Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Discipline and Uniformity

Greetings. I hope that all is going well with every member of our organization. I would like to discuss with all of you the basics of our organization-Discipline and Army Standards.

Every single one of us is responsible for our military bearing and appearance. We have all been trained on the basic responsibilities of being a soldier. Sometimes in our hectic lives, we are tempted to let some of these basics slip, or we forget the lessons we were taught by our leaders and instructors. Other times, we may not know the standard. In that case we must ask our leaders, or research what the regulations say.

There is no second chance to make a first impression. What makes this organization great is the professionalism that we have as individuals and organizations. We belong to Uniformed Services which require us to wear those uniforms according to a standard.

The dictionary at my desk defines uniform as: adj. 1. a. Always the same; unvarying. b. without fluctuation or variation; 2. Being the same as another or others; identical. 3. Consistent in appearance; having an unvaried texture, color, or design. Noun. 1. distinctive outfit intended to identify those who wear it as members of specific group.

We must all adhere to the standards and make sure that we are in compliance with Army Regulation 670-1 at all times. Our NCOs, officers, and governor expect us to show the greatest military bearing at all times. We deal with our subordinates, leaders, and the public at various times when we are in uniform. There is nothing that can discredit our organization as quickly as a sloppily or improperly worn uniform.

Leaders, it is my expectation that you enforce all standards at all times. Our regulations are not open for interpretation. Contrary to popular belief, the command sergeant major and first sergeant do not set the uniform, the commander has that duty.

Good commanders will seek their senior NCOs input before making a decision, but they have the right to set it depending on location, duties, and conditions. We as NCOs enforce the uniform decisions of our commanders.

When I visit a unit, one of the first things I notice is uniformity and military bearing. It is hard to overcome a bad first impression. It is an indicator of unit pride and discipline. When you walk past a uniform deficiency, you have just authorized a new standard within your unit. That is unacceptable, because there should only be one standard in this organization, from Ontario to Coos Bay, from Warrenton to Klamath Falls.

Lastly, tomorrow, April 1, The Adjutant General has published a policy that makes the headgear switch back to the beret. Make sure the word gets out to all personnel. First sergeants and command sergeant majors; make sure you get a copy of that policy and enforce it.

Column by Command Sergeant Major Brunk Conley,
State Command Sergeant Major, Oregon National Guard

Monday, March 30, 2009

Local race horse wins big for Oregon National Guard

Mystacallie (#2), starts out her last race of the 2008-2009 season in the lead at Portland Meadows on March 23. Although she finished third-place in this particular race, her season’s winnings—just over $30,000, were donated to the Oregon National Guard Emergency Relief Fund—an organization which helps families of deployed Oregon soldiers and airmen.

Although Mystacallie didn’t win in her final race at Portland Meadows on March 23rd, her 2008-2009 race season was a windfall for the Oregon National Guard.

While Mystcallie paced anxiously in front of officials from Portland Meadows, representatives from the Oregon National Guard and local sports radio station, 95.5FM The Game, presented a check for $30,000 to the Oregon National Guard’s Emergency Relief Fund.

The presentation followed Mystacallie’s participation in the $18,000 Donna Jensen Handicap, her final race of the season. Although she finished in a respectable third-place, her entire race season—and the donation to the Oregon National Guard as a result of her winnings—came as an unexpected surprise to many.

“I figured she’d win one or two races,” said Staff Sgt. Richard Wirfs talking about his initial impression early in the season of a then little-known race horse. “No one knew it was going to get this big. But once she started racing, it was win after win after win.”

Horse owner and trainer Ben Root originally figured Mysticallie would win one or two races, and perhaps take a total race season purse of $3,000 - $5,000, said Portland Meadows General Manager, Will Alempijevic. But Mysticallie surprised everyone.

“She’s been an unbelievable success story,” said Alempijevic. “Mystacallie has turned into the darling of the northwest horse racing.”

Indeed, she ended up one of the winningest horses at Portland Meadows, racking up seven out of 11 first place finishes, netting her owners $30,574.50—the same amount written on the large check presented trackside to Wirfs following race number six.

Wirfs, who is Vice President of the Emergency Relief Fund, said the donation comes at an opportune time. Later this year, more than 3,000 Oregon soldiers are set to deploy to Iraq for a year—the single largest deployment of Oregon’s citizen-soldiers since WWII.

With the bulk of requests for assistance coming from families of deployed soldiers facing temporary financial difficulties, Wirfs said the money is a welcomed relief, especially in light of the ongoing economic downturn and increasing job layoffs.

