By Master Sgt. Phil Speck, 123rd Airlift Wing Public Affairs Office
KENTUCKY AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, LOUISVILLE, Ky. — A combat controller from the Kentucky Air National Guard’s 123rd Special Tactics Squadron was awarded the Bronze Star Medal in a ceremony here March 14 for meritorious service while deployed to Afghanistan.
Senior Airman Robert Willging served with a combined joint special operations task force in Afghanistan from June 1 to Nov. 1, 2014 in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. During that deployment, Willging assisted in the planning and execution of more than 100 combat patrols and served with lead maneuver elements while coordinating aerial weapons teams, close air support and medical evacuation operations.
Willging personally controlled more than 120 aircraft during multiple day operations, to include combined operations with Afghan National Army Commandos in which he controlled, de-conflicted and engaged with 24 aircraft to ensure the safety of all ground elements, according to the award citation.
“Airman Willging’s utilization and control of aerial weapons teams, close air support, and medical evacuation platforms was second to none, and aided in the timely extraction of multiple wounded Afghan National Security Forces and (U.S. Special Operations Forces),” the citation said.
The Bronze Star Medal was authorized by executive order on Feb. 4, 1944, and is awarded to service members who have distinguished themselves by heroic or meritorious achievement or service in connection with military operations against an armed enemy.
Story by Sgt. Brandy Mort, 133rd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
FORT HOOD, Texas – If there is one thing that the Kentucky National Guard’s 201st Engineer Battalion knows, it’s how to build – whether it is a road, a bridge or a career. Although the Kentucky Guardsmen didn’t get dirty for their annual training, the battalion’s expertise was crucial to the Warfighter Exercise 15-5, May 29- June 14, at Fort Hood Mission Command Training Center, Texas.
“We are the main experts in bridging the gap,” said 1st Sgt. Aaron Lester, 2061st Multi-Role Bridge Company first sergeant.
“In this scenario, other countries depend on our troops and our Multi Role Bridge Company in order to properly maneuver across a wet gap crossing,” he said. “After the exercise, we will be able to take back what we learn and utilize the training in preparation for our company. It will be a very important contributor to our development. ”
The 2061st MRBC, is one of Kentucky’s newest units, so Lester said the WFX 15-5 was an opportunity for the Soldiers to understand their new role. The exercise joined together the 201st and other units from Kentucky’s 149th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, and gave the Soldiers a first look at how the MRBC could be utilized in future contingency operations.
Warfighter exercises simulate realistic, complex scenarios that Army units must be prepared for. Like real world combat operations, they combine an array of forces from U.S. active duty, Reserve, National Guard and allied forces – in WFX 15-5, the Canadian Forces also played a role.
“The overall cooperation with the adjacent units that we’re dealing with both active, reserve, air force, multi-national components and civilian contractors, have all been a benefit to our Soldiers and our leaders moving forward,” said Lt. Col. Douglas Clay, battalion commander.
“What that is going to bring, is depth to our organization,” he said.
Clay said the restructuring of the 201st is a force multiplier not only for the National Guard in contingency operations, but also at home for disaster response. Exercises such as the WFX 15-5, test the battalion’s ability to quickly react to numerous scenarios, including building bridges to move troops and equipment from one area to another, something that would be of benefit to the Kentucky Guard during flooding seasons. Clay said he was proud of his Soldier’s success during this training exercise, even though it is the first major exercise for the battalion after its restructure.
“[Our Soldiers] may be uncomfortable operating at this level but they are going to take these skills and what they’ve learned here back to Kentucky and be able take that future operation and be able to plan and execute that to a higher extent,” he said.
The professionalism and ability to conduct a new mission to standard caught the eye of Maj. Gen. Lester Simpson, the 36th Infantry Division commander.
Simpson said he was pleased with Clay and his troops’ abilities, and thanked Maj. Gen. Edward W. Tonini, adjutant general for Kentucky, for allowing the division to “utilize the 201st in such an important role.”
