By Staff Sgt. Vicky Spesard, 123rd Airlift Wing Public Affairs
KENTUCKY AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, LOUISVILLE, Ky. — As the nation honors the accomplishments of women in the military during National Women’s History month, the 123rd Airlift Wing reflects on one of its own, Master Sgt. Zakiya Taylor, a mentor to young people, an acknowledged leader among her peers and a decorated Airman answering the call to duty around the world.
An 18-year veteran of the Kentucky Air National Guard, Taylor joined the wing just after finishing high school, with the encouragement of her parents to help pay for college. She never intended to make it a career.
“I got the love of travel from my musician father, who took me with him when he performed around the world,” Taylor explained. “I knew that the Guard would allow me to travel as well and help me further my education.”
After completing her bachelor’s degree in sociology and psychology at Western Kentucky University, Taylor decided to continue her career in the Guard, where she got her opportunity to see the world. Taylor’s career has taken her to deployments in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Europe, Afghanistan and Africa.
“I have had the opportunity to learn all these different cultures and fellowship with all these different people,” Taylor said. “In that process I have learned that we are not very much different. We all want the same things: good health, wealth and security for our families.”
Fellowship through mentoring is a passion for Taylor, who worked throughout her high school summers as a camp counselor for youth at the Metro Parks summer camp in Louisville. While in college, she became a dance instructor for a local youth arts program.
She continued her desire to mentor in her Guard career when she accompanied a group of young Army ROTC cadets to Burkina Faso, Africa.
“This was a great leadership opportunity for me,” she said. “I was solely responsible for these cadets, getting them to their mission location and taking care of them from start to finish. It has made me a better leader. I know the cadets’ experiences will make them better leaders, too.”
Leading by example is just one of the many characteristics that has brought Taylor to this point in her career. In March, she was honored as the Kentucky Air National Guard’s 2014 Senior Non-Commissioned Officer of the Year.
“As a leader and as a woman, it is exciting to be honored alongside all of the men,” Taylor said. “It shows that we can do this. We have come so far and had so many challenges. I think when an award like this happens, it shows that women are breaking down barriers, moving forward and making progress.”
Accepting challenges is something Taylor is no stranger to. As well as performing her duties as unit training manager for the 123rd Services Flight here, she has been appointed by Chief Master Sgt. Ray Dawson, 123rd Airlift Wing command chief master sergeant, to assist with a new education initiative designed to bring college classes on base.
“She is one of the most professional, dynamic senior NCOs I have ever worked with,” Dawson said about Taylor, who is the Force Development Education Services Technician for his education program. “Her commitment to excellence is second to none. When she is in charge of a detail, the outcome is set from the start.”
And right from the start in her career, Taylor has had a vision of what her own outcome should be.
“It is very important to me to display my leadership and exemplify what it means to me to be here and set an example for other Airmen,” she explained. “I may not always say the right thing, but if I’m doing the right thing at the right time for the right reasons, someone is going to pick up on that. Hopefully, I am making a difference for someone.”
Shutsy Reynolds flew aircraft over the United States to support the war effort
Women Airforce Service Pilots helped pave the way for female pilots today
By Staff Sgt. Vicky Spesard, 123rd Airlift Wing Public Affairs
Wrapping up March, Women’s History month, here is a final story in our series celebrating women and the roles they play in our military history.
KENTUCKY AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, LOUISVILLE, Ky.—Sitting in the pilot’s seat of a C-130 cockpit here, Florence Shutsy Reynolds, 91, looked right at home as she beamed a smile at the airstrip in front of her.
Reynolds, a former member of the Women Airforce Service Pilots corps during World War II, was visiting the 123rd Airlift Wing March 22 in celebration of Women’s History Month.
“It truly is my honor and pleasure to have you here at our base to represent women pilots,” said Col. Barry Gorter, commander of the 123rd Airlift Wing, after presenting Reynolds with a certificate declaring her Honorary Wing Commander for the day. “You are one of many of the brave women who performed a dangerous mission and did a job that many people felt, at the time, women shouldn’t be doing. You have helped pave the way for women in our services today.”
