Tag Archives: National Guard

Oregon training center helps Soldiers transition to infantry

By JONATHAN (JAY) KOESTER
NCO Journal

Out in the rolling hills of north-central Oregon, far from the crowded cities near the coast, Soldiers train to join the U.S. Army infantry.

Camp Umatilla, near Hermiston, Oregon, lacks the forested landscape and waterfalls usually associated with the Pacific Northwest. Instead, Soldiers who want to change their military occupational specialty learn infantry skills while rucking past tumbleweeds and eerie-looking symmetrical mounds.

Camp Umatilla is home to the Oregon National Guard’s 1st Infantry Training Battalion of the 249th Regional Training Institute and the only certified Army infantry training academy west of the Mississippi River in the continental United States. The camp was originally built during World War II to serve as a munitions storage area. Exactly 1,001 munitions storage bunkers — now mostly empty — still dot the landscape, visible to travelers on the nearby interstate highway.

Though the history is interesting, infantry course instructors of the 249th RTI are more worried about the future and preparing Soldiers for the demands of service in the infantry.

Soldiers in the MOS-Transition course of Oregon National Guard's 249th Regional Training Institute train on infantry tactics at Yakima Training Center, Washington. (Photo by Jonathan (Jay) Koester / NCO Journal)
Soldiers in the MOS-Transition course of Oregon National Guard’s 249th Regional Training Institute train on infantry tactics at Yakima Training Center, Washington. (Photo by Jonathan (Jay) Koester / NCO Journal)

Infantry courses

For those already in or transitioning to an infantry MOS, three courses are taught at Camp Umatilla. Junior enlisted Soldiers who want to join the infantry go through the MOS-Transition course. NCOs who want to transition to infantry go through the Infantry Transition Course. And those NCOs who are already in the infantry and seek to be promoted can go through the Advanced Leader Course.

Though active-duty and reserve Soldiers from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, and other duty stations train at Camp Umatilla, recently the two transition courses were crowded with National Guard Soldiers from Washington and California, said Staff Sgt. Henry Snyder, a primary instructor for the RTI.

“This year is kind of different than traditional years because there are National Guard units in California and Washington transitioning into a Stryker Infantry Brigade,” Snyder said. “So a lot of these Soldiers are being told they need to change their MOS or look elsewhere. We get Soldiers from a variety of MOSs and backgrounds, but by the end of the course, everyone is on the same page.”

Though some must transition to infantry to keep their Army careers on the right paths, others volunteer to join the infantry because they are looking for something different than their current job, said Sgt. 1st Class Ryan Austin, course manager for the RTI’s infantry courses.

“A lot of people transition because they like the job better,” Austin said. “They want to be one of the ground-pounders who carry the guns and do the shooting. They like to lead the way. It’s usually pretty aggressive, type-A personalities.”

Soldiers in the MOS-Transition course of Oregon National Guard's 249th Regional Training Institute train on infantry tactics at Yakima Training Center, Washington. (Photo by Jonathan (Jay) Koester / NCO Journal)
Soldiers in the MOS-Transition course of Oregon National Guard’s 249th Regional Training Institute train on infantry tactics at Yakima Training Center, Washington. (Photo by Jonathan (Jay) Koester / NCO Journal)

When asked what Soldiers transitioning to infantry are most surprised by or have the hardest time with, there are different answers, but Snyder said it was the overall stress of infantry life.

“I think a lot of them coming into this feel that the infantry is just a bunch of mindless people who will run into a fire instead of run away from it,” Snyder said. “But there is a culture shock of what really goes into everything. From mission planning, to execution, to recovery, there are a lot of meticulous things that happen. It’s a very difficult school that we run, but real-life situations are way more difficult than what we have here. We can add a little bit of stress — time management stuff, or carry heavy things for long distances — but, at the end of the day, nobody is shooting at them and nobody is getting blown up. We can’t paint that picture of that stress and being able to think on that level, but we try as hard as we can to create a stress factor and also have the thought process that goes with it.”