“We’re getting more and more requests as the brigade gets ready to deploy,” Wirfs said. “This donation will potentially help families who otherwise may have nowhere else to turn.”

The relationship between the Oregon Guard and Mystacallie does seem like an unlikely marriage, said Alempijevic, who is nonetheless thrilled with the outcome.

“This is great,” Alempijevic said, as he flipped up the collar on his jacket to ward off the cold drops of rain just before the start of Mystacallie’s last race of the season. “I couldn’t be happier with the way things turned out.”

The growing popularity of the state lottery, keno and Oregon casinos, along with dwindling track attendance meant coming up with an innovative promotion, said Alempijevic. In early 2008, he and Portland Meadows’ trackside announcer, Jason Beem, collaborated with local sports radio station, 95.5FM The Game to lure horse lovers and casual observers of horse racing to the track.
Their idea was to designate a horse as “The People’s Horse”, where honorary owners would have access to the trainers and riders, and be able to take pictures in the winner’s circle if their horse won.

Portland Meadows pledged to match any winnings of this horse, with proceeds going to the radio station’s charity of choice. They chose a lightly-raced and little known Oregon filly named Mystacallie, and 95.5FM The Game chose the Oregon National Guard’s Emergency Relief Fund.

“Everyone knew the money was going to the Oregon Guard,” said Alempijevic. “If it wasn’t the same charity, I don’t think it would have caught on. I don’t think people would have followed if it wasn’t going to such a great cause.”

Wirfs is grateful things worked out for everyone. The fact that The Game chose the Oregon National Guard, Mysticallie had a very successful race season, and Portland Meadows agreed to match her winnings, were a true blessing, he said.

“The amount of interest and support, and how everything worked out quite frankly has been overwhelming,” Wirfs said.

Posted by Tech. Sgt. Nick Choy,
Oregon Military Department Public Affairs Office

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Oregon airmen become Champions of Diversity: "Mission first, people always"

"Better to be prepared and not get an opportunity than to have an opportunity and not be prepared." -- Diversity Champions, 2009

Thirty Oregon airmen became part of a high-performance team in a three-day course in north Portland, March 16-18.

The Diversity Champions course, taught by instructors Michael Nila, Chisa Golbourne, and Robin Scdoris-Hester, covered the standard issues all organizations face regarding diversity and equal opportunity.

The men and women of the Oregon Air National Guard participated in team-building exercises, explored their own biases, and discussed typical stereotypes fostered by society and the media.

Over three days, the curriculum ranged from the mantra of "Laser Focus" -- which challenged participants to employ active listening techniques, and to avoid distractions during the exercises -- to developing relationships with a coach both during the course and after graduation.

Among several presentations, students were also treated to Dr. Martin Luther King's 1963 "I Have a Dream" speech in its entirety, and a documentary about Jane Elliot, an internationally-renowned teacher, diversity lecturer, and recipient of the National Mental Health Association Award for Excellence in Education, who, in 1960s, devised the controversial and startling, "Blue Eyes/Brown Eyes" exercise.

The instructors cited accomplishments of several notable champions in their respective sports, including U.S. Women's Soccer star, Mia Hamm, and seven-time Tour de France winner, Lance Armstrong, who said, "... pain is temporary, quitting is permanent."

Nila also invoked the memories of diversity pioneers such as Winston Churchill, Mohandas Gandhi and Rosa Parks, who, at the height of the civil rights movement in the 1960s, made history by refusing to give up her seat on a city bus to a white man.

"Just think if she had decided not to take a stand," one of the instructors told the class.

Most important were the nine "Cornerstones of Diversity", a list which was referred to throughout the three-day course. Several of the exercises found their roots in the cornerstones;

1. Diversity is about inclusion and diversity.
2. Success is the ability to work together.
3. The most important issue is human dignity and total quality respect.
4. Prejudice is eliminated by developing high performance teams.
5. True diversity is ensuring diversity of thought at all levels of the organization.
6. Everyone adds talent and value, and must be developed, offering full opportunity to achieve.
7. Diversity solutions must be situation specific.
8. Diversity is a philosophy, and is everyone's responsibility.
9. You do not have to be one of to stand with.

For those who think diversity is a warm and fuzzy box-checking exercise, think again, say organizers. The issues the airmen worked through were emotionally-charged, and highly relevant to challenges facing today's workforce. In the words of one of the participants, "I earned this."