Indeed, not much is written or spoken about the WASP program. Its primary focus was to reassign the responsibility for flight operations over the United States from male to female pilots, freeing the men to go to war. Because some military leaders believed that women pilots would damage the reputation of the male-dominated military, however, the program was quickly disbanded and brushed aside when the war ended, Reynolds said.
“It was a time when women were not even encouraged to go to work, let alone fly airplanes,” she explained. “We trained hard, flew dangerous assignments and we lost pilots in our group. All of which the military tried to cover up and put away when the war ended.”
Trying to get the word out about the WASP program and the contributions that she and her fellow WASP veterans made is one of the reasons Reynolds accepted the invitation to celebrate National Women’s History Month with the Kentucky Air Guard.
“I was very excited to be invited to the base to share my story of the WASP program,” said the aviator, dressed in a replica WASP uniform that she wears when touring to promote her fellow flyers. (Her original uniform is in a museum.) “It is always wonderful to meet other pilots and, most of all, other women who have the opportunity to fly.”
During her honorary day as wing commander, Reynolds toured the base, got an extensive look inside a C-130, ate lunch with wing members and gave a lecture about the WASP program.
After posing for pictures with many Air Guard members and swapping pilot stories, the Pennsylvania native traveled to the Kentucky State Fairgrounds to serve as the keynote speaker for the annual Kentucky Airman and Soldier of the Year Banquet.
“She truly is an inspiration to all of us,” said Staff Sgt. Shelby Basham, a member of the Kentucky Air Guard’s Fatality Search and Recovery Team. “Her determination in traveling the country, telling her story of the WASP program and doing what she did at a time where many didn’t believe in her is truly amazing.”
Equally amazed was Reynolds herself.
“To see the women here who are trained and who fly as equals is very gratifying,” Reynolds said, wiping tears from her eyes. “My message to them is to keep dreaming. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something, and always fly as high as you can.”
Honored for actions he took during a shooting incident
By 2nd Lt. James W. Killen, 123rd Airlift Wing Public Affairs
KENTUCKY AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, LOUISVILLE, Ky. – A Kentucky Air National Guardsman has been awarded the Medal of Valor from the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office for actions he took during a shooting incident at Fern Creek High School last year.
Staff Sgt. Brent Reichardt, an aircraft hydraulics specialist in the 123rd Maintenance Squadron here, works full-time as a Jefferson County Sheriff’s deputy and school resource officer. He was on duty at Fern Creek High School Sept. 30 when a student pulled a gun during an altercation with a classmate and shot another student in the abdomen before fleeing the scene.
As the first officer to respond, Reichardt’s split-second decision-making helped save the life of Javaughntay Burroughs and ensured that other students were safely evacuated from the last known location of the suspect, officials said. Reichardt also facilitated the arrival of back-up officers and eventually helped locate the suspect.
Jefferson County Sheriff John Aubrey said Reichardt exemplifies a man of character.
“It takes a special type of person to serve as an SRO and to work with kids and to know what to do when they are in danger,” Aubrey said. “For going above and beyond the duties in his position, Deputy Reichardt was presented the Medal of Valor.”
Reichardt expressed his surprise about receiving the award, which was presented during a ceremony at the Sheriff’s Office Feb. 20.
“I feel like I was doing my job,” he said. “My security team there is fantastic; they make my job so easy. Without them, I would not have been awarded this medal, so the credit really belongs with them.”
The Medal of Valor is presented to deputies who demonstrate bravery, perseverance, initiative and dedication to duty in the face of imminent personal danger.
One day after receiving the award, Reichardt deployed to the Persian Gulf to continue serving his community as an Air National Guard maintainer. When asked how his service as a school resource officer compared to his service in uniform, Reichardt said, “Core values are core values. Integrity is a big part of being a deputy, and ‘integrity first’ is one of our Air Force Core Values. It is my pleasure to serve our community with integrity, not just here at home, but overseas, too.”
The alleged shooter has been indicted on multiple charges, including assault in the first degree. The victim is currently recovering from his injuries.
Story by 2nd Lt. James Killen, 123rd Airlift Wing Public Affairs
KENTUCKY AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, LOUISVILLE, Ky. — After more than 34 years of service to the active-duty Air Force and Air National Guard, Chief Master Sgt. Johnie L. Cherry officially retired during a ceremony held at the Base Annex here Feb. 7.