Sgt. 1st Class Eddie Black, MOS-T infantry instructor, said the physical difficulty of the job can surprise people, especially when they have to complete the 12-mile ruck march with more than 70 pounds of equipment.

“The number one question — by far — is, ‘We have to carry this much weight on our backs?’” Black said. “It shocks people. Even people who think they have been training for this, they’ve been carrying, like, 35 pounds for six miles. That ain’t training. 35 pounds? I carry more than that in beer when I go camping. The first ruck march wakes them up.”

Black said the top lesson he tries to impress upon Soldiers transitioning into infantry is that the workout routine they had before probably isn’t going to cut it anymore. Both the frequency and intensity of their exercise will need to increase. 

Soldiers in the MOS-Transition course of Oregon National Guard's 249th Regional Training Institute take a break while training on infantry tactics at Yakima Training Center, Washington. (Photo by Jonathan (Jay) Koester / NCO Journal)
Soldiers in the MOS-Transition course of Oregon National Guard’s 249th Regional Training Institute take a break while training on infantry tactics at Yakima Training Center, Washington. (Photo by Jonathan (Jay) Koester / NCO Journal)

“A lot of people go to the gym and it’s like, ‘Let’s do an arm curl. Let’s do a bench press,’” Black said. “That’s not working out. I’m talking about high intensity workouts. When is the last time you worked out and you ended laying down on a filthy floor, thankful for the opportunity to lay down? That’s a workout, and that’s what I show the students.”

The 12-mile ruck march is just one of the items on the Infantry High Physical Demands Task List. The items on the list need to be checked off before a Soldier can join the infantry. But despite the difficulty of the ruck march, carrying 45-pound ammo boxes, or dragging a 268-pound person 15 meters, it is a much simpler task that is causing the most problems for the newest generation of Soldiers: throwing a grenade.

It turns out that, in an era when youth play on smartphones instead of throwing a ball around with friends, the seemingly simple task of throwing a one-pound grenade 35 meters is causing the most failures, Snyder said.

“In this computer generation, there are a lot of people who come through who have never thrown before; they’ve never thrown a one-pound anything,” Snyder said. “So a lot of people struggle with that. We take a lot of time to help them just with the basic mechanics of how to throw something. Some of them grasp it, and some of them don’t. That one is our biggest thing that knocks people out.”

Umatilla history

Construction of the Umatilla Army Ordnance Depot began in 1941. With rail lines nearby, plus a port on the Columbia River, the site allowed easy movement of munitions while being inland enough to be safe from sea attacks.

Originally, 1,000 of the munitions storage bunkers were built. On March 21, 1944, a bomb being loaded into one of the bunkers exploded, killing six workers, said Maj. Timothy Merritt of the 249th RTI. A plaque on the post memorializes those who lost their lives that day. 

Soldiers in the MOS-Transition course of Oregon National Guard's 249th Regional Training Institute train on infantry tactics at Yakima Training Center, Washington. (Photo by Jonathan (Jay) Koester / NCO Journal)
Soldiers in the MOS-Transition course of Oregon National Guard’s 249th Regional Training Institute train on infantry tactics at Yakima Training Center, Washington. (Photo by Jonathan (Jay) Koester / NCO Journal)

“But the design of the bunker worked and it didn’t cause a chain reaction, blowing up the entire post,” Merritt said. “They then built two more, so there are 1,001 of these out there now. It’s pretty surreal when you go out there in the field.”

After World War II, the depot continued to store and supply munitions until 1962, when the installation’s name was changed to the Umatilla Army Depot and it began storing chemical weapons. In 1994, the depot shipped its final supplies of conventional weapons. In 1996, the name was changed again, to Umatilla Chemical Depot. After the Umatilla Chemical Agent Disposal Facility was built, the chemical weapons on the post began to be disposed of by incineration in 2004.