Furthermore, using experiential learning, the course instructors compelled participants to confront long-standing stereotypes and biases, and challenged them to not just overcome, but to "raise the bar" higher, and strive to become effective leaders, teachers, and mentors, says Nila.

"Good intentions are not a substitute for good behavior," Nila said, pointing toward five primary reasons for teaching diversity in the workplace.

One, it's the right thing to do, he said. It's also the law of the land, he added, citing several discrimination and equal opportunity lawsuits at companies such as Coca-Cola, Ford Motor Company, Home Depot and Texaco. Many people remember the lawsuits loged against Mitsubishi Corp., and Denny's, which in 2005, thrust issues of diversity and equality into the highest levels of our nation's judicial system.

Other reasons have to do with changing demographics in all organizations, and creating a safe and productive work environment, Nila said.

"Finally, it's important to the business mission," Nila added.

These issues are so important to military leadership that the course has been endorsed by Lt. Gen. Craig McKinley, director of the Air National Guard. According to Nila, who is the lead instructor for the course, the curriculum will be taught again in Klamath Falls later this year.

The support from the National Guard Bureau has not gone unnoticed by Oregon Air Guard leadership. The student roster included several high-ranking and influential personnel from the Portland Air Guard Base, both enlisted and officer.

On Monday, the commander of the Oregon Air National Guard attended the classroom discussion, but could not attend the other two days because of a scheduling conflict.

"This is a great course," said Brig. Gen. Bruce W. Prunk toward the end of the first day. "I'd like to attend the entire course when it's offered in Klamath Falls."

Posted by Tech. Sgt. Nick Choy,
Social Media Manager, Oregon Military Department

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Oregon's newest Wing Command Chief vows to "earn" his legacy

(Left) Chief Master Sgt. Max White, is the newest Wing Command Chief Master Sergeant for the Oregon Air National Guard.

A phrase that you've probably heard uttered by numerous Air Force leaders is, "People are our most valuable asset." This statement is very true. It isn't the aircraft or the weapon systems that accomplish a mission -- it's the people.

Each person has a tremendous amount to offer to the Air Force, but if they are weighted down by the barrier of disrespect, they cannot reach their full potential. Respecting each other regardless of differences and recognizing the valuable role each member of our military family plays are imperative.

As John Maxwell, author of numerous books on leadership, said, “It’s been said that there are two kinds of people in life: those who make things happen and those who wonder what happened. Leaders have the ability to make things happen. People who don’t know how to make things happen for themselves won’t know how to make things happen for others.”

He went on, “What you do with the future means the difference between leaving a track record and leaving a legacy.” Legacies aren’t just wishful thinking. They’re the result of determined doing. The legacy you leave is the life you lead. You just never know whose life you might touch. What you do know is that you can make a difference. You can leave this world better than you found it.

A legacy comes from the idea that everyone, regardless of rank or position, can make a difference. Legacies encompass the past, present and future, and force us to consider where we have been, where we are now and where we’re going. A quest to leave a lasting legacy is a journey from success to significance.

By asking ourselves how we want to be remembered, we plant the seeds for living our lives as if we matter. By living each day as if we matter, we offer up our own unique legacy. By offering up our own unique legacy, we make the world we inhabit a better place than we found it.

When we choose to lead every day, we choose aspirations of long-term significance over short-term measures of success. It takes courage to lead. It takes courage to make a life. Courage, like leadership, is a choice.

Above all, our legacy is defined in how we defend America. We do this by dominating air, space, and cyberspace. It is part of our warrior ethos -focused culture, conviction, character, ethic, mindset, spirit, and soul we foster in all Airmen. It's the pride in our heritage, the recognition that our Nation depends on us to dominate air, space and cyberspace, and our willing acceptance of the burden of those immense responsibilities.

It is our distinctive contribution that reflects my commitment to leaving the Air National Guard better each day because I am here! I will “Earn this”!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Oregon names 2009 soldier and NCO of the year

Above: Oregon Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Jesse Ginestar loads rounds into a magazine for his M-4 rifle for qualification during the Oregon National Guard’s 2009 Soldier of the Year/NCO of the Year competition, Feb. 27-March 1, at Camp Rilea, Warrenton, Ore. Ginestar, of Klamath Falls, Ore., who is a platoon sergeant with Charlie Troop, 1st Battalion, 82nd Cavalry, won the title of the Oregon National Guard's 2009 NCO of the year. (Photo by Sgt. Eric A. Rutherford, Oregon Military Department Public Affairs)

Oregon Guard members from across the state met Feb. 27 – March 1, at Camp Rilea in Warrenton, Ore., for the 2009 Oregon Soldier of the Year/Non-commissioned Officer of the year competition.

