Maintenance window scheduled to begin at February 14th 2200 est. until 0400 est. February 15th


Forgot Password?

    Defense Visual Information Distribution Service Logo

    Volunteers for All Seasons: Oregon Guardsmen step-up to support Veterans Day and other civic patriotic callings

    Volunteers for All Seasons: Oregon Guardsmen step-up to support Veterans Day and other civic patriotic callings

    Courtesy Photo | The 142nd Fighter Wing Base Honor Guard team lead the 2019 Vancouver Veterans Day...... read more read more



    Story by Master Sgt. John Hughel 

    Oregon National Guard Public Affairs Office

    ALBANY, Oregon - Veterans Day 2019. This year, the 11th day of the 11th month marks 100 years since the first Armistice Day remembrance that took place at Buckingham Palace on November 11, 1919. A simple two-minute moment of silence was set aside to remember those who died and never returned from the “War to end all Wars,” that ended a year before on the same day.

    Each year the anniversary takes on a deeper meaning as veterans from every conflict since World War I, pause to participate in memorials at national cemeteries, gather at American Legion or VFW Posts, line local parade routes or attend other remembrances across the nation. For many Oregon Guardsmen, the national holiday is not a ‘Day off’ but more of a ‘Call to action’ as volunteers show up to march in parades, perform honor guard details, man howitzers for ceremonial salutes, or work an extra shift launching jets for patriot flyovers around the region.

    As significant as Veterans Day is each year, there are other major holidays and events that require assistance from Soldiers and Airmen from the Oregon National Guard. The work behind the scenes is often rehearsed and trained weeks in advance, and for some throughout the year, as skills are sharpened to present a refined presentation to the public and nation as a whole.

    Largest Veterans Day Parade West of the Mississippi

    The Albany (Oregon) Veterans Day parade is one of the largest and oldest Veterans Day events in the country dating back to 1951. It comes complete with a full color guard detail, squadrons of marching Soldiers and Airmen, howitzer cannon firings, fighter jet flyovers, and the 234th Army National Guard Band performing along the entire route. In many ways, it’s a full ensemble of the most ardent and dedicated Citizen-Warriors that defend the Pacific Northwest participating in this distinctive setting.

    For more than three decades, Chief Master Sgt. Larry Keller, Maintenance Operations Flight Superintendent for the 142nd Fighter Wing, has been instrumental in building some of these select teams of ‘extra duty volunteers.’ Keller has been on the flightline (as an Army Engine Mechanic) when OV-1 Mohawks and later as an (Air Force Crew chief) F-15 Eagles have launched for patriot flyovers. He has also trained and deployed with wildland firefighters around the state, and for one last go-around, a key lead for the Albany Veterans Day parade; assembling the volunteers needed to make up the Air Guard marchers for the last 10 years.

    “The first time I marched in the Albany parade is when we went in Desert Camo’s in the 1990’s,” said Keller, reflecting back over a long military career. “I live in the Salem area and marching in the parade was a way to get my family to come out too -- which is a driver for getting others now to volunteer and be part of such an amazing event.”

    With more than 1,600 Oregon Guardsmen recently deploying, Keller said there was an added challenge to get enough marchers but in the final push, the parade was a success with people stepping up in the last few days to fill the ranks.

    “I was concerned when we were looking for volunteers but it worked out -- like many of these tasks that need manning, it all comes together in the end,” he said.

    Over the past several years, Keller has been instrumental in leading firefighting teams for the Air National Guard in Oregon. One of the common traits he noted between those who are willing to step up for a day of ceremonial details or two-weeks in the backcountry is a passion to serve above and beyond the confines of one’s military occupational skill.

    “I tell everyone who wants to be part of firefighting duty to only sign up if you know you can drop everything in your life and be ready to move out in 72 hours,” said Keller, describing the pro and cons to volunteering in advance for fire season work. “Occasionally I’ll have some people who say they can do it because it looks good that their name is on the volunteer list, but then when they get the call to head out it can be a different story.”

    These types of additional community responsibilities can often seem seamless to the greater public. Guardsmen take great pride in their motto “Always Ready, Always There,” yet for every Army Band performance or funeral detail, there is a recruitment process to find a dedicated member, and hours of practice and rehearsal to have those skills polished.

    “Oregon’s Own” and “The Governors Own” maintain time-honored standards

    Musicians in the U.S. Army date back to the American Revolution, as they would provide the stable rhythms for new recruits during drill and marching training. As these Militia companies grew, military bands developed the Esprit de Corps for these units with patriotic melodies, offering a sense of unity and determination for the Minutemen.

    The 234th “Oregon’s Own” Army Band recently celebrated their Centennial Birthday with concerts around the state. They follow in footsteps of a proficient flutist, Gen. George Washington, the first General in the U.S. Army who would later become the first President of the United States. The 234th Army Band perform more than 40 events a year, yet to make this team, one has to not only pass an audition with their musical instrument but there is a clear understanding to the demands in the schedule that must be adhered to in advance.