With all chemical weapons at the installation safely destroyed by the beginning of 2012, the incineration plant was demolished. About 7,500 acres on Camp Umatilla are now used for training by the Oregon National Guard. Other parts of the camp are in the process of being transferred to local governments for various uses, including a wildlife preserve.

Women in infantry

In December, Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced the Army would open all branches and specialties to women. Sgt. Shelby Atkins of the Wyoming National Guard became the Army’s first female enlisted infantry Soldier in May. In August, two women successfully completed the 249th RTI’s Infantry Transition Course, making them among the first enlisted women to transition to infantry.

Sgt. Jennifer Sargeant of the Washington National Guard trains on infantry tactics at Yakima Training Center, Washington. (Photo by Jonathan (Jay) Koester / NCO Journal)
Sgt. Jennifer Sargeant of the Washington National Guard trains on infantry tactics at Yakima Training Center, Washington. (Photo by Jonathan (Jay) Koester / NCO Journal)

Sgt. Jennifer Sargeant of the Washington National Guard transitioned from the 88M (motor transport operator) MOS. When asked during the course if she had any thoughts or pride about being one of the first women to join the infantry, she said, “No. I’m just here to work.”

“It’s going well,” Sargeant said. “The difficulty of the ruck march was probably the most surprising, but I think everybody kind of realized that. It was an eye-opener for everybody here. That was probably the most challenging mentally. Otherwise it’s just been work hard, pay attention, learn everything you can.”

Staff Sgt. Heidi Brezynski of the Washington National Guard transitioned from the 68W (health care specialist) MOS. She also said she had no special feelings about being one of the first women in infantry.

“I’ve always been in male-dominated industries,” Brezynski said. “It’s nothing new.”

Speaking during the course, Austin said he could tell Sargeant and Brezynski had what it took to be in the infantry.

“We’ve actually had other classes with females; they just didn’t make it all the way through,” Austin said. “This is the first one where I think they’ll make it through. They are doing well.”

Though there have been changes to the course program of instruction in the past year — adding measurable skill sets and reducing PowerPoint time — how the course is taught overall hasn’t changed with women joining the ranks, Black said.

“The way we train Soldiers, the intensity, and what we expect from them, that hasn’t changed at all,” Black said. “These two individuals have delivered exactly what we hoped for them to deliver.”

And whatever slight changes come to how the Army trains infantry Soldiers, men and women, the major demands will remain the same, Black said.

“These tactics, techniques and procedures will change; weapons will change,” he said. “But at the end of the day, you have to be able to carry 70 pounds of gear over a long distance, sleep in a hole, eat lousy food, use hand and arm signals in a crazy environment, through the worst inclement weather, and get a job done. That’s it right there.”

Sgt. Jennifer Sargeant of the Washington National Guard learns infantry tactics during a day of training at Camp Umatilla, Oregon. (Photo by Jonathan (Jay) Koester / NCO Journal
Sgt. Jennifer Sargeant of the Washington National Guard learns infantry tactics during a day of training at Camp Umatilla, Oregon. (Photo by Jonathan (Jay) Koester / NCO Journal

 

 

Oregon National Guard looks to include Air Guard in Best Warrior

By JONATHAN (JAY) KOESTER
NCO Journal

The U.S. Army Best Warrior competition is scheduled to begin Sept. 26 at Fort A.P. Hill, Virginia, with 20 competitors vying to be named NCO of the Year and Soldier of the Year.

Receiving less attention are the many state-, regional- and national-level competitions that lead up to the big event in Virginia. Around the country, leaders are testing their NCOs and Soldiers in innovative ways to discover their Best Warriors.

Recently, the Oregon Army National Guard had its Best Warrior competition at Camp Rilea, Oregon. The NCO leadership in the Oregon National Guard works hard to make the competition challenging. They hope the effort allows the winners to build on their successes as they compete regionally and nationally. Master Sgt. Geoffrey Miotke, ammunition manager and competitive sports program manager for the Oregon National Guard, said he is proud of the results of past competitions, with the winners often going on to further victories.