Twelve soldiers--six of them NCOs and six soldiers faced lack of sleep and physical and mental challenges in a shot at the title of Oregon’s best.

The competitors had previously been recognized as the best soldiers and NCOs at the unit level before heading to the State level competition. Winners of the event will continue on to a regional competition later this year.

Guard members put on their class-A uniforms for the first two events, an appearance board followed by an essay.

After a few short hours of sleep, the competitors were back at it before dawn, taking a physical fitness test before moving out to a land navigation course. The soldiers and NCOs got a short break for lunch before heading back out to the field to compete against each other in an obstacle course, which consisted of rope ladders, a low-crawl course, and log obstacles.

With no rest time they moved out again to a rifle and pistol range, staying outside in the rain until after dark to qualify with their rifles in a night-fire event.

After a short dinner, the soldiers and NCOs headed back to the field to compete in a night land navigation course before getting a chance at any more sleep for the evening.

Sunday wrapped up with weapons familiarity tests before the award ceremony.

Brigadier Gen. David Enyeart, State Command Sgt. Maj. Brunk Conley and retired Maj. Gen. Curtis Loop, president of the Columbia River Chapter of the Association of the United States Army, presented all competitors with awards and engraved pocket knives before announcing the winners of the competition.

Staff Sgt. Jesse Ginestar, of Charlie Troop, 1st Battalion, 82nd Cavalry, was named 2009 Oregon NCO of the year, and Spc. Donald Snyder, with Detachment 1, 3rd Battalion, 116th Cavalry was named 2009 Oregon soldier of the year.

Ginestar, of Klamath Falls, is an infantry platoon sergeant, and Snyder, of Tri-Cities, Wash., is a medic.

He said his training and dedication to physical fitness were what helped him win the competition, which he added was fierce.

“It still hasn’t sunk in,” said Ginestar about being named NCO of the year after the ceremony. “This is a great honor.”

Snyder said he was happy to have even made it to the competition, but was also a little shocked that he won.

“This was a really tough competition,” said Snyder. “It was the best of the best out there and I look forward to heading to the regional level to represent Oregon.”

Ginestar is set to deploy with the 41 Infantry Brigade Combat Team later this year, so he won’t be able to continue to the regional competition, but says he plans to compete again next year.

Story by Sgt. Eric Rutherford,
Oregon Military Department Public Affairs Office

Monday, March 9, 2009

Oregon welcomes home airmen from Iraq deployment

Members of one of the most activated and deployed units in the Oregon Air National Guard participated in a demobilization ceremony at the Rilea Training Facility in Warrenton, Ore., on March 7.

Twenty-seven members of the 116th Air Control Squadron were deployed to Iraq from September 2008 to February 2009, in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

Governor Ted Kulongoski, Maj. Gen. Raymond F. Rees, The Adjutant General, Oregon National Guard; State Senator Betsy Johnson (D-Scappoose); Oregon Representative Deborah Boone (D-Cannon Beach); Warrenton Mayor, Gilbert Gramson; Brig. Gen. Bruce Prunk, Commander of the Oregon Air National Guard, members of both the Oregon Air and Army National Guard, in addition to family and friends of the returning airmen, attended the event.

Brig. Gen. Prunk said the veterans were ready when their nation called, and collectively did an excellent job.

“They are an example of what I’m looking for out of the rest of the Oregon Air National Guard. I’m very proud of what they do,” Brig. Gen. Prunk said.

While 22 members provided remote radar and communications support to Balad airbase from a region known as Qayyarah, northwest of Baghdad, a five-member team worked directly with the Air Operations Center at Balad airbase.

The group was part of the 332nd Air Expeditionary Group, 727th Air Control Squadron, based in Iraq.

Maj. Keith Townsend, Director of Operations for the 116th ACS, who was the Assistant Director of Operations for the 727th EACS while deployed, said the experience helped his airmen improve their skills for both their state and wartime tasks.

“Anytime Oregon’s airmen can go abroad, it allows us to do our state mission much better,” he said. “But in the AOR (Area of Responsibility), we are challenged in ways we aren’t anywhere else.”

Maj. Gen. Rees told the gathering that the units’ collective expertise makes them a valuable addition to any deployment.

“There are no apprentices in this organization,” he said. “When they go and participate with the Air Force, the Department of Defense knows they’re going to get top-rated people.”