“The river crossing is a very key operation,” he said, “and without engineers to establish bridges we would not be able to have success and meet our training objectives.”
Simpson said the WFX is an important training tool both collectively and at the individual unit level.
“You have to work hard towards the training objectives and what you are going to get out of it,” he said. “Because if something happens and you are called up, this type of scenario helps you to work on the coordination efforts you need to be proficient at when you get there.”
Video by Spc. Cody Copper, 133rd MPAD
Story by Staff Sgt. Scott Raymond, Kentucky National Guard Public Affairs
FRANKFORT, Ky. — Since 1983 talented Soldiers have had the opportunity to share their artistry with the Nation as part of the U.S. Army Soldier Show. This year the Kentucky National Guard’s 1st Lt. William Bland earned a spot in the nationally-touring production.
A native of Louisville, Kentucky, Bland serves as the personnel officer for the 198th Military Police Battalion. When he’s not in uniform Bland likes to perform at clubs, festivals, benefits and wherever he can to gain exposure and experience.
“It is truly a once in a life time opportunity,” he said. “Being a part of the U.S. Army Soldier Show and seeing all that goes into a big production and being a part of all of it has definitely opened my eyes to a world of opportunities after this.”
Bland is one of three Guardsmen performing in the tour. He is joined by Louisiana Army National Guard Sgt. Neasha Powell of Shreveport and Idaho Army National Guard Sgt. Andrew Enriquez of Coeur d’Alene.
Bland’s journey to the show began like that of hundreds of other Soldiers around the country in the form of an audition tape and packet submitted to Army Entertainment, a program of Morale, Welfare and Recreation that runs the Soldier Show. He called the audition process a long and stressful one, but made the cut to try out in person and flew to Fort Sam Houston, Texas where the hard work began.
“Audition week culminated with a live performance of the choreography and the vocal number that we learned throughout the week, and a piece we each prepared on our own. On February 16, 2015 the cast was selected and narrowed down to a total of 18 members, and that was the day the dream became reality.”
As one of 18 performers, Bland will travel the country for shows in a scheduled 40-stop tour. An experience he said “couldn’t be a better way to use my passion to impact the lives of others in a positive way.”
Music entered Bland’s life at an early age. He said he still remembers when his older brother taught him about freestyling and how he was finally able to step out of his shell and attend open mic nights as a student at Union College. Influenced by Eminem and Michael Jackson, Bland keeps an open mind musically and pulls inspiration from as many other musicians as possible.
He first saw the Soldier Show while he was in basic training and left with a great motivation and pride in being a Soldier. As he got more serious with his own music and more into his Guard career, the idea of combining the two became a perfect fit.
“I thought it would be amazing to share what I love to do and to give Soldiers that same motivation and purpose that was given to me when I saw the show.”
Initially enlisting to help pay for college, Bland quickly realized a “greater purpose” in uniform and commissioned as an officer through ROTC. Rising through the ranks, he has earned the respect of his unit and leadership, who are proud to be his cheerleaders during the tour.
“While we will miss his services in 198th MP Battalion, we couldn’t be more excited and proud to have one of our own representing the battalion, the 149th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade and the Kentucky National Guard in this very prestigious program,” said Maj. Timothy Starke, commander of the 198th. “We hope to have a large turn out to support 1st Lt. Bland when the show comes to Kentucky this year.”
According to the U.S. Army, “entertainment for the Soldier, by the Soldier” has been a part of the U.S. Army’s heritage since 1774. Building on the tradition of Civil War camp shows, and more known military shows “Yip Yip Yaphank” during World War I and “This Is The Army” during World War II written and directed by then Sgt. Irving Berlin, Army Entertainment was formalized to inspire, support and coordinate theatrical and musical programs at Army installations worldwide.