“I believe my job is to find out who can still perform when they are dog tired,” Miotke said. “They’re mentally fatigued, they’re physically fatigued, but who can still perform? Who is the best? It’s a long three-day event.”

One of the innovations Miotke is working toward is having competitors from the Air National Guard join the Army National Guard competition. To that end, a liaison team from the Air Force worked with Miotke and Sgt. 1st Class Scott Nyquist, quota source manager for the Oregon National Guard, to learn about the competition and find ways to make it a joint one next year.

“The problem we have is my stuff is Army-centric, obviously,” Miotke said. “The Air Force does not have some of our capabilities or the equipment they would need to be familiar with. So some of their senior leaders are going to work with me during the setup and running of this year’s competition, so they have a better understanding of what their Airmen will be required to do come next year.

“I’ll provide them a lot of documentation from the Army side of the house, so they can actually participate and have a chance to win,” Miotke said. “They are going to provide me information from the Air Force side that my Army Soldiers don’t do, so that we can combine it next year and actually make it completely joint. It’s joint-run this year, but not joint competitor-wise yet.”

Second Lt. Daniel Hicks of the Oregon Air National Guard’s 116th Air Control Squadron, 142nd Fighter Wing, at Camp Rilea was part of the team helping run the Oregon National Guard Best Warrior competition from Aug. 18-20. He said there isn’t a similar competition in the Air National Guard. After a couple of days, he was impressed by what the event brought out in the competitors, and he was looking forward to the Air Guard taking part.

“I think it’s phenomenal,” Hicks said. “I think it’s a good way to develop the warrior ethos that we speak about all the time. It’s an amazing way to develop a joint relationship for now and in the future, because a lot of these folks are going to be future leaders. I just like the chance for people to get out there, push themselves, develop some fortitude and just challenge themselves.

“Obviously the joint relationship is good,” Hicks added. “But even among our own services, we tend to pigeonhole ourselves by occupational specialty. Anytime you can get the different career fields challenging each other and working together, I think it only breeds better camaraderie and a more successful Army and Air Guard.”

As the competition kicked off, Command Sgt. Maj. Shane Lake, Oregon’s command senior enlisted leader, talked to the competitors about the move toward a joint competition.

“Everything we can do that’s joint and broadening is important,” Lake said. “At your level, you’re fighting your missions at the company level. That’s all you really need to worry about. But if you’re in this room right now, I hope you are looking at becoming something bigger and better in your organization. You’ve already proven you are. The Airmen who are going to start showing up are also those leaders. So in 10 or 15 years, when you’re command sergeants major, you are going to remember each other from this. So this small event is actually incorporating some strategic visions for the next 10 years.”

Lake challenged the competitors not to give up during what was sure to be a difficult three days, telling them the memories would be worth the pain.

“You are going to compete this weekend,” Lake said. “But at the end of the day, we also need to build together as a team. You notice in life that the tougher the competition, the tougher a point in life, you remember it more. … After this event, you are going to be social media buddies for the rest of your life. I encourage that.”

Lake ended his talk to the competitors with a phrase that became an oft-repeated motto during the competition: “Remember, false motivation is still motivation.”

At the end of three days of physical and mental challenges, ruck marches, obstacle courses, blindfolded weapon checks, written tests and more, Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Ash of 1st Battalion, 186th Infantry Regiment, 41st Infantry Brigade Combat Team, was named Oregon National Guard NCO of the Year, while Spc. Mitchell Sierra, also of the 1-186th, 41st IBCT, was named Soldier of the Year.

Ash said testing himself during events such as Best Warrior is one of the reasons he loves being a Soldier. Perhaps more surprising, he was able to call the competition “fun” while being treated for a bleeding foot blister soon after he completed a grueling obstacle course.

“This forces you to push yourself,” Ash said. “This is where you might have thought your wall was, but it’s actually not. You break through that and keep pushing. We’re competitive by nature. A lot of us are ‘Type A’ personalities or we wouldn’t even be here at this level competing. It’s fun because … if you want to be the best, you have to compete against the best. That’s what we are out here doing.”