Cherry, superintendent of the 123rd Medical Group, was responsible for managing health services and medical administrative functions.
The commander of the 123rd Medical Group, Col. Michael Cooper, said he had a deep respect for Cherry’s values and dedication to serve others.
“In our military service we’ve all had someone who was our chief, and I know that for many of you and countless others who could not be here today, Chief Cherry has been, and will always be, your chief,” Cooper told the audience.
Cherry served as a medical service specialist in the active-duty Air Force before joining the Kentucky Air National Guard. He would later cross-train as a public health technician and health services manager before taking responsibility as superintendent.
His decorations include three Air Force Achievement Medals, four Air Force Commendation Medals and three Meritorious Service Medals, in addition to other distinguished awards.
Cherry took the podium to thank the people he said made his career possible. He choked up as he addressed his wife, Sherry, saying, “Without you, this day could not be possible. You are my rock, my inspiration, and I love you with all my heart.”
“To the 123rd Airlift Wing,” Cherry concluded, “as reflected by the many devices on my uniform, you really are an outstanding unit, and the number one airlift wing in the United States Air Force. Thank you.”
Story by Chief Warrant Officer Joseph Lyddane
FRANKFORT, KY. — The title “mechanic” is synonymous with the terms hard work, grease, oil, and more often than not, male. Although inequality remains prevalent between men and women in the workforce, there are those amongst the projected 159.4 million females in the United States proving that women can dominate, excel, and outperform males at their own game.
One Kentucky Army National Guard Soldier decided to break the mold in pursuit her own aspirations. Emerging from humble beginnings, Chief Warrant Officer Melissa Propes took the advice of her mother who told her, “You can be anything you want to be if you work hard for it.”
When Propes joined the Kentucky Army National Guard on February 25, 1999 she was faced with a decision, as many of us are, as to which path to choose. With pride and determination, as a senior at Campbellsville High School, she set her sights on the male dominated Military Occupational Specialty of 63W (Wheeled Vehicle Mechanic) and was assigned to the 326th Ordnance Detachment in Glasgow. She attended basic training thereafter and made a name for herself right away by graduating as the Honor Graduate during her Advanced Individual Training.
Chief Propes recognized the importance of continuing her education early on and enrolled in Eastern Kentucky University in 1999 and attended Western Kentucky University from 2000-2002. However, she decided her heart was in the maintenance field, so while serving on orders for a pending deployment she decided to apply for the Nashville Auto Diesel College (NADC) and was accepted shortly after.
Propes’ work ethic became apparent during her tenure at NADC. She not only was a contributing member on the school newspaper staff, but she worked her way up the ladder at Outback Steakhouse to become a server trainer.
Amid all of her responsibilities, additional duties and monthly drills Propes was able to graduate in 2004 with a diploma in Auto and Diesel Technology as well as receive the prestigious Craftsman Award for having a ninety-five percent shop average.
“There was a defining moment when I realized that being in the National Guard meant more than just showing up for drill and ‘doing your job,'” said Propes. “I was very young when we got mobilized it became clear to me that if I wasn’t proficient at my job, someone could get killed. That’s when it became serious for me.”
In true leadership fashion, Propes credits her team for getting through that period of her life. “I could not have done it without the flexibility and support from my managers, coworkers and family.”
It is difficult to get a foot in the door at some of your major mechanics facilities much less to be the first female mechanic. Propes did just that when she became a hydraulics technician for Thompson Machinery in 2004. Overcoming the odds against her, the disregard of her coworkers, and even the advice of her supervisor that perhaps she was in the wrong career field, she persevered by starting early, working late, and sometimes putting in over eighty hours per week eventually winning the confidence and respect due her.
The experience and credibility established during her time with Thompson Machinery led to her becoming the first full-time female mechanic to be hired at the Combined Support Maintenance Shop as a Heavy Mobile Equipment Repairer. A promotion and new responsibilities validated her hard work and efforts.
“This was the first time I felt that I could impact my organization beyond just being a good mechanic,” she said.
After being promoted to Staff Sergeant, becoming a shop foreman, senior mechanic, again being the first female to be selected as an equipment specialist, she decided to accept the challenge of attending Warrant Officer Candidate School to become a 915A Surface Maintenance Mechanic Warrant Officer. Did I mention she was the honor graduate once again of her Warrant Officer Basic Course?