He also thanked the members of the unit who stayed in Oregon, for their assistance during fierce winter storms in December, 2008.

During the ceremony, the unit was awarded the Iraqi Campaign Medal, The Air Force Expeditionary Service Medal, The Armed Forces Reserve Medal with M Device, and Oregon Faithful Service Ribbon with M Device, for outstanding service in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Senior Airman Rick Lowe, the lowest ranking member in the unit, was presented the Iraqi Campaign Medal by Maj. Gen. Rees in front of his fellow airmen.

“I encourage other airmen to deploy, now that I’ve been there and I know what goes on,” said Senior Airman Lowe. “It was my first deployment, but it was a good experience, and a great learning opportunity.”

Senior Airman Lowe, who grew up in Florence, Ore., said the operations tempo was pretty high during the first two months the unit was in Iraq.

“We worked seven days a week, 12 hours a day,” he said. “Our annual training is pretty laid back, but it gets a bit more serious, and busy, in a war zone.”

Posted by Tech. Sgt. Nick Choy,
Oregon National Guard Social Media Manager

Friday, March 6, 2009

Oregon National Guard Adjutant General calls on NCOs to make safety, suicide awareness/prevention, top priorities

At the Oregon National Guard Association Conference in February, General Peter W. Chiarelli, the Vice Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, spoke about the year of the non-commissioned officer and the role they play in the success of the Army.

In his talk, he stated Oregon had the best Command Sergeant Major in the entire army; State Command Sergeant Major Brunk Conley (see March 5th post). We are fortunate to have such a fine leader here in our state. He is a team player who is willing to lead from the front. To all the non-commissioned officers, I challenge you to follow his lead, especially given that the U.S. Army has designated 2009 as the year of the non-commissioned officer.

Non-commissioned officers are known as the backbone of the military. Warriors, leaders, trainers, mentors, and caretakers are among the words used to describe these amazing men and women of the Oregon National Guard. These individuals work together to create a team, which can accomplish any mission, assignment or task.

Right now I am calling on you, the non-commissioned officers, to make safety your top priority within our National Guard. Twenty-five Army National Guard soldiers have died in the U.S. as a result of accidents since October 2008. A majority of the deaths are contributed to motor vehicle accidents. Twenty-six percent more soldiers died as a result of accidents than died in combat over the same period. Safety must be a priority.

In every situation there is risk, but taking the extra time to assess possible risk can not be over-emphasized. Whether you’re training, off-duty or even heading to your retirement party, safety is paramount.

The next highest casualty rate is due to suicide. There is no greater overall safety risk for our military than for soldiers or airmen to hurt themselves. There are many reasons why a service member would take this course of action. Non-commissioned officers can be a major factor in preventing suicide. It is our job as leaders to get the word out and end any stigma.

There are chaplains, health services and also the Oregon reintegration team available for our guard members to use, along with mentorship and guidance from their chains of command. Make it clear! There are people and programs ready and available for each and every guard member regardless of the circumstances. Let’s work together to be apart of a solution, but most of all take care of our soldiers and airmen.

Another key issue our guard members seem to forget, or are unaware of, is the fact that safety begins at home. This means family readiness is essential to accomplishing our missions’ success. Whether you are single or married, we all need to focus on safety. When our soldiers and airmen know their families are safe, they are able to do their best, no matter what the circumstances.

There are a multitude of new programs available for our guard members and their families. Some of these programs are listed at both www.orng-vet.org/ and www.militaryonesource.com/. I challenge every NCO to check out these programs and tell their fellow guard members and subordinates about them, especially for those who are about to deploy or returned from a deployment. These programs are for you and your families.

There is no one more professional than the non-commissioned officer. Through your efforts our soldiers and airmen are prepared to handle the challenges this year will bring. To all the soldiers and airmen in our organization, never forget you are the best that Oregon has to offer our nation.

Thank you for service and the leadership you provide everyday. You make certain Oregon is "Always Ready! Always There!"

Column by Maj. Gen. Raymond F. Rees,
The Adjutant General, Oregon Military Department

Note: This column also appears in the March 2009 issue of the Oregon Sentinel. The online publication can be found here.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Airborne 'family tradition' passed down through four generations

When 1st Lt. Nick Conley (center, photo above) received his wings as he graduated from Airborne School alongside more than 460 fellow students, it represented three weeks of intensive training for Conley.

Moreover, it represented more than 65 years of tradition for his family.