With Ash and Sierra now moving on to a regional competition early next year, Master Sgt. Scott Stimpson, first sergeant of the Oregon National Guard Recruit Sustainment Program, had advice for them. In 2014, Stimpson was the Oregon National Guard NCO of the Year and he went on to win the regional and national National Guard competitions, as well.

“The biggest thing the competitors need to do is incorporate the Army lifestyle into their every day,” Stimpson said. “Go hike Silver Creek Falls here in Oregon with a rucksack on. Go take your family out on a walk around the track: You go sprint one lap, then walk a lap with your kids.

“At the actual competition … I’ll give you my secret of how I knew the people who weren’t going to win,” Stimpson said. “That first event, or that first 9-mile ruck march, there are people on the side who say, ‘There are a lot more events, I need to save myself for some of the other events.’ They never place. You go 110 percent, full throttle, every single event.

“Finally, compete against yourself,” Stimpson said. “Do your own personal records, and go out there and break them. Because you can’t control what the other competitors are doing or how they prepared. When you compete against other people, you always end up bitter with the result. When you compete against yourself, you are always going to get better. That’s what I learned from my competitions.”

Good advice, as NCOs and Soldiers throughout the Army compete to be named Best Warrior, and it all comes to fruition beginning Sept. 26 in Virginia.

 

(All photos by Jonathan (Jay) Koester / NCO Journal)

Minnesota Guardsman earns unanimous decision win in third UFC fight

By PABLO VILLA
NCO Journal

Sgt. Timothy Johnson has relied heavily on grit to get him through the trials of life. On Sunday, it got him through his third fight as a member of the UFC.

Johnson, a Soldier in the Minnesota National Guard’s 134th Brigade Support Battalion, earned a tough unanimous decision victory over Marcin Tybura. The heavyweight bout was part of the main card of “UFC Fight Night: Rothwell vs. Dos Santos” in Zagreb, Croatia, and was broadcast live on Fox Sports 1.

Johnson (10-2, 2-1 in the UFC) got the win his way, shutting down the Brazilian jiu-jitsu tactician for the first 10 minutes of the fight then holding off a furious Tybura rally in the third round that ended with Johnson suffering a severe injury to the orbital bone around his left eye. That wasn’t all he had to contend with. In the second round, Johnson appeared to injure his left arm after a front kick from Tybura. But that didn’t stop the 6-foot-3, 265-pound Guardsman, whose ability to adapt to adversity has only been strengthened by his time as an NCO.

“You learn to be Gumby, to be flexible,” Johnson told the NCO Journal before the fight. “(Being an NCO) it’s taught me to get in there, it’s taught me to have the mentality of just going and getting the work done.”

Johnson did just that Sunday. He opened the fight by staying outside and landing punches on Tybura. The initial strategy was a wise one as Tybura is an accomplished Brazilian jiu-jitsu tactician and a former M-1 Global fighting champion. When the fighters did engage in the clinch, Johnson, a former National Junior College Athletic Association Wrestling All-American, used his grappling prowess to push Tybura to the fence, wearing the Polish fighter down with his 15-pound weight advantage. The process repeated for two rounds and Johnson appeared headed for a smooth victory.

But the third round brought difficulty. Early in the round, Tybura ducked underneath a Johnson haymaker and scored a takedown. He quickly took Johnson’s back, where he had several submission avenues open. But Johnson bulled his way out of danger, prying Tybura off and returning the fight to the middle of the octagon. Tybura’s salvo wasn’t finished yet. He closed the round with a flurry of strikes and kicks but Johnson held fast, despite the rapid swelling around his eye. Tybura won the round but it remained a 29-28 decision for Johnson, who left the arena immediately for the hospital.

The extent of Johnson’s injury wasn’t clear, but he indicated on social media that doctors performed a CT scan of his eye, a procedure often used to identify fractures. But fighting through injury and hardship is part of the game — as a Soldier and a fighter — and Johnson doesn’t intend to disappoint on either count.

