FARGO From ice to water and war to peace, the North Dakota National Guard responded in force throughout 2010.
A look back at the year reveals stateside missions to help neighbors after ice storms and during flooding. It also shows significant overseas activity, including missions in Afghanistan and Iraq but also peacekeeping forces in Kosovo.
"Throughout this past year, the men and women of the North Dakota National Guard have again stepped up and done an outstanding job on behalf of our state and nation," said Gov. Jack Dalrymple. "Whether fighting floods here at home or supporting the global war on terror in foreign lands, our Guard members have served us well, and we thank them for their distinguished service."
In all, nearly 1,000 N.D. soldiers and airmen were mobilized during 2010, while nearly 100 Guardsmen took part in overseas training missions. About a dozen remain overseas, the lowest number since military response began after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Kosovo saw the greatest presence of North Dakota Guardsmen, with about 650 serving there on a NATO peacekeeping mission. In Afghanistan, 107 North Dakota Guardsmen served on missions, and 65 served in Iraq.
While those may be the most prominent, nearly a dozen other countries had a Guard presence to provide medical care, exchange information, train or assist. This year, Guardsmen spent anywhere from two weeks to most of the year in Bosnia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Ghana, Haiti, Japan, Korea, Panama, Qatar, United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom.
"Our soldiers and airmen have truly represented North Dakota well during missions across the globe this year," said Maj. Gen. David Sprynczynatyk, North Dakota adjutant general. "In the meantime, their families and employers served, too. We couldn't complete our Guard mission without all of the support they provide."
Between those missions, Guardsmen again responded in force alongside civilian and state agencies when spring flooding plagued the Red River Valley. The mission's duration was considerably less than in 2009 - 18 days versus about 100 days - but the mission was more geographically concentrated than the last go-round. In 2010, nearly 800 Guardsmen dedicated a total of about 58,800 hours to helping fellow North Dakotans facing water encroaching on their homes and livestock.
As flooding in one part of the state ended, a major ice storm struck another part - and North Dakota Guardsmen were again there. When the April 2 storm took out about 12,000 power poles, 28 North Dakota National Guard members went on state active-duty status to assist civilian authorities in locating and documenting the damage.
As the year closes, the Guard has equipment prepositioned across the state and lists of volunteer Guardsmen at the ready for any emergency winter response that may be needed. Initial flood 2011 preparations have already started and rehearsals will continue during the first week of the new year.
In the air
Besides participating in disaster missions and deploying overseas, N.D. pilots were conducting stateside missions - and setting records while doing it.
The N.D. Air National Guard flew about 22,000 mishap-free flying hours this year. By the end of September, that had pushed the wing's flying safety record past 38 years, encompassing 206,667 flying hours and 108,811 sorties.
In the N.D. Army National Guard, soldiers extended their lengthy safety record, too, flying 1,646 hours in the OH-58 Kiowa helicopter, 1,244 hours in the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter and 645 hours in the C-12 turboprop plane. Additionally, Company C of the 2nd Battalion, 285th Aviation Regiment flew more than 6,200 flight hours as they completed more than 750 combat missions transporting senior officials, Soldiers, medical supplies and other cargo during their deployment to Iraq.
On the ground
The Air National Guard's 219th Security Forces Squadron marked many milestones this year. The two-year-old squadron reached full strength, making it the second largest National Guard security forces squadron in the U.S. The unit, which works with the 91st Missile Wing at Minot Air Force Base, passed its first nuclear surety inspection which made it the first National Guard unit to ever receive a "ready" rating from Air Force Global Strike Command. It is the only nuclear-certified unit in the Air National Guard.
"The 219th has made incredible strides in Minot, and has met or exceeded every goal for this timeframe," said Brig. Gen. Cecil Hensel, N.D. National Guard Air Component Command commander. "They have faced challenges new to the National Guard as a whole, but have met each head-on and proved to be incredibly successful working with their active-duty counterparts at Minot Air Force Base."
Another important aspect of stateside missions includes training. Camp Grafton Training Center at Devils Lake logged 75,000 individual days of training for Guardsmen and active-duty forces who took part in engineer specialty courses and leadership training there. A new Regional Training Institute building opened its doors this fall, creating a high-tech campus for electrician, plumbing and construction training.
"If we didn't have this place, I think the only other alternative would be a much longer course where they would have to train with 'Big Army' at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.," said Command Sgt. Maj. Orville Wang, 164th Regional Training Institute commandant. "I think we've got the right recipe here."