“It’s indescribable … fantastic; it’s tradition,” said retired Sgt. 1st Class Brunk J. Conley, Nick Conley’s grandfather, who traveled from his home in Oregon to Fort Benning, Ga., to help pin the wings on his grandson, during a ceremony held in late December, 2008.

The 65-year-old grandfather earned his wings at Fort Bragg, N.C., in 1961, 20 years after his father, Nick Conley’s great-grandfather, did in 1941. Nick Conley’s father, Oregon State Command Sgt. Maj. Brunk Conley, also earned his wings at Fort Benning, Ga. In 1972.

That makes Nick Conley number four in a line of Airborne soldiers dating back to 1941--the earliest days of the paratrooper in the Army.

Named by his father (who took a fancy to the surname of farmhand George Brunk), the eldest paratrooper Brunk Winston Conley parachuted into Normandy and Holland during World War II.

Those were among the first combat jumps ever made, said his son, who inherited both the family name and the love of all things Airborne from his father.

“To me, it was just kind of natural. I wanted to be just like my dad,” said the second generation paratrooper, who hoped to join the 101st but was sent to the 82nd Airborne Division instead.

“If they’d let me jump today, I’d do it. I always tell people when a plane hits the ground, that’s when you get hurt. If you jump out of it, you got a better chance.”

Command Sgt. Maj. Brunk Wesley Conley, the Oregon National Guard Command Sergeant Major, took that chance, following his father’s footsteps and enlisting in the Army at 18, with plans to join the 101st Abn. Div. like his grandfather, or the 82nd Abn. Div. like his father. When he found out the 101st had become an air assault unit and the latter was full, the undeterred soldier joined a ranger battalion instead.

“Joining the Ranger battalion was the best thing that could have ever happened to me,” Command Sgt. Maj. Conley said.

It also gave him the opportunity to be Airborne.

“I like to jump out of airplanes,” he said. “Plus, for those adrenaline junkies in life who like to be on the edge of things, it’s a pretty exciting lifestyle.”

Growing up with Airborne stories, 1st Lt. Conley chose to call that lifestyle his own. After receiving his commission, he attended the Infantry Basic Officer Leadership Course on Fort Benning. While there, he was lucky enough to attend jump school, he said.

“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do,” he said. “I grew up with it. When I was little, my grandpa used to tell me stories about my great-grandfather and my dad. These were the kinds of lessons I learned: hard work, dedication, leadership.”

Like his dad, the younger Conley plans to attend Ranger School. He heads there this year before deploying to Iraq with the 41st Brigade Combat Team in late spring.

Nick Conley said he is proud of his heritage, something he plans to pass on to his own family one day.

Pinning the wings on the youngest paratrooper in the Conley family, both father and grandfather said they were proud of their soldier.

If the first Conley paratrooper could be here, he would be proud, too, said “Grandpa” Conley.

“The only thing that changes in the history of the world is technology,” he continued.

“From 1941 to 2008, it’s the same esprit de corps of the paratrooper. It’s a challenge, (but) once you jump, it gets in your blood. It’s an aura you get around you, a confidence. It’s pride.”

Story by Cheryl Rodewig, The Bayonet (Fort Benning, Ga.)

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Oregon National Guard program creates 'paradigm shift' for Oregon's middle school students

President Ronald Reagan’s approach to drug education in the 1980s was “Just say no.”

But according to an Oregon City middle school teacher, that philosophy just doesn’t work today.

“It’s not enough,” says Ron Weisdorfer. “There needs to be education behind it.”

That is why a group of dedicated individuals from the Oregon National Guard’s Counterdrug Support Program are visiting with 7th and 8th graders at Gardiner Middle School over the next several days, teaching life-skills to the kids in what is known as The Guard Adventure Program.

Sgt. Karissa Gratreak, who is with the Oregon Army National Guard’s 82nd Brigade, works fulltime as a Drug Demand Reduction NCO with the Counterdrug Program. She said the kids might already be practicing important skills such as teamwork, effective communication and cooperation, but they just don’t realize how important they are yet.

“We’re going to bring it to their attention and help them realize these life skills as a group,” Gratreak said.

The Guard Adventure Program was designed as a way to supplement and compliment existing drug education and prevention programs in the state. It provides an adventure-based prevention program focused on developing healthy life styles for Oregon’s youth.

The curriculum is based on research in the area of developing assets and risk protection. The goal is to help youth develop personal and social skills in an effective manner, and to give students an opportunity to practice newly acquired skills through positive peer interaction.