“I do think I have to represent a little bit,” he said before the fight. “I can’t get into a submission and just tap out right away. I’ve got to make sure I keep fighting for a bit. Actually, it’s a running joke I have with a couple guys at the gym. I’ve got to show the rest of the world that America isn’t as weak as it’s perceived on TV.”

The win helps give Johnson some career clarity. He has one fight remaining on his UFC contract and has less than five months left on his National Guard contract. Along with being a fighter and a Soldier, he also works as a bouncer at a Fargo, North Dakota, bar and occasionally drives trucks on weekends.

“As of right now, I’m leaning toward re-upping,” Johnson said. “The thing is, I’d probably get out and then three years down the line I’d probably try to get back in so I might as well stick with it.”

Pilot program to ensure Soldiers ‘fight as one Army’

By DAVID VERGUN
Army News Service

Select National Guard and Reserve units will soon train more closely with active Soldiers in a program known as “Associated Units.”

This pilot program was announced by the acting secretary of the Army, in a March 21 memorandum: “Designation of Associated Units in Support of Army Total Force Policy.”

Shortly after the announcement, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley said: “Much of America’s Army’s capacity is resident in the Reserve components and we must rely more heavily on them to meet the demands of a complex global environment.

“The Associated Units pilot allows us to leverage the capabilities and capacities of the Active Component, Army Reserve and the Army National Guard as one Army,” he said.

Chief of Army Reserve and Commanding General, U.S. Army Reserve Command Lt. Gen. Jeffrey W. Talley said: “The Associated Units pilot facilitates readiness and strategic depth across components. These units will train, build readiness and ultimately fight as one Army.”

How it works

If a reserve-component battalion is associated with an active brigade combat team, the BCT commander assumes responsibility for approving the training program of the reserve-component unit. The BCT commander will assess manpower, equipment and resources requirements needed for the training.

In addition, there will also be active-component units associated with RC headquarters. For example, the 1-28 Infantry at Fort Benning, Georgia, will be associated with the 48th Infantry BCT of the Georgia Army National Guard, or ARNG. In this case, the National Guard Infantry Brigade Combat Team commander will approve the training of the active-component battalion.

Key elements

An annual evaluation will be made by the higher commander regarding the compatibility and capabilities of the associated unit during the pilot.

Another key element of the pilot is the exchange of personnel between the units — a small number of active officers and noncommissioned officers will go to the RC units and vice-versa.

Additional training

RC units selected for the pilot will conduct up to 15 additional days of training each year, above the one weekend-per-month and two weeks of annual training. Some of this time will be spent at the combat training centers to maximize benefits to readiness.

“Readiness is increased by the number of training days for these units,” said Col. Brian Ellis, chief of the Organizational Integration Division, Force Management Directorate, G-3.

“A sustainable readiness model has been built for each of these units, something we’re trying to get back to as an Army. We’re transitioning from the cyclical base of readiness where we take a unit to a CTC, and deploy them, and drain the readiness that was built up. Now we’re trying to sustain that readiness over multiple CTC rotations in the event of a deployment.”

Why the pilot

“This is how we’ll fight in the future,” Ellis said, explaining RC units will operate alongside the active component. It’s about building relationships prior to mobilization, he said.

“We will train as we fight,” he said. “It makes sense to train as one Army.”

Way ahead

The pilot program will last for three years and after that time an assessment will be made for how the program could expand.

The 27 units for the pilot program were selected “with multiple criteria in mind, including geographic location and capability gaps,” Ellis said.

Associated units in the program will receive additional resources, he said. “If we expand, we’ll determine where those resources will be coming from.”