A newly minted Warrant Officer Propes was eager to accept the position Battalion Maintenance Officer for the 1-623rd. She later became the first female field maintenance shop chief in the state. She deployed with the 1-623 thereafter in 2013 where she provided area maintenance support of active duty units, Marines, Special Forces, civilian contractors, reefer vans, and UAV launchers.
“There was something new and challenging every day,” said Propes.
Her attitude and approach are exactly why she was nominated for the 2014 Warrant Officer of the Year award. While she didn’t win, she gave her competition a run for their money.
“Chief Propes was very competitive and made the job of the selection board very difficult.” said State Command Chief Warrant Officer Dean Stoops. “We need more women in the warrant officer corps and if Chief Propes is an indicator of the potential that’s out there, then the future of the corps is bright.”
“Chief Propes is proof that with hard work, commitment, and a willingness to assume responsibilities,”said Chief Warrant Officer Connie Vick, one of Propes’ mentors and friends. “All dreams can be accomplished. She is an inspiration to young female Soldiers to excel and achieve their own dreams. I am proud to call her one of my fellow warrant officers.”
After the challenges and struggles throughout the last fifteen years, many would choose to take a break or at least stop to breathe. Not Chief Propes. Upon returning from deployment she now has an additional goal of attending Western Kentucky University’s Technology Management Program in order to enhance her supervisory and leadership skills as well as become, as she put it “an even greater asset to the maintenance community.”
“I can’t take personal credit for my accomplishments,” said Propes. “I’ve had some outstanding mentors throughout my career. Our organization has a focus on mentorship, both in receiving and providing, at all levels, NCOs and officers.”
According to Propes, being a warrant isn’t exactly a walk in the park. “It’s not for easy and I don’t think it’s for everybody. But if you love what you do and you wan to continue being a part of your specialized field and make it better, then the warrant officer program is perfect for someone with that mindset and desire.”
Female troops used the power of sisterhood to make a difference
Story by Capt. Carla Getchell, 133rd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
With March being Women’s History month kentuckyguard.com is publishing a series of stories celebrating Kentucky women and the roles they played in our military history. Following is one such story ….
FRANKFORT, Ky. — While preparing for my deployment to Afghanistan with the Agribusiness Development Team III in 2011, I was given a long reading list of books that would help me develop cultural understanding. One book that was considered mandatory reading at the time was “Three Cups of Tea” by Greg Mortenson.
The book’s namesake is derived from the proverb that the first time you share tea with someone you are a stranger, by the second cup of tea you are a friend, and the third cup shared makes you family.
After months of training, reading, preparing, I was ready to go drink some tea. What I learned after my first mission in Afghanistan was that sometimes all it takes is one hot pepper.
My team and I were fortunate to follow Maj. Bobbie Mayes’ extremely successful deployment with the ADT II team. She built on what the team before her had created, and left my counterpart, Capt. Paula Thrush, and me with thriving relationships with female leaders in the Parwan, Panjshir, and Kapisa provinces of Afghanistan.
During our first mission, Mayes took us to meet some of the provincial leaders she was mentoring for a luncheon where she would say goodbye to the women she had worked with and to introduce us, her replacements, who would begin our year-long friendship with them. There were gifts and tears, and whole fried fish garnished with Afghan peppers. The woman who sat next to me reminded me of my aunt. She was jovial and easy to get along with, even if we could only communicate in hand gestures, smiles, and head nods.
The room was large enough to accommodate 15 or so Afghan and American women along with a couple male interpreters. Izzy and Abbie, our aging male interpreters were working hard to make their rounds and facilitate conversation between the chatting women. Because of this, Sohaila Kohistani and I played Afghan charades.
While we smiled and nodded at one another, I had carefully tucked the remainder of the fried fish head under the corner of tinfoil that lined my Styrofoam lunch container in hopes that none of my Soldiers would dare me to eat it. Instead, Sohaila began to motion toward a small, red hot pepper on my plate. She then smiled and gestured with the universal sign for eating. I immediately knew where this was headed. Here I was in the middle of Afghanistan, in the middle of a war zone, and this woman was egging me on to eat a hot pepper.