The group visits schools based on requests by administrators. There is no cost to the school for the 10-day program.

Gardiner has approximately 600 children, ages 11-14. The children are mostly from Oregon City proper, and parts of Beaver Creek. Children are divided up into groups of about 20 kids, with each group cycling through the day’s classes one after the other. The team will sometimes administrate up to five classes per day throughout the two-week period.

Prior to the Oregon Guard members’ visit to his school during the first two weeks of March, Gardiner had never heard of the Oregon Guard’s Counterdrug program, said Weisdorfer, who has been a teacher since 1976.

“I routinely teach drug education the old fashioned way: tell the kids about drugs and tell them to stay away,” he said. “But the approach here is based on wise decision-making.”

Aside from teaching valuable life skills, the Guard Adventure Program also assists students incorporate creative thinking and positive decision-making, use effective peer support, learn responsibility and effective communication skills, and build trust and value personal differences.

Each day’s lesson, over the course of 10 days of classes, builds upon the previous day’s instruction. But according to Counterdrug Support Program member, Tech. Sgt. Bobby Vickery, the bulk of the lessons don’t ‘gel’ until toward the end of their two weeks at the school.

“That’s when they understand how all the messages work together and how each activity builds upon each other,” he said.

One activity involves educating the kids about shifting the way they look at a situation. Called the “paradigm shift”, the exercise uses distracting techniques to pull the attention of the kids away from the true message being conveyed.

Vickery, an airman with the 142nd Fighter Wing in Portland, Ore., tells a story to the 20 or so kids gathered in the Gardiner school auditorium. He says that when he deployed to Iraq, there was a security guard at the entrance to the compound who had a secret code to allow people to enter the base.

Vickery uses wooden sticks to tap out codes on the wooden floor, and arranges them in patterns in front of the kids, and then asks them to try to guess the secret code he is trying to convey to them.

The lesson learned slowly by the children is that the code is not contained in the tapping of the sticks, or in their arrangement, but by his tapping of his hand on his knee after each performance. Watching the kids change their perspective and arrive at the “aha!” moment is all the reward Vickery and his teammates needs, he said.

“When they ‘get it’, that’s when a lot of change takes place,” Vickery said.

But the lessons also have an effect on the teachers. Vickery’s involvement in the Oregon Guard’s Counterdrug Program has improved his communication skills with his wife and coworkers.

“The ability to communicate and problem-solve, and the teamwork has actually helped out my marriage and interpersonal relationships,” he said.

Weisdorfer believes the program helps boost the kids’ self-worth—a key to keeping kids away from drugs.

“People use drugs because they don’t have an understanding of who they are and where they’re going,” he said.

Tech. Sgt. Matthew Simmons, who is new to the Counter-Drug Program, said the life-lessons taught by his group focus not so much on avoiding drugs, but a completely new way of thinking.

“It’s about living your life where you’re making wise decisions,” he said. “I love the messages being sent out.”

Simmons, who is with the Oregon Air National Guard’s 116th Air Control Squadron in Warrenton, Ore., said his involvement in the program has changed the way he thinks and interacts with his family.

“I hope I can bring some of this back home with me and help make us a more well-rounded family,” Simmons said.

“I’m right in the middle of my paradigm shift,” he added.

Sgt. Nathan Long, a soldier with the Oregon Army National Guard’s 3-116 Infantry, and member of the Counterdrug Support Program, joined Gratreak and Vickery during the second week. He said most of the children go through an obvious transformation during the second week of activities.

“The first week they’re all kind of shy,” Long said. “But by the second week, the natural leaders start stepping up.”

But Gratreak adds they’re also learning that leading doesn’t mean being out in front all the time.

“They’re learning that they can lead by being a follower, but still take the group in a positive direction,” she said.

In some cases, the groups don’t complete the different activities. But Gratreak says completing an activity is not as important as the revelations the children experience during the exercises.

“They’re still successful because they used teamwork,” she said. “They’re making sure everyone is doing what they’re supposed to. If someone messed up, they make sure that person knows what to do the next time. That’s really what we’re looking for,”

Following each session, there’s a lesson to be learned. Vickery calls the children into a circle, and talks about associating with the right people—pointing to how associating with positive people (and avoiding those who may be involved in illegal activities) can help them reach their life goals.

“They have a choice,” Gratreak says about Vickery’s point to the children. “Do they follow the negative person who is a distraction, or do they follow the positive person who is going to help them reach their goal?”

