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    Whole Soldier: 36th Infantry Division Soldier brings civilian expertise to logistical challenges during Harvey

    Best Warrior Competition 2018

    Photo By Staff Sgt. Mark Scovell | Command Sgt. Maj. Michelle Thompson, the 36th Sustainment Brigade Command Sgt. Maj.,...... read more read more



    Story by Staff Sgt. Michael Giles 

    36th Infantry Division (TXARNG)

    AUSTIN, Texas - Two at a time, competitors in Army and Air Force combat uniforms, helmets and bulky field protective masks came running out of the woods. They climbed over walls and crawled under barbed wire in the direction of a pair of small, muddy ponds that were covered almost completely by piles of thick and dirty wooden beams. They dove in and disappeared under the wood before emerging from the other side, soaked and dripping with brown water.

    Many participants needed a minute to catch their breaths before running down the forest trail toward the tire flip, the next piece of the “mystery event” at the 2018 Texas Military Department Best Warrior Competition. Many needed to remove their masks or pause to expel water from them. Many needed breathing coaching. Several struggled to catch their balance and fell. Some crawled out of the water.

    But the 36th Infantry Division’s Sgt. James Banks was among a handful of service members who made it look easy, emerging from the water on their own two feet and hitting the tree line without hesitation.

    The mystery event didn’t succeed in making Banks pause until he already flipped the tire a dozen times across the sloped clearing overlooking the rifle range. But his pauses were brief enough to indicate he had not yet reached the limit of his capabilities he strives to meet and overcome.

    “I'm mostly motivated by the need to know what I am capable of,” Banks said. “If you don't stretch yourself to your limits, you will never know how far they can reach.”

    Banks’ sponsor in the competition, Command Sgt. Maj. Michelle L. Thompson, the 36th Sustainment Brigade command sergeant major, said Banks’ participation in Best Warrior and his military service reflect several National Guard ideals, including the whole-Soldier concept and the force-multiplying benefit of Soldiers with full-time civilian careers.

    “You have a UPS driver that is an infantryman,” said Thompson. “You have someone that’s a pastry chef that is a combat medic. We can utilize and exploit all of those skills in the Texas Army National Guard, and Soldiers do that.”


    In Banks, the Texas Army National Guard has a 30-year-old with an English literature degree working as an analyst with the division’s 197th Special Troops Support Company, 36th Sustainment Brigade; a full-time systems analyst with the Texas Workforce Commission and a traveler who describes his love of learning as “compulsive;” a desk-jockey with the physical fitness of an infantryman, who sits in coding classes at the University of Texas for fun.

    “I go to lectures at UT and policy organizations in Texas to learn more about local government,” Banks said. “I'm a constant presence at Austin events for coders and data gurus. I took up trail riding in my mid-twenties. My favorite vacations are often the ones that follow my returns from active service where I just get in my car and drive until I see something that interests me.”

    It was Banks’ civilian experience with network systems and his appreciation of out-of-the-box thinking that enabled him to create a crucial solution during the Hurricane Harvey response.

    When the Texas Military Department mobilized to rescue hurricane victims, complexity arose as several civilian first-response agencies and a diverse set of military units from various forces and components all tested their interoperability. The response efforts included National Guard units from other states, active-duty military personnel, and even service members from the Republic of Singapore Air Force.

    Thompson explained that the complexity of the mission and joint force made it difficult to track troops and equipment in relation to areas where they were most needed. Fortunately, Banks could sense this obstacle had arisen and offered to help create a solution.

    “We had maintenance teams out there,” Thompson said. “We had medical folks out there. We also had our water teams out there. And then tracking all of that so that the powers that be could see on the map, we didn’t have the capability.”

    “He put all of that together in a flowing real-time document that allowed them to see where pieces and parts were moving to anticipate the forward flow and the reverse cycle flow,” Thompson said.

    Banks said he relied on knowledge he gained from various civilian positions to make it easier for leaders to analyze needs and direct movement.

    “In order to build a more functional operations center, I created a shareable operational map which the various units and headquarters elements could easily integrate on their available systems and use to deconflict information,” Banks said. “This relates back to my work in information technology. I also used some of the lessons I learned as a former forensic analyst to download meteorological and geographical data from the National Weather Service to identify likely flood areas.”

    It was not only his knowledge that enabled him to fill this gap, but also the flexible thinking he's developed through his career.

    “My own civilian skills have been useful in as far as they allow me to think about problems from "outside the box,’” Banks said.


    Banks reads, codes, analyzes. He builds and maintains computer systems. And he sits for hours on end in his day job and in his part-time military job.

    And as he demonstrated at Best Warrior, he can move and he can shoot.

    Thompson believes that demonstrating the basic military capabilities that Guardsmen use both abroad and in domestic support missions is what participating in the Best Warrior Competition is all about, she said.

    “These skills, the Best Warrior skills, are the ones that are going to help you survive through a defense support to civil authorities mission, through a deployment, or wherever we’re needed,” Thompson said.
    Though the public may perceive Guardsmen as “weekend warriors” who don an Army uniform for a couple days a month, Thompson explained that National Guard service is more than that, especially because the Guard retained the original motto of the Minutemen: “Always ready, always there.”

    “That doesn’t mean always ready to process paperwork or always ready to work on this computer program,” Banks explained. “I am ready for whatever you need me for.”

    Often, she explained, what Guardsmen are needed for has more to do with their Soldiering skills than their specific specialties.

    “We’re Soldiers first,” Thompson said. “We’re all infantry to start with. We all have to be able to ruck march. We all have to be able to do all of these tasks.”

    As Banks demonstrated as he leapt out of the muddy water, ran down the forest trail to the clearing where he would flip tires and then shoot weapons, he’s ready to serve, even in a capacity that doesn’t draw from his specific non-combat arms field of expertise.

    “I truly feel that the Best Warrior Competition absolutely exploits all the skills that we are expected to have, and shows that we are prepared at all times, and ready at all times,” Thompson said. “It shows that we truly are.”

    Banks faced the same challenge that many National Guard Soldiers face with working out, but he adapted and overcame.

    “The most important thing is to find time for it,” Banks said. “You can do that by finding the routine time that you don't typically use economically. For example, I was unhappy at first when my job required me to take an hour lunch instead of leaving an hour early, but that has turned into my aerobic workout time.”

    Banks became a Soldier because he wants to serve his country, Thompson explained, but thrives because of the variety of people and experiences it allows him to learn from.

    “What he really gets out of it is all the different personalities. It’s a melting pot,” Thompson said. “Where he works in his day job, everybody’s kind of like him. Everybody’s doing the same thing. They have their cubicle. Here, obviously, no cubicle.”

    “The National Guard is actually a very good environment for lifelong learners,” Banks said. “There is always another course you haven't done or another country you haven't been to. For people who compulsively collect experiences, it's a good place to be.”




    Date Taken: 04.03.2018
    Date Posted: 04.03.2018 16:21
    Story ID: 271667
    Location: AUSTIN, TX, US 
    Hometown: AUSTIN, TX, US
    Hometown: CORPUS CHRISTI, TX, US
    Hometown: DALLAS, TX, US
    Hometown: EL PASO, TX, US
    Hometown: FORT WORTH, TX, US
    Hometown: HOUSTON, TX, US
    Hometown: SAN ANTONIO, TX, US
    Hometown: TEMPLE, TX, US
    Hometown: WACO, TX, US

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    Whole Soldier: 36th Infantry Division Soldier brings civilian expertise to logistical challenges during Harvey