Fortunately, I like spicy food, and while I knew it might be painful I would be able to endure it. Proving I could eat the hot pepper would set the stage for my relationship with this woman for the next year. As I raised the red pepper to my mouth I watched as every Afghan woman in the room reached down into their Michael Kors look alike bags and pulled out a digital camera. They were all poised to snap photos of the American woman eating the Afghan pepper.
It was definitely spicy and a bit painful. I made sure to make a show of grabbing a bite of naan, Afghan flatbread, and a gulp of canned soda to cool down the inferno that was making its way down my throat. As I did this the women in the room laughed and chatted happily over one another.
For the next year, Sohaila and I worked closely with one another to improve the lives of the women in her province of Kapisa. She told the story of the pepper multiple times to the men and women we encountered. I did everything I could for her, and fought for even more. When it was time to leave I gave her a bracelet with small gold stars because I had learned that Sohaila meant morning star in English.
I did not know the depths of bonds that would develop with the Afghan women I worked with and the women I worked with in Afghanistan. I was fortunate to have an amazing team. Our medic, Sgt. Kathleen Gallagher, was always able to calm down the villagers by helping their children with their medical needs. Sgts Heather Carrier and Kristyn Robinson were my main security detail the entire year. They walked in and out of every room ahead of me. They kept me and everyone around me safe. Carrier even headed up her own projects. Staff Sgt. Jane Rothstein and Sgt. Claudia Rector got us all to Afghanistan, took care of us for the entire year, and got us all home with their amazing skills in personnel and logistics. They also were always willing to come out and work with me wherever we went.
I learned so many lessons from all the women I worked with that year. The lessons of compassion, understanding, and tolerance have stuck with me. Sohaila and I drank a lot of tea together that year, but it only took us one hot pepper to become sisters.
Story by Sgt. 1st Class Gina Vaile-Nelson, 133rd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Kentucky Soldiers of the Year stand united, ready to represent the Bluegrass at regional competition
“United We Stand, Divided We Fall,” is a phrase most Kentuckians see daily, yet may not even realize it. It’s the Commonwealth of Kentucky’s motto, etched on the seal and embroidered on the state flag.
Marine Sgt. Maj. Gary Smith, 4th Marine Logistics Group, command senior enlisted leader, reminded the attendees of the 2015 Outstanding Airmen and Soldier of the Year Banquet of the importance of the motto during his keynote remarks, specifically for Guardsmen.
“In keeping with the motto of this great, American state – Kentucky – ‘united we stand, and divided we fall,’” he said. “In the totality of the Kentucky National [Army] and Air Guard, you all must emulate this motto all the time.
“And I believe you do it exceptionally well,” he said.
Smith was the senior enlisted leader for operations in the Horn of Africa when the Kentucky National Guard’s 2nd Battalion, 138th Field Artillery deployed there in 2012 in support of operations in the region.
“Not only are you nationally known,” he told the audience of more than 400, “but you are well established on the international level. Your legacy and reputation may have got you there, your talent has, and will keep you in the game.”
Smith said that the Kentucky Army and Air National Guard’s ability to thrive in joint environments is what keeps the organization successful, and what made the awards evening exceptional. Smith said all service branches were represented either by uniformed personnel or the retirees in the audience.
For the Army Guard honorees, the awards banquet recognized their efforts after nearly a year of preparations that included intense studying for company-level, all the way to state-level, competitions and boards, and extreme mental and physical determination. An opportunity for senior leaders to congratulate the Army Guard Soldiers before they depart for the regional competition held in the Virgin Islands in April.
“The entire state has put forth the effort into us to succeed,” said Staff Sgt. Jessie Mascoe, fire directional specialist, Bravo Battery, 1/623 Field Artillery, and the 2015 NCO of the Year for Kentucky.
“It makes it a lot easier when you have people who back you, you know you’re not the only one,” Mascoe said about the preparations leading up to the regional competition. “Sgt. 1st Class Taheny is our sponsor, so our success rests on his shoulders as well.”
Sgt. 1st Class Jay Taheny, a recruiter for the Kentucky National Guard’s Recruiting and Retention Battalion, said his experience training new recruits for Basic Combat Training proved helpful for his role as sponsor for the Kentucky delegation. As Senior NCO for Kentucky, he has developed a training plan to ensure the Kentucky team is ready to stand out among the competitors.