Bland said his routine with the show has included a lot of hard work, many 16 plus hour days and has been physically and mentally exhausting, but he wouldn’t change a thing,
“A dream can only come true if you are willing to do the work necessary to make it come true. But success is worth the sacrifice. When you are faced with a challenge just tell yourself, ‘Easy’s never worked for me!'”
The Soldier Show is a 90-minute high-energy top ‘40s and classics show, and it’s free!. It makes two stops in Kentucky during the 2015 tour: July 29-30 at Fort Knox, and Aug. 2-3 at Fort Campbell.
Stories by Senior Airman Joshua Horton, 123rd Airlift Wing Public Affairs and Master Sgt. Phil Speck, 123rd Airlift Wing Public Affairs Office
KENTUCKY AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, LOUISVILLE, Ky. — After more than three decades of service to the active-duty Air Force and Air National Guard, Chief Master Sgt. Scott A. Wanner was officially retired in a ceremony here April 25.
As the chief enlisted manager for the 123rd Contingency Response Group, Wanner’s responsibilities included advising the commander on enlisted force morale, welfare, training and utilization; and overseeing the needs of the group’s enlisted force.
“From day one, your military bearing and calm spirit have been an outstanding benefit to our group,” said Col. David J. Mounkes, the commander of the 123rd Contingency Response Group. “I want to personally thank you for the numerous meetings where we had to discuss the way ahead for the CRG, dealing with the day-to-day leadership challenges for which you always had wise and mature advice. It wasn’t always easy in a group with such a unique contingency airfield-opening mission, but you were always up for it.”
Wanner enlisted in the active-duty Air Force in July 1983 as an inventory management specialist. His first assignment with the 305th Supply Squadron provided exposure to contingency operations during the invasion of Grenada. His second assignment with the 10th Supply Squadron, Royal Air Force Alconbury Air Base, England, further enhanced his desire for emergency and contingency operations.
During this period, Wanner played a supporting role in multiple operations, including a bombing raid in Libya and numerous deployments augmenting both Civil Engineering Red Horse and Prime Beef squadrons. His next assignment brought him back to the United States with the 445th Supply and CE Squadrons at Altus Air Force Base, Okla. He was then deployed to Bateen Air Base, United Arab Emirates, in support of Operations Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm. After returning home, Wanner was approved for a voluntary separation incentive and enlisted as an air transportation specialist with the Air Force Reserve’s 87th Aerial Port Squadron at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, in September 1992.
During the next six years, Wanner applied for and trained in every aspect of his new career field. In September 1998, he left the 87th and enlisted with the Kentucky Air National Guard’s 123rd Aerial Port Squadron. By April of 2008, Wanner was promoted to the rank of chief master sergeant and assumed the position of squadron superintendent. Two years later, he accepted the position of chief enlisted manager with the newly formed 123rd Contingency Response Group.
During his time with the Kentucky Air Guard, Wanner has deployed to support both domestic and international missions, including Operations Noble Eagle, Iraqi Freedom, Southern Watch, and Deep Freeze; and relief efforts for Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
KENTUCKY AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Staff Sgt. Windy Wagner has been recognized by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management for the outstanding support she provides to the Federal Investigative Services in the execution of security clearance background interviews.
Wagner is the Kentucky Air National Guard’s Chief of Information Protection. Her job is to ensure the security of information and monitor the implementation of Air Force information policies and programs for the 123rd Airlift Wing. As part of that work, she manages security background investigations for members of the wing.
To help OPM, Wagner assisted field agents in reserving locations on base that were private and comfortable in which to conduct national security background interviews, according to Col. Jeff Wilkinson, the wing’s vice commander. With more than 50 interviews being conducted each year, Wagner is constantly helping field agents complete their investigations, he added.
Wilkinson noted that Wagner often provides this assistance on her own time, above and beyond the requirements of her job description.
“These efforts directly enhance our overall national security posture by allowing these security interviews to be conducted in an expedient and professional manner,” said Scott Benson, special agent-in-charge of the OPM’s St. Louis Investigative Field Office.
