I foresee them enjoying the experiences they face in real world missions and training opportunities.”
One 441st Soldier, Sgt. Austin Huffman, is a homeland security major at Eastern Kentucky University. He has been in the 441st for three years and looks forward to the deployment.
“We have been anticipating this deployment for over a year,” said Huffman, “and I am excited to travel to different places, improve on my skills and serve my country.”
Huffman said there is a lot more to their job then survey and design, such as material testing for future construction sites and quality control/quality assurance for newly built sites. He also said he set a professional goal to accomplish while in the Middle East.
“I want to get better at sketching on this deployment,” said Huffman. “It’s challenging for me because you have to draw construction sites to scale using pencil and paper instead of a designing program on the computer.”
Huffman said the hardest part of deploying is leaving his family and friends behind. His mother, Teresa Price from Gainesville, Va., remained misty-eyed throughout the departure ceremony.
“The hardest part will be not being able to pick up the phone and talk to him whenever I want,” said Price.
Huffman’s father, Wade Huffman from Beckley, W.Va., conveyed he was grateful for the man his son has become and the work he does for his country.
“I am so proud of him,” said Wade. “He is ready for the task at hand.”