“Sgt. Maj. Smith talked tonight about engaging the heart, and that’s classic leadership in my mind,” Taheny said.
“You can send people emails and tell people what to do all day long, but unless you actually go out there and show them what to do, and lead by example, you’re never going to earn the respect and without respect, you’re a leader in name, but not a leader in person.”
Taheny said it’s important to help train the Soldier and NCO of the year before the competition so that Kentucky competes as a united front.
For Spc. Christopher Jones, an infantryman assigned to Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 149th Infantry (Mountain Warriors), the attention to his own personal success by leaders at every level is what has inspired him to become a better Guardsman and a fierce competitor. With an Expert Infantryman Badge under his belt, he said the knowledge passed down from his fellow infantrymen is crucial to his success.
“They are a really good support group. They are always there, and I really appreciate everything they do for me,” Jones said. Even if that means picking up the phone anytime of day for personal related issues, at a second’s notice, they are there.”
Jones credited Command Sgt. Maj. Matthew Roberge for mentoring him throughout the competition. He said the partnership was like a “torch being passed,” to him, which he will pass along next year to another Soldier within the Mountain Warriors.
Continuing the cycle – “United We Stand, Divided We Fall.”
Story by Senior Airman Joshua Horton, 123rd Airlift Wing Public Affairs
KENTUCKY AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Senior Airman Robert W. Willging, Tech Sgt. Don A. Yeats and Master Sgt. Zakiya A. Taylor were honored at a banquet March 14 as the Kentucky Air National Guard’s Outstanding Airmen of the Year for 2014.
The three Airmen, chosen from of pool of 18 nominees, were selected because of their leadership and performance in their primary duties, dedication to self-improvement, and community involvement, according to Chief Master Sgt. Ray Dawson of the Kentucky Air National Guard Chiefs’ Council, which selects the winners.
Willging, winner of the Airman category, is a combat control specialist in the 123rd Special Tactics Squadron. In the past year, he has displayed judgment beyond his pay grade in flawlessly controlling more than 30 surgically precise air strikes to kill enemies while protecting civilians, according to his supervisor, Master Sgt. Russ Lemay. Willging voluntarily deployed for 138 days to Afghanistan as the sole Airman directing air power for an Army Special Forces team, killing 110 terrorists and destroying 16 enemy fighting positions and vehicles.
“I could not think of a more deserving award for Senior Airman Willging than Airman of the Year,” Lemay said. “Rob’s accomplishments in 2014 were truly remarkable. In the Special Tactics community, our operators are already working alongside a highly motivated and carefully selected force. To stand out amongst such elite company is a testament to Rob’s talent, dedication and hard work.”
Yeats, winner of the Non-Commissioned Officer category, is a radio transmission systems specialist for the 123rd Special Tactics Squadron. He led the development of a maritime communication system and repurposed communications suite that allows mission commanders to track and direct surface forces from airborne platforms. He accomplished this while utilizing existing hardware and software solutions, saving more than $500,000 in the process, according to his supervisor, Master Sgt. Frank Tallman. Yeats also designed and implemented a mobile command-and-control suite that is now the standard for all deployed Special Tactics operations centers.
“Tech Sergeant Yeats is the most technical- and tactical-minded person I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with,” Tallman said. “He is an absolutely vital part of the 123rd Special Tactics Squadron.”
Taylor, winner of the Senior NCO category, is a food service manager in the 123rd Force Support Squadron. She is a Bronze Star recipient, having earned the award for service in Afghanistan as part of Kentucky Agribusiness Development Team V, a multi-disciplinary task force charged with helping the nation develop a sustainable farming economy. In addition, Taylor served as an Army ROTC cadre leader in Burkina Faso, Africa, mentoring eight U.S. Army cadets while also teaching English and sharing cultural practices with Burkina Faso students at Namoano Georges Military Academy.
“Master Sergeant Taylor is an exceptional Airman,” said her supervisor, Master Sgt. Karen D. Parrish. “She is passionate about her family, friends and co-workers, and puts her heart into everything she does. Her positive attitude and ever-present military bearing make her a role-model for the younger Airmen.”