Some of the interviews Wagner facilitated weren’t even for members of the Air Guard, but for personnel from other government agencies. To assist with those cases, Wagner conducted preliminary background checks so the personnel were cleared to enter the installation.
Wagner also has been key in ensuring that members whose open clearance investigations are about to expire get fast-tracked, saving OPM weeks of work that would otherwise need to be re-accomplished.
Story by Capt. Curtis Persinger, Training Center Garrison Command, Wendell H. Ford Regional Training Center
Editor’s note: Capt. Curtis Persinger is a professional Soldier and a consummate officer in the Kentucky National Guard. His enthusiasm for training the troops second only to his passion for catching largemouth bass. In his own words he describes the events that led up to a third year in a row win for the Kentucky Army National Guard at the 20th annual Air National Guard bass tournament held in Lake Martin, Ala.
ALEXANDER CITY, Ala. — First, I want to thank the Alabama Air National Guard for putting on such a great event. My partner 1st Sgt. Scott Carrier and I started fishing these tournaments back when the Army National Guard received the invitation back in 2012 on Kentucky Lake. We haven’t seen a poorly executed event yet. Like anything there is a lot of “behind the scenes work” that must be completed for these things to run smoothly. We are both grateful for being associated with this group of people and the tradition that continues to move from state to state. Scott and I are humbled to win against this group of Fishing Fanatics.
We were discussing the tournament decisions and results after the tournament; it is something we do routinely after any time we fish together. Most anglers can relate to this. It’s a simple check and balance to receive some type of clarity/closure. Honestly though we never saw this one coming! The last few years we definitely fished to our strengths and or gave us some confidence. We were both very comfortable on Lake Guntersville that we go to routinely throughout the year. Last year’s event on Patoka was my home lake and June is a very tough month to fish but I understand what the fish are doing and how to catch them.
However, at Lake Martin we were just happy to defend. No pressure and no expectations. A local FLW BFL result clued me in on the size and type of fish we should be chasing! I initially thought it would take four decent spotted bass (man those Tallapoosa River spots can fight) and one kicker largemouth to win. I commented to Scott and a few other teams from various states who were staying at the Super 8 Motel that I thought it would take 24lbs to win. At the time we were well off that mark. It took every practice day to figure Lake Martin out.
There are a lot of fish are in that lake. Well, I went five hours on the first day of practice while Scott was en-route without a bite. I completely abandoned my “kicker largemouth” search in the first day and in the next several hours I figured out a very deep spotted bass pattern. It was your typical assortment of baits and techniques for structure fishing. A pattern that held up under blue bird sunny skies and dark cloudy rainy conditions.
Our day one and day two bags were almost identical except for the two largemouth that happened to be lost out in about 25 feet of water. They were the only two largemouth that we touched all week! We never thought we would enjoy chasing Lake Martin Magnum spotted bass like we did! We are actually excited to return to Lake Martin in 2017 to chase down those elusive MAG spots (four plus pounders) giants that I know live in the lake!
Now off to Lake St. Clair in 2016. Man, are we excited to go up there and chase some toads and defend our title! We know this will be one tall order. Neither one of us have ever fished above the state of Indiana. We assume those Michigan anglers have a little something for us. We guess those brown fish will throw us a curve ball or two. They are known for that!
With that said, I can guarantee one thing: Scott and I will be working our tails off from daylight to dark giving everything we have.
Good luck to all the anglers and safe travels!
Kentucky hosts survivor outreach event for families of fallen Service members
Story by Sgt. Lerone Simmons, 133rd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
NEWPORT, Ky. — The Belle of Cincinnati hosted 600 Gold Star family members for a cruise along the Ohio River, June 14, in an effort to provide support, assistance and care.
For Terri Bernstein, co-owner of B&B Riverboats which operates the Belle, the Ohio River cruise is somewhat of a family reunion. Bernstein is a Gold Star Wife whose husband, Kentucky National Guard Staff Sgt. Nicholas Carnes, died Aug. 26, 2007, in Afghanistan. He was assigned to Battery A, 2nd Battalion, 138th Field Artillery Regiment, and was a captain for B&B Riverboats.