“The lesson learned is picking the people who are going to help you be successful in life,” Gratreak continues. “Why would you want to be around someone who isn’t going to have your best interests in mind?”

One 7th grader, who took charge as a leader in one of his group’s activities was Michael Shumacher. The 12-year old from Oregon City said being a leader is more about helping others.

“I learned that not everything you do, you do on your own. You can do it together if you all help each other out,” he said. “I can help other people feel like they accomplished something.”

“I also learned that if something is not right, you can step up and make a change,” he added.

To Long, all this effort is worth it.

“They’re our future,” he says. “They’re going to be taking care of us when we get old. Having an impact on their lives and helping them find their goals in life is my motivation.”

The week of March 16, the team moved to Ogden Middle School, where they administered the same lesson plan. The program is administered free of cost to the individual schools, and is staffed entirely by Oregon National Guard members.

Posted by Tech. Sgt. Nick Choy,
Oregon Military Department Social Media Manager

Monday, March 2, 2009

Oregon National Guard soldier relates experiences while deployed to Afghanistan

Feb. 22, 2009

Hello favorite friends and family,

Just wanted to say a quick “hi”. It is 10:25 p.m. my time here and I am most decidedly heading off to bed, but wanted to drop a quick note.

We've been having our worst weather of the year so far. A dry and dusty land with clay-like dirt did not take well to two days of heavy rains, particularly when the residential homes consist of mud huts. The draining here wasn't to hot either, but we at least have painted plywood on higher up cement foundations (three steps off the ground in height so we weren't too drowned). Not to mention, we own proper clothing for the weather conditions. But small wet pebbles are a lot harder to walk on than dry pebbles and the large rocks are a dangerous ankle busting pain, both wet and dry.

Anyway, with the flooding, the Afghan General we work with requested and coordinated a humanitarian aid drop. That was one of the quickest turn-arounds ever. Our colonel was away and we had to get his approval, get the convoy planned, assigned, and the ANA (Afghan National Army), and two 7-1/2 ton trucks loaded in just one afternoon.

I sent one of my two lieutenants to get pictures. I have the Public Affairs Officer assignment as well as the J1 (Personnel Office Manager). It makes sense to not allow people to leave camp without permission or equipment, and those with pure staff jobs are very seldom able to leave the camp. I try to let them go when possible, if they want.

It certainly makes a huge difference in seeing the bigger picture when you get an opportunity to see first-hand the poverty and need, but also to see the Afghans leading the way in trying to supply the vast needs of people whose country and infrastructure have been destroyed by decades of war and torture. It is an awesome blessing to be allowed to participate in the building and restructuring of a nation. It makes the sacrifice—and trust me, it is a sacrifice being away from our families—makes better sense.

My lieutenant has three kids, and this is his seventh and longest deployment. He is in the Navy, so that is pretty much a requirement of the job.

Unlike (the vision we have of) poverty in the United States, the people here live in mud hovels, without electricity or true indoor plumbing (it is indoors and it is used, but it doesn't flush, so it doesn't count). They burn dung, coal, oil, or propane for fuel in open pits or metal fire pots. This naturally leads to debilitating burns to the children. It also explains the brown air in Kabul. We are fortunate that the ANA Corps Hospital is able to provide charitable medical care on a very limited basis to some of the children.

I need to load more pictures on my Facebook account in addition to the ones I have already posted. Keep in mind that our connectivity is often reminiscent of dial-up and 10-year-old computers. The connectivity and bandwidth (or lack of) makes things interesting. Oh, and we have seven computers shared by the whole place. Thankfully, my ANA PAO counterparts are great and we share stories and pictures.

I have also been blessed with a terrific personnel staff. Everyone is awesome and makes stuff happen. We have a huge group of people heading home so we are working their performance appraisals, awards and close-out paper-work. We track all the normal personnel stuff, it is just a tad more difficult to visit the outlying offices and of course the usual difficulties with our Higher HQ.

I spent a couple days (when I could take a few moments) re-organizing and reconfiguring my hooch. Sadly, it takes more effort to fix up a 6x10-foot hooch than my house.

It is now 11:40, I NEED to go to bed, see you all soon,

Always, Meloni

Lt. Col. Meloni Beauchamp, of the Oregon Army National Guard, is deployed to Afghanistan as part of Task Force Phoenix. When she is not assisting with humanitarian efforts in Afghanistan, she is the Plans Officer for the Oregon Military Department’s Joint Force Headquarters in Salem, Ore.