Story by Staff Sgt. Scott Raymond, Kentucky National Guard Public Affairs
JERICHO, Vt. — For the first time, the Kentucky Guard sent a team to ski and shoot against the best of the best biathlon athletes in the National Guard. Guardsmen from 23 other states joined Kentucky at the 40th National Guard Biathlon Championships at Camp Ethan Allen Training Site in Jericho, Vt., Feb. 28 to March 5.
“Competing in a biathlon is a very unique experience for anyone and especially so for Kentucky Guardsmen,” said Capt. Stephen Smith with the 41st Civil Support Team. “It’s been a great challenge for the four of us, but also very rewarding.”
Along with Smith were teammates Sgt. 1st Class Diane Mortenson, Joint Force Headquarters, and Staff Sgts. Joel Ray Campbell and Eric Shackelford, both with the 41st CST. They joined more than 120 other Guardsmen from across the country to compete in the National Guard’s rendition of one of the oldest winter sports.
The five-day event pushed the Soldiers to their physical limits with daily races averaging 10km. With roots in Scandinavian military training, a biathlon is a rigorous test of endurance, speed and marksmanship. Athletes alternate racing cross country ski loops with target shooting from the prone and standing positions.
“Kentucky may be known for good shooters, but not for skiing,” said Mortenson, who was the only team member to have previously participated in a biathlon event. “We were kinda like the Jamaican Bobsled Team up here.”
According to Lt. Col. Brian Demers, team coordinator, Kentucky Guard Soldiers have attended regional summer and winter events, but they’ve not competed as an organized team prior to this year. In 2012, Demers was asked to put a team together, but without equipment, experienced athletes or a solid understanding of the sport. It was not an easy task.
“Kentucky has some real potential to make a niche for itself in the National Guard Biathlon Program,” said Demers. “Our inaugural team exceeded most people’s expectations of what a southern state could accomplish.”
Despite lacking a climate conducive to cross country skiing, the team practiced on skate skis and tried to learn as much as they could about biathlon in a short time prior to the championships. But some necessary skills are ingrained in each Soldier from basic training.
“Competing in such a demanding event calls upon Soldiering skills that are on the basic level for every Soldier, you have communicating, shooting and you have movement,” said Smith. “And those three things we have done continuously all week.”
Regardless of their preparation, the event was still an entirely different experience. Campbell has shot competitively for years and was excited to put some well-aimed shots downrange; after skiing several miles in between shots, the veteran shooter has a new respect for the sport.
“The pace of the biathlon is unlike anything I have done before,” said Campbell. “Biathlon combines cross country skiing up to 15 kilometers, stopping and as fast as possible place a number of precise shots into a target no bigger than a silver dollar at 50 meters. It’s said that biathlon is the most difficult of the Olympic sports and I am a complete believer after the week I spent doing it.”
Campbell was also intrigued by the unique atmosphere of a military sporting event where everyone was the same, no rank, no uniforms, but same expectations. On the range and through the course, fellow Guardsmen were just athletes, including former Olympians and world class biathlon competitors. Campbell said no matter their skill level, everyone was helpful and volunteered to help the Kentuckians learn.
“Out of the 120 athletes we have here, there’s over 30 novices, which I think is a testament to the program,” said Maj. Gen. Steven Cray, adjutant general for Vermont. “We need to attract states like Kentucky, to make a commitment to the sport and allow it to grow. Not only is it a great program from the biathlon side, but the benefit to the states and units in terms of physical fitness is dramatic.”
The Kentuckians said they weren’t expecting to win any event, but they were there to compete. And like most underdogs, the Kentucky team garnered their fair share of fans during the week. Even as the new kids in town, the team got caught up in the camaraderie of the event and benefited from asking questions and putting their best foot, or ski, forward.
“Our biathletes were motivated, competitive and willing to learn from others, and there was a remarkable improvement over the course of the week in their techniques, speed and marksmanship,” said Demers. “We had more people cheering for us than I had expected.”
“We had compliments on many aspects of our team, from our uniforms to our work ethic, and we earned the respect of our fellow biathlon competitors.”