“Fallen families are near and dear to my heart,” she said. “Supporting them makes me feel better.
“We’ve had more attendance than last year and I plan on putting this on (every year) if families keep coming,” she said.
Mark Grant, the Kentucky National Guard Survivor Outreach Services coordinator, said the SOS program exists to help serve the surviving families of the fallen by keeping them connected with the Army, and Kentucky National Guard, for as long as they desire.
“This boat ride allows survivors to have the opportunity to have a good time, while being together with other families that share their pain, but giving them the chance to have fun,” said Grant
This is the second year for the SOS cruise, and passengers agreed that the one-day event is somewhat like a therapy session.
For Leslie and James Groves III, natives of upstate New York, the Flag Day cruise was to honor their son, Chief Warrant Officer 3 James E. Groves III, an active duty helicopter pilot assigned to 3rd Squadron, 17th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, who died in 2013, in an OH-58 Kiowa helicopter crash.
“James decided that the Army was the best choice for him and we are very proud of his service,” said the elder James, a former Army Reservist.
That pride, according to Leslie, is something that was shared by each of the survivors; along with the grief.
“We’ve all been through the process of getting that call, receiving a flag, and going through the grieving process,” she said. “This actually makes for a much stronger bond and support group.
“This boat ride has allowed us to get together and meet new families and build friendships, and we are very grateful for it,” she said.
The cruise was free, and included food provided by the Cincinnati-based Gold Star Chili restaurant. Surviving family members from eight states participated in the event, which also included activities from the Kentucky National Guard Youth and Family Programs. Among the honored guests were Gen. Frank J. Grass, Chief of the National Guard Bureau, his wife, Pat, and assistant adjutants general from Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio and Indiana.
The Gold Star tradition dates back to World War I, when mothers of fallen Service members would change their blue service stars, in the windows of their homes, to gold.
For more information about the Gold Star programs, log on to www.goldstarfamilyregistry.com.
For information about Survivor Outreach Services, visit www.sos.army.mil.
Video by Spc. Cody Cooper, 133rd MPAD
Story by Sgt. Kayla Benson, 96th Sustainment Brigade
FORT HOOD, Texas — A female Soldier sits on a bench along the inside of a green Army ambulance. Even though it is mid-day, it is almost pitch black in the confined space of the ambulance.
Light from a small window between the front seat and the trunk silhouettes her enough to make out short blonde hair framing her round face. She is wearing an Army combat helmet, eye protection and has a large, red emergency response bag at her side.
Staff Sgt. Becky Schneider, with the Kentucky National Guard’s 1163rd Area Support Medical Company, has been a combat medic for over seven years.
She calls up to the driver, a fellow medic, through the small window. They go back and forth, discussing possible injuries and best practices before the vehicle comes to an abrupt stop. The back door opens and she is on the ground and assessing the scene in only seconds.
Schneider and her team member, Sgt. Duncan Wooster, also a combat medic with the 1163rd ASMC, were participating in a pre-mobilization training exercise here, May 30, in preparation for an upcoming deployment to Afghanistan.
The team received its order: load into the ambulances and treat role players as if they were real-world casualties.
“It’s hectic and it’s crazy and you kind of come out at the end of it like, ‘I just forgot to breath for 40 minutes,’” Schneider said.
After assessing the scene, Schneider quickly approaches a role player on the ground with simulated burns and possible shrapnel wounds, surrounded by tall grass and a coiled metal fence. Wooster rushes to another role player with similar injuries underneath an observation tower. They call back up to address additional casualties.
“It’s problem solving,” She explained. “At the end of the day, you’re helping people and that’s what I really like to do. I like the puzzle of, ‘How do I put this back together again?’”