Units participating in the Associated Units pilot are:

•3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, stationed at Fort Polk, Louisiana, will be associated with the 36th Infantry Division, Texas Army National Guard

•86th Infantry BCT, Vermont ARNG, will be associated with the 10th Mountain Div., stationed at Fort Drum, New York

•81st Armored BCT, Washington ARNG, will be associated with the 7th Infantry Div., stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington

•48th Infantry Brigade, Georgia ARNG, will be associated with the 3rd ID, stationed at Fort Stewart, Georgia

•Task Force 1-28 Inf., stationed at Fort Benning, Georgia, will be associated with the 48th
IBCT, Georgia ARNG

•100th Bn., 442 Infantry Reg., an Army Reserve unit, will be associated with the 3rd BCT, 25th ID, stationed at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii

•1st Bn., 143 Inf. Reg., Texas ARNG, will be associated with the 173rd Airborne BCT, stationed in Vicenza, Italy

•1st Bn., 151 Inf. Reg., Indiana ARNG, will be associated with the 2nd BCT, 25th ID, stationed at Schofield Barracks

•5th Engineer Bn., stationed at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, will be associated with the 35th Engineer Bde., Missouri ARNG

•840th Engineer Company, Texas ARNG, will be associated with the 36th Engineer Bde., stationed at Fort Hood, Texas

•824th Quartermaster Co., a North Carolina-based Army Reserve unit, will be associated with the 82nd Sustainment Bde., stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina

•The 249th Transportation Co., Texas ARNG and the 1245th Transportation Co., Oklahoma ARNG, will be associated with the 1st Cavalry Div.’s Sustainment Bde., stationed in Fort Hood

•1176th Transportation Co., Tennessee ARNG, will be associated with the 101st Sustainment Bde., stationed at Fort Campbell, Kentucky

•2123rd Transportation Co., Kentucky ARNG, will be associated with the 101st Sustainment Bde., stationed at Fort Campbell

Small Alaskan community counts on NCO as face of Army National Guard

By SGT. MARISA LINDSAY
Alaska National Guard Public Affairs

More than 400 miles west of Anchorage lies Bethel, Alaska’s largest western community. Although only accessible by air and water, approximately 6,000 residents call the city home. This includes the Alaska Army National Guard’s fulltime Bethel armory supply sergeant, Staff Sgt. Joseph Sallaffie, an infantryman with B Company, 1st Battalion, 143rd Infantry Airborne Regiment.

Sallaffie, an Alaska Native Yupik Eskimo from Bethel, has worn the Alaska Army National Guard uniform, on and off, for more than four decades. During his career, he has performed a variety of duties, including his current role as supply sergeant and one of five full-time Guardsmen in his hometown.

Sallaffie’s Army story began in 1980, when he decided to follow in his older brother’s military footsteps. Following high school graduation, he joined the active U.S. Army as an infantry Soldier. Although he appreciated the military community, he separated after his three-year commitment and returned to Bethel.

“Like any teenager, I didn’t realize what was good for me at the time,” Sallaffie said and laughed as he described his initial stint with the Army. “But I came home to Bethel and it gave me the opportunity to meet my wife, Rachel, start a family and become an Alaska Guardsman.”

He enlisted with the Alaska Army National Guard in 1986 and served his state for 10 years as an infantryman who also performed military funeral honors and assisted in recruiting efforts, among other duties. After separating from the National Guard, Sallaffie, his wife, and their four children moved to the small village of Tuluksak to be closer to family.

However, Sallaffie missed the Army community.

Staff Sgt. Joseph Sallaffie, center, an infantryman and supply sergeant with Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 143rd Infantry Airborne Regiment, converses with his commander, left, Capt. Walter Hotch-Hill, during a reconnaissance tour of Tuluksak for the upcoming Kuskokwim 300. Sallaffie, an Alaska Native Yupik Eskimo, initially enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1980 and has had a military career that has spanned four decades. (Photos by Sgt. Marisa Lindsay)
Staff Sgt. Joseph Sallaffie, center, an infantryman and supply sergeant with Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 143rd Infantry Airborne Regiment, converses with his commander, left, Capt. Walter Hotch-Hill, during a reconnaissance tour of Tuluksak for the upcoming Kuskokwim 300. Sallaffie, an Alaska Native Yupik Eskimo, initially enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1980 and has had a military career that has spanned four decades. (Photos by Sgt. Marisa Lindsay)

“I especially missed the camaraderie and purpose behind working,” Sallaffie said.