Team members agreed that is was a tough week, physically harder than a marathon event, said Smith who’s experience on snow includes sledding and snowboarding. The eye-opening competition has set a standard for the team and the state to meet and exceed in the coming years.
“The three Soldiers I’m here with have done a superb job and have represented Kentucky well,” Smith said. “Everyone here in Vermont knows who Kentucky is now and by being here we have started a firm foundation for this sport to continue in Kentucky.”
“I won’t mention the number of times we’ve fallen and how silly we may have looked at times, but we were here, we competed, we learned and we had a great time,” said Shackelford. “I can’t wait for next year.”
The National Guard Biathlon Program expects to hold training camps, an East and West region competition and the 41st championships next year. The Kentucky team already has high hopes for their second season on the snow.
“We will be back, and we will be even more competitive,” said Mortenson. “We may have not had the best team this year, but we did have the best attitude.”
***If you are interested in information on the biathlon team, contact Lt. Col. Brian Demers at 502.607.1487 or email email@example.com.
The Kentucky National Guard Biathlon Team is just one of many opportunities available to Guardsmen. Other options include the Marathon Team, Leapfest parachute competition and the International Military Exchange Program. Contact your chain of command for more information.***
Story by David Altom, Kentucky National Guard Public Affairs
FRANKFORT, Ky. — In arguably the worst winter since 2009, Kentucky National Guard troops recently played a crucial role in protecting the health, safety and welfare of their fellow citizens. In the wake of heavy snows that began on March 5, hundreds of accidents and impassable conditions stranded an estimated 600 vehicles along I-24 and I-65 in Central Kentucky. More than 150 Kentucky Guard soldiers were called out over a two day period to support relief efforts, clearing traffic and rendering aid to stranded motorists.
“We were given the mission of getting traffic going,” said Sgt. 1st Class Sherman McCoy with the 223rd Military Police Company. “We helped a few motorists who were trying to get off the expressway and got stuck, digging them out and getting them off the road. We also helped numerous tractor trailers that were stuck and we got them on their way.”
“We’re not used to quite this much snow,” he said, “but it’s been a good mission. We enjoy helping others.”
1st Sgt. Chris Jeter, 149th Brigade Support Battalion, said his troops worked to ensure travelers were safe and provided assistance to those whose vehicles were stuck in mounding snow.
“Short of hooking tow straps to our military vehicles, we have done everything possible to assist them,” he said of their efforts.
In addition to responding state wide to these areas, local teams also assisted local emergency medical services, helping to reach patients not accessible by ambulance.
“We have been responding with paramedics to these areas, carrying them to the residence once they have gotten as far as they can go,” Jeter said adding that they are using Humvees and “good old foot power,” even helping to carry patients and paramedics back to the ambulance.
Troops also used Humvees to deliver food, water and gasoline to stranded motorists, and in some cases transported chilled travelers to warming shelters. It was reported that some motorists were stranded up to nearly 24 hours.
“The Soldiers did it again,” said Col. Jerry Morrison, commander of the 149th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade. “Soldiers received alert phone calls as early as 0330 hours and began digging out of their own driveways to respond to citizens in I-65 and I-24. Over 120 Soldiers of the 149th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade from Benton, Murray, Paducah, Bowling Green, Louisville, Elizabethtown, and Richmond were on duty by the time snow quit falling that afternoon.”
“We alerted, mobilized, executed our mission, and de-mobilized Soldiers in a 96 hour period. I am extremely proud of our leaders and units. Their response shows the requirement for the National Guard to remain in the home towns across America to provide immediate assistance to the Governor in times of crisis.”
This is the second such mission for the Kentucky National Guard in the past few weeks. Earlier in February more than 100 troops were mobilized in response to the sub-zero temperatures and icy conditions that plagued Eastern Kentucky. Soldiers cleared public roads, provided emergency transportation to hospitals and long term care medical facilities. They also delivered several thousand gallons of water to communities suffering a water shortage brought about by damaged water systems.
In 2009 more than 4,000 soldiers and airmen were brought on duty when a state wide ice storm triggered wide spread power blackouts. Troops delivered food and water to stranded residents, conducted door to door wellness checks and supported local authorities as needed. The 2009 winter storm is considered one of the worst domestic natural disasters in the Kentucky National Guard’s history.