The scene is chaotic and loud. Several role players surround the medics, attempting to use their medical gear and bombarding them with questions.
Backup arrives and the casualties are moved onto stretchers and into the ambulances. Schneider jumps back into the ambulance next to her patients. As they speed back to the emergency response treatment area, she continues to assess and care for the two Soldiers on either side of her, pulling various medical gear from the many pockets of her bag and verbalizing each action.
Moments later, the ambulance stops: end exercise. She removes her helmet to reveal hair drenched in sweat. Once deployed, this scenario would only make up one hour of her 24-hour shift.
“The training itself had very realistic patients, very realistic situations,” Schneider said. “It gives me a very real understanding of, ‘OK, in a 24-hour shift what am I going to have to do? How can I better take care of my people?’”
Her face looks tired and she allows her shoulders to sink a little as she listens to feedback from the observer coach/trainer regarding her team’s actions in the day’s exercise. Overall, her team did well and the event was a success.
“You’re constantly evolving, constantly learning, trying to build on every single run you make,” Schneider said. “You’re always trying to get just a little bit better.”
Courtesy Kentucky Employer Support for the Guard and Reserve
FRANKFORT, Ky. — Without a doubt, when it comes to placing returning Reservists or Guardsmen in jobs, Kelli Carter is the “job meister” for Kentucky’s Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR) organization.
Carter is one of four fulltime personnel for ESGR in the Commonwealth, a Department of Defense operation that is staffed primarily with volunteers. “Kelli Carter is our expert in terms of placing our returning vets in job or better jobs,” said D. Allen Youngman, ESGR state chair. “She is our ‘go to” jobs person – from connections with companies across the state, to interacting directly with our Reservists and Guardsmen about jobs, and serving as our primary liaison with job-related organizations.”
Carter, a Kentuckian who graduated from Eastern Kentucky University with a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration/Human Resources Management, has worked in job development functions for six years, first as a as a resources management analyst for the state and now for two years with ESGR. Carter measures her success, not just in numbers of job placements, but in the good that it has meant for individuals and families. “I want my job seekers to be set up for more than a job, but for long-term career success.”
Specifically, Carter works with the Kentucky Career Center, Department of Labor, KY-FAME Program, Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs, Kentucky Association of Manufacturers, Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, the Kentucky Community and Technical College system and with employers across the state. She also is a member of the Hiring Kentucky Heroes Workgroup.
Asked to name one example of her work, Carter says that’s difficult, but there is one that is being seen on billboards across the state. That hire she supported was of LuWanda Knuckles, a Kentucky Army National Guard soldier who was recently named as the Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs’ new women veterans coordinator. The Kentucky Army National Guard is posting photos of her on billboards across the Commonwealth.
Says Knuckles, “I worked through the Hero2Hired Program with Kelli, but it really should be known as the “Hand-to-Hand Program,” because that’s the kind of help she provided throughout the entire hiring process. In my position with the Kentucky Army National Guard and with my employer, I can tell any Guardsman who is seeking a job about this wonderful program and the kind of exceptional person Kelli is.”
If you’re a Reservist or Guardsman, or know someone who is, who needs a job or a better job, contacting Carter is easy. Her office phone number is (502) 607-1302 and her email address is Kelli.F.Carter2@firstname.lastname@example.org. Remember, however, Carter may be ESGR’s “job meister” but she’s really more interested in being the “career meister!”
Story by Sgt. Brandy Mort, 133rd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — At Thunder Over Louisville, there are a lot of certainties. If the weather is good, crowds will be big. The air show is cool and during the breaks, people look up to the Second Street Bridge and eyeball the cannons and Soldiers who man them. But it isn’t always a man.
Spc. Natasha Bean and Spc. Tiffany Dirolf, supply specialists assigned to the 138th Field Artillery Brigade, were chosen by brigade leadership to support the cannon salute. The pair loaded the cannons for chief of the National Guard Bureau, Gen. Frank J. Grass, and Maj. Gen. Edward Tonini, adjutant general for the Kentucky National Guard, before the air show kicked off.
