News: Wyoming history serves as a base for National Guard conference
Story by 2nd Lt. Christian Venhuizen
CAMP GUERNSEY, Wyo. – Operating in the least developed state helped the Wyoming National Guard develop into a state of experts in dealing with some of the most abundant collections of natural and cultural resources in the nation.
The Cowboy State’s programs garnered national awards from the U.S. Department of Defense, and convinced the National Guard Bureau, or NGB, to host its national Natural and Cultural Resources Workshop along the state’s high plains.
“It was a no-brainer to select Wyoming as the location,” said Beth Erickson, branch chief for Army National Guard Headquarters, as she toured ruts left by wagon trains on the Oregon Trail.
The August conference allowed each state and territory’s natural and cultural resources staffs to exchange ideas, learn from the host state’s best practices, and deal directly with NGB representatives on unresolved issues.
Michael Petkerkin is the natural resources manager for the Indiana Army National Guard’s Camp Atterbury. He said NGB face time is exactly why he attended the conference.
“I’m looking for a better understanding of National Guard Bureau guidelines as to how to run our natural resources program,” Petkerkin said.
“You can do some of that stuff on the phone, but not to the degree that we can here,” Erickson said, noting that there were approximately 75 representatives of states, territories, and other federal agencies at this year’s conference.
For the Wyoming hosts, the goal was to showcase some of the state’s untouched natural and cultural resources. Lt. Col. Samuel House, environmental program manager for the Wyoming Army National Guard, said it’s a workshop that is nearly unparalleled in the lower 48 states.
“Wyoming has its own culture and it’s something that I wanted to show, because it was something unique to me when I first came here,” House said, while hiking the Oregon Trail with other conference goers.
At the peak of the historical marker along the trail, one can look out and see a landscape almost devoid of development. It’s a sight, House said, that probably resembled what the settlers saw as they crossed through.
However, a quick turn provides a sight filled with military power. The Wyoming National Guard’s Camp Guernsey Joint Training Center’s cantonment area, filled with its historic Works Progress Administration buildings, provided a reminder of how settlers and the military worked hand-in-hand.
Erickson said the job of military historical and cultural resources staffs involve finding the balance between providing the training and safety of the nation’s military and documenting and protecting what was there before.
“It’s just to learn how we can be good stewards to the environment, as well as our mission of readiness,” she said.
The Wyoming crew took their mission to achieve balance and turned it into a program worthy of the Department of Defense’s Cultural Resources Management Award, received in June. The Wyoming Guard earned the award by working to protect sensitive Native American cultural sites, and 19th and 20th century cultural resources.