In 2007, while employed as a maintenance worker at Tuluksak School, Sallaffie met two recruiters who were visiting students there. The recruiters were then-Sgt. 1st Class Rodger Morrison, who is now Sallaffie’s first sergeant, and then-Master Sgt. Richard Hildreth, who is now the senior enlisted advisor for the Alaska National Guard.

“If it wasn’t for them coming out to the school and speaking with me, I probably wouldn’t be here in the Guard today,” Sallaffie said. “I love my job, and I love working and representing the military in my community.”

The family moved back to Bethel in 2008, and Sallaffie has been fulltime as the Bethel armory supply sergeant for the past three years. Locals are familiar with the armory, and they know Sallaffie as a face of the Guard in the community.

“Sgt. Sallaffie is so much more than a supply sergeant,” Morrison said. “He has a Bethel background, he speaks Yupik, his wife is from Tuluksak, and they are heavily involved within Bethel and nearby villages.”

Morrison said Sallaffie is who locals reach out to when they think of or have questions for the Alaska Army National Guard.

Staff Sgt. Joseph Sallaffie, an infantryman and supply sergeant with Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 143rd Infantry Airborne Regiment, works at his office in the Bethel National Guard armory as he helps to ready the facility for the coming drill weekend. Sallaffie, an Alaskan Native Yupik Eskimo, initially enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1980 and has had a military career that has spanned four decades.
Staff Sgt. Joseph Sallaffie, an infantryman and supply sergeant with Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 143rd Infantry Airborne Regiment, works at his office in the Bethel National Guard armory as he helps to ready the facility for the coming drill weekend. Sallaffie, an Alaskan Native Yupik Eskimo, initially enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1980 and has had a military career that has spanned four decades.

“Staff Sgt. Sallaffie’s Bethel presence has been an enormous help to me and our first sergeant,” said Sallaffie’s company commander, Capt. Walter Hotch-Hill, who works on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage. “He takes it upon himself to go above and beyond his regular duties. And he has become that line of communication for us to Bethel, its residents and outlying communities.”

Sallaffie works alongside his wife, who is currently the southwestern regional area family support coordinator for the Alaska National Guard. They enjoy serving the community of Bethel and nearby villages together.

“It was hard at the beginning, juggling military life and my family,” Sallaffie said. “As Rachel and I grew together, we really began to see it as a joint mission to help military members and families, and support the community as Guard representatives.”

The Sallaffies’ partnership and efforts are a valuable and important service to the Guard and the local community, Morrison said.

Last summer, after evacuations of more than 70 residents of Crooked Creek and Aniak were ordered, each of the evacuees were accounted for at the Bethel armory. Though most were able to stay in Bethel with family and friends, 45 were sheltered at the armory where the Sallaffies provided cots, blankets and food.

Last month, Sallaffie was the National Guard point of contact after a fire raged through the Kilbuck School building. He secured approval through official channels to offer temporary space in the armory for classes if needed.

“Actions speak louder than words, and Sallaffie helps show the Army Guard’s commitment to the residents of rural Alaska, especially during times of need,” Morrison said. “He and Rachel are incredible assets to the community and our organization, and as we drive the rural Guard initiative, his presence is vital to what we are trying to achieve.”

The Alaska Army National Guard has plans to train and conduct outreach campaigns for this coming year in rural Alaska, as a part of Alaska Governor Bill Walker’s rural Guard initiative. For example, next month, the Guard is supporting the Kuskokwim 300 sled dog race in conjunction with cold weather training and holding an Alaska Army National Guard open house at the Bethel armory.

“We see the importance of our work here at the Bethel armory,” Sallaffie said. “It has boosted the trust locals have for the Guard, and strengthened valuable relationships.”