At the 119th Wing's Regional Training Site in Fargo records were set as an even greater influx of students came from across the Air and Army National Guard and active Air Force as well as the Norwegian military. The site offers unique facilities and training opportunities for civil engineers and support group elements. Among the dozens of opportunities are learning to install and operate rapid runway repair equipment, reverse osmosis water purification units, mobile aircraft arresting systems and emergency airfield lighting systems. Training also is offered on explosive ordnance reconnaissance and disposal, weapons, firefighting, convoys and more.
Families play an imperative role in the Guard's success in these numerous missions. Taking care of them remains Sprynczynatyk's top priority. In turn, families step up to help in many ways. Sgt. 1st Class Richard Haugen, his wife, Tess, and their children were named "Family of the Year" for not only North Dakota but the nation.
"North Dakota has high-caliber volunteers that support our professional soldiers as they deploy around the world and within our communities," Sprynczynatyk said at the time. "This family has gone above and beyond, and I am proud that they were recognized on a national level. Families are a huge reason why we are able to be successful as an organization."
This past year, state and local community service agencies and veterans' organizations came together on several occasions to provide information, resources and referrals to 945 Guardsmen attending reintegration events after a deployment. The community support helps military families successfully transition from deployment to home.
Additional support comes from the Guard's team of full-time chaplains and licensed social workers. They conducted 93 leadership consultations, 32 enrichment classes and 45 briefings in addition to providing worship services and religious support on 98 occasions. They also made 8,726 contact hours with Guardsmen and their families.
Guardsmen also have the opportunity for retreats with their spouses to help strengthen their relationships, and 170 took part. An additional 20 Guardsmen took part in a program tailored toward singles that focused on traits they possess and may be looking for in a long-term partner.
The N.D. Guard routinely reaches across military service branch lines as well as eras of service to help veterans across the spectrum. The Military Outreach Team connected with 7,762 service members, veterans and their family members this year. Since the program began about two-and-a-half years ago, the five-member team has reached out to almost 16,000 people across the state and taken on almost 700 as clients.
Besides Military Outreach, Survivor Outreach Services works to assist the families of the fallen across the state. This year, they connected with 109 surviving family members, ensuring benefits and entitlements were being received while connecting them with relevant resources and organizations. Additionally, the Guard's Military Funeral Honors team provided final respects for numerous veterans this year.
All of these missions did not go unnoticed, and the N.D. National Guard received numerous prestigious accolades this past year. Among the highlights is the 177th Airlift Squadron being named the Joint Operational Support Airlift Squadron of the Year in March. This was a historical accomplishment since never before had an Air National Guard unit won such an award. It was up against 88 other units from all branches of the military, active and reserve.
Around the same time, the N.D. National Guard biathlon team brought home its first national championship. Soon after, Capt. Anna Wittrock became the first N.D. Guard member to qualify for the All-Guard Marathon team. The Guard's marksmanship team from Jamestown's 817th Engineer (Sapper) Company also competed successfully, placing fifth in the Winston P. Wilson Marksmanship Sustainment Exercise in November in Arkansas.
The Public Affairs and Visual Information/Multimedia offices stood out among their peers across both National Guard and active-duty forces, being named the best social media initiative across the entire National Guard, Army Reserve and active Army. A video on the 2009 flood response, titled "Guarded Waters," also was recognized as the second-best documentary in the Department of Defense.
Earlier in December, the 219th Security Forces Squadron medical team was named the best Guard medical unit in the Air Force Global Strike Command.
"We're certainly not in this business for awards," said Brig. Gen. Alan Dohrmann, deputy adjutant general. "What I think the sheer number and caliber of accolades our Guardsmen have received this year shows, however, is that North Dakota is home to the best Guard unit in the country."
Individual Guardsmen also stood out. Staff Sgt. Jeffrey Jacobson, with the N.D. Air National Guard, relied on his military training as he rendered life-saving treatment to his son in April. He was later honored with the Fargo-Moorhead Federal Employee Association Civil Servant of the Year award. In June, Spc. Adam Walsvik, of Hazen, was named one of the first Army engineers to receive a prestigious new award - the Steel Order of the de Fleury Medal.
What much of this boils down to is nearly 4,400 N.D. citizen-soldiers and citizen-airmen serving their communities, state and nation with the support of their families and employers. They are spread across N.D. communities, working out of 25 cities here. The economic impact of their activities exceeded $282.5 million this year, although many consider their contributions across the globe to prevent loss of life and property priceless.
"As busy and engaged as we were in 2010, we are ready for whatever is asked of us in 2011, both at home and abroad," Sprynczynatyk said.