    The 4th of July, Memorial Day and Veterans Day are part of this established itinerary for members of the 234th. Members realize that they may play in multiple events in one day, sometimes at different locations depending on the event size and the particulars of the request and maybe…what instrument they might end up playing for the event.

    “With the recent mobilization of so many Soldiers this fall, we ran into some real hurdles both with funding and availability,” said Staff Sgt. Duane Reno, describing the issues with allocating funding with the beginning and ending fiscal period quarters.

    “There were two ceremonies happening on the same day with one in Ashland (1-186th Infantry Battalion and the 141st Brigade Support Battalion) and the other up north here in St. Helens” (741st Brigade Engineer Battalion and the 141 Brigade Support Battalion), he said.

    “We’re lucky that some of our people are so versatile and can play more than one instrument -- which allowed us, in this case, to assemble bands at both locations so we could properly send our Soldiers off on deployment.”

    Reno, a vocalist, has been with the band for nearly five years and coordinates many events around the region. He emphasized the groundwork that has fostered the long-term success for the 234th, was established years ago with innovative leaders leaving an exceptional structure in place.

    “Our predecessors saw the benefit of setting up our drills so we meet more frequently and split train sometimes so we are not losing a whole weekend,” Reno said in describing the distinct schedule. “We normally drill two Tuesday nights a month and one Saturday so we can flex our training and still be mission effective.”

    The dedication from many members is unique and crucial to maintaining the integrity of the band. With their duty headquarters at Camp Withycombe at Clackamas, some make the drive from as far away as Le Grande and Ashland, arriving by 6:30 pm for the four-hour bi-monthly midweek practices.

    “They’re making quite a commitment to play the instrument that they love while serving the country they love too.”

    As any good musical conductor might profess, having a robust bass accompaniment can emphasize the sound for the entire orchestra. Often with the help of “The Governors Own,” 218th Field Artillery, Alpha Battery and their 105mm Howitzers, a perfect complement of reverberation adds for a timely finale.

    “For several years we provided the cannon salute to Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture during the “Oregon Symphony’s concert in the Neighborhood, at Tom McCall Waterfront Park” (in Portland), said Sgt. 1st Class Richard Botta, 218th Battalion Operations Sergeant. “We would have four of our Howitzers on stage, and play what I call, ‘First Chair Howitzer’ for the song, giving us time to cue each howitzer to orchestra -- it’s a symbolic and powerful conclusion to the piece.”

    Like the band, they are part of these significant patriotic community celebrations each year around the state. When they are not providing cannon firing routines, often they will travel to events to provide static displays with their 155mm Howitzer in tow.

    “When we are doing a salute to the nation, our teams will fire the 21 rounds to fully support the venue,” said Botta, noting how many people in the unit like to volunteer for patriotic events. “Our young Soldiers especially; they really like to go to these events and feel connected to the community and support these national holidays.”

    Of these holidays each year, Memorial Day at Willamette National Cemetery is distinct for multiple reasons. They will bring three howitzers, vehicles and three people per gun to man the firing party. The trios of howitzers and firing teams work in precise sequence to emphasis the full salute for this solemn day.

    “There is one person to load, one that handles the canister and one NCO (Non-Commissioned Officer) to pull the lanyard to fire off the round, said Botta. “The total team is somewhere between 9 to 14 people.”

    “During a situation like now where most of our people are deployed it does become a bit of a challenge on what we can and cannot support but our fall back is our trained full-time staff and they can supplement.”

    Like many of these volunteer events, members will perform the occasion in lieu of a regular drill duty period, often making accountably, logistics and pay paperwork a challenge. Botta noted that the howitzer salutes are considered a two-day event because of moving them from station to station with the required maintenance and cleaning after a firing detail.

    “Much like going to the range or out in the field, the weapons require attention to detail.”

    Yet there’s no mistaking the impact the howitzers have on any patriotic event: The all-encompassing boom and smoke resonate for everyone viewing their thundering display.

    “This allows the community to understand, not only what goes into our military job [with bringing the howitzers out to an event], but in a greater sense, it builds that deeper purpose of what the National Guard provides to the public,” said Botta.

    The One Percent of the One Percent

    The 3rd United States Infantry Regiment is renowned by their nickname, “The Old Guard,” as they provide full military funeral honors at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington D.C. as well as dignified transfers at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware. A significant role of the U.S. Army National Guard is to provide funeral honors throughout the rest of the nation with specified training to those Soldiers who meet the grade.

    Many of the Oregon Army National Guard funeral Honor members originate from the 218th as well as Soldiers from the 41st Infantry Brigade “Sunset” team. This small but select group provided full funeral honors for fallen Army comrades while also performing ceremonies and special events representing the U.S. Army as a whole to the American public.

    Willamette National Cemetery overlooks the city of Portland, three major mountains and the Willamette River. It is one of the largest and most active National Cemeteries in the country. Over the past three years a joint team of Oregon Army and Air Force Guardsmen, along with Navy Reservists make up the mission performing more than 2,000 funerals a year. Prior to the contribution of the Air Guard in 2016, the Army shouldered the responsibility for nearly two-thirds of all services.

    Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Joshua Flores is the team lead at Willamette National Cemetery and on any given day, as many as 10 or more funerals will need to be covered. Having a mixed team of Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen allow nearly all branches of the military to accomplish the mission [currently the Marine Corp covers their own funerals].

    “There has been nearly a 40 percent cut in our budget for manning this year,” said Flores. “We couldn’t cover all these services without the help of the other service branches.”

    Added to the challenge is a continuing rise in service for veterans from WW II, Korea and Vietnam, up to the current Gulf Wars and Afghanistan. Flores also noted that with so many Oregon Soldiers deployed, having individuals who can step in to augment for high profile funerals is often problematic.

    “For a recent important funeral for Col. Norman Thomas (the former Oregon National Guard Chief of Staff), to meet our protocol we needed a 6-man flag fold team, a lead Field Grade Officer, a 7-member firing party, the Firing Party Commander, and a bugler,” said Flores, describing the added manning requirements. “Getting those 14 to 15 members together meant having Army members come from Medford and Eastern Oregon as well as Air Force and Navy personnel making up most of the firing party detail.”

    The logistics are only one part, having a chance to rehearse the service is also critical. Often a minimum of two or three hours of group run-throughs is needed for a high profile funeral. What seems simple and routine comes from hundreds of hours of training and dedication prior to just a single funeral or memorial service.

    Flores has been part of the Army National Guard Funeral Honors program for more than three years. His duty military occupation for the past nine years is 11C, Indirect Fire Infantryman, mortar squad and he is a graduate of the 80-hour funeral honors course.

    “It sounds cliché but nobody knows when someone is going to pass away…quite often it happens and overlaps with drill weekends,” said Flores. “We currently have only 12 full-time active members in the state, but between deployed trained people and budget issues -- it is still hard to get some leaders to understand the need to support the family members timeframe for a specific funeral request.”

    Air Force members from the 142nd Fighter Wing have two full-time members as part of the Honor Guard team at Willamette National Cemetery (WNC) and another half dozen fully trained members in funeral honors that can support the mission. On top of that, the 142nd Honor Guard covers more than 60 Color Guard and memorials each year and a large portion of those events are covered by drill status Guardsmen.

    As the teams’ current NCOIC, Tech. Sgt. Keven Baker is currently one of the full-time Willamette members while schedules and performing many of these ‘extra-extra’ events.

    “At times it can be a bit overwhelming to do both but the entire unit from top to bottom supports what we are doing with the program,” said Baker. “But it is hard to describe to those outside of this program how much goes into it, from where it first started with funeral honors three years ago to now.”

    In outlining the direction of the program, the Air National Guard falls under McChord Air Force Base Funeral honors, which fund the two active duty positions at WNC, Baker said. Currently, he is building a longer-term plan that will streamline keeping the mission for the Air Guard and a pipeline of proficient Airmen for funeral details.

    “It is one thing that we have saved over a quarter million dollars by taking on the mission here at Willamette (National Cemetery) but with the Navy and Army support, we have been able to give extensive recognition and honors on funerals to retired Air Force members,” said Baker.

    “We’re a small crew but we have the ability to come together and feel proud about what we can do as members of the Armed Forces.”

    At a speech before National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics in June of 2018, Air Force Gen. Paul Selva emphasized to those in attendance that, “Only 1 percent of our population today will ever wear the uniform of this nation in any of its incarnations -- Soldier, Sailor, Airman, Marine, active, Guard or Reserve.”

    To put the mission of Honor Guardsmen into a broader perspective, it means in a unit the size of the 142nd Fighter Wing with nearly 1,500 Airmen, about 1 percent of the members volunteer and train for this unique duty. In the distinction of military service members, this equates to an élite group of ‘One percent of the one percent.’

    “If you ask almost anyone who is on this team, they’ll tell you first and foremost the reason they want to be part of the Base Honor Guard is that it is a reflection of what one feels is important about the Air Force and conveying that to those outside of the Air Force,” Baker emphasized.

    “There is a camaraderie here that is like no place else in the military and it’s a reflection for a passion to serve: to the public and nation as a whole.”

    In his book, “The American Spirit,” Historian David McCullough describes this greater calling, as “an American need, above all, is leadership to define the national ambition.”

    “I think what most of us want, more than anything else -- is to be useful. This and to be part of something larger than ourselves…it’s a common understanding of what that larger something can be,” McCullough surmised.

    This echoes the perspective for volunteerism that Chief Keller has reflected upon; now on the eve of his retirement from the military.

    “Putting this last group together (for the Albany parade) was in many ways bitter-sweet,” he said. “I’ll leave with a lot of memories but this is what makes military service so special because of what it means to serve, and the bonds created along the way.”



    Date Taken: 12.23.2019
    Date Posted: 12.23.2019 21:33
    Story ID: 357166
    Location: ALBANY, OR, US 

    Web Views: 121
    Downloads: 0