“It was an absolute honor to load the sound for Gen. Grass,” Bean said. “He is one of the top officers in the military and not a lot of people get to meet him, let alone prepare him to fire a cannon.”
Before the Thunder mission, the entire cannon salute team received training on how to properly load the 105mm Howitzers. The field artillery is a combat arms branch, and females typically aren’t assigned to fire crews.
While their presence on the team was a significant honor for the battle buddies, Sgt. 1st Class James Marcum, chief of smoke of the firing battery, said they were tactical and professional while teaching the generals how to fire them.
“I think the Soldiers did an outstanding job,” said Marcum. “They only had about 30 minutes to prep the generals and they did fantastic. They should be very proud of what they have accomplished today.”
Best friends outside the uniform, Bean and Dirolf went to basic combat training together, were in the same company for advanced individual training, and deployed to the Horn of Africa together in 2012. They both took pride in their selection to fire the Thunder cannons, and hope it encourages other females to consider opportunities in the guard – even better if it is with their best friend.
“Always having my best friend with me and sharing the same dream helps,” said Bean. “I don’t know where I would be without her.”
LINCOLN, Neb. – Kentucky National Guard Soldiers competed in the Lincoln National Guard Marathon in Lincoln, Neb., on May 3, 2015. Kentucky placed 3rd overall amongst all teams, just one minute behind 2nd place Indiana. Air State Surgeon, Col. Christian Stewart, lead the way for Kentucky runners to a podium finish.
More than 11,000 runners gathered on the first weekend in May for what they imagined would be a run-of-the-mill 26.2 mile race. The participants ran the city-wide course that started on the campus of the University of Nebraska, and finished on the 50-yard line of Cornhuskers Memorial Stadium.
Runners endured more heat than in past years as temperatures climbed into the mid-70’s which can feel like the upper 90’s in the direct sun.
“It was a hot run out there and the motivation of my teammates kept me going,” said Sgt. 1st Class Michael Embury. “At first I was disappointed in my performance, but that all changed when I heard how Kentucky did as a team. 3rd Place is one for the record books.”
Embury earned a spot once again on the All Guard Marathon Team. He will be joined by both Stewart and Team Captain, Maj. Varinka Ensminger.
The annual National Guard Marathon competition brought together teams of the best Army and Air National Guard athletes from all 50 States, and the US territories of Guam and Puerto Rico. Participants strived to be on the “All Guard” Team, consisting of the top 40 fastest running Guardsmen, and the top 15 Guardswomen. By qualifying they gain the privilege to represent the National Guard throughout the year in various competitions nationwide.
Team members train independently with their home states and meet up at the duty location of the competition. Their mission is to advocate for the National Guard through local and national media, host booths event expositions, support and offer advice to local athletes, and gain leads for future recruits and potential athletes.
This year’s Kentucky team was small, but mighty. Stewart and Embury were joined by Ensminger in leading the team scoring. Rounding out the team was Chief Warrant Officer Allen Davis, the longest serving Kentucky Guard runner and Sgt. 1st Class Amy Parker who competed in her second National Guard Marathon.
“I couldn’t be more proud of how the team performed this year,” said Ensminger. “It’s been a long time since Kentucky has seen the podium. Col. Stewart was finally able to attend this amazing event and contributed tremendously. I hope his presence aids in getting more folks on the Air Guard side involved.”
Kentucky not only looked sharp this year but was well hydrated by SWORD. SWORD is called the next generation of performance hydration. The product was co-founded by two doctors including a Kentucky National Guard Veteran runner, Scott Black, who also competed on the Kentucky Guard Marathon Team in the early 90s. “I was put in contact with Scott by a former Kentucky Guard Marathon Team member, Maj. (Retired) Mark Barnett. I thought it would be a great idea to connect the past and present teams. Just another validation of the great work produced by Kentucky National Guard members.” said Ensminger.