News: Bagram celebrates National Guard birthday
Story by Sgt. Christopher Bonebrake
BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan – U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Paul Funk II, deputy commanding general (maneuver) for Combined Joint Task Force-1, stood before 22 National Guard soldiers assembled at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan.
“Raise your right hand and repeat after me,” the general ordered.
On the 376th birthday of the National Guard, the soldiers of National Guard Affairs-Afghanistan decided to do something special to celebrate by hosting the National Guard Birthday Bash, which culminated in a reenlistment ceremony for National Guardsmen overseas.
“The National Guard birthday is very important because it is an opportunity to share the history of the Guard with the younger troops,” said U.S. Army Col. Larry Howl, chief of NGA-Afghanistan. “I wanted to make our Guardsmen proud of where they came from.”
In his speech during the birthday celebration, Howl mentioned that half of the Army divisions that fought in World War II were Guard units.
“It’s a good refresher to remember what the Guard has done in past wars,” Howl said.
The celebration started the day prior with performances by Controlled Det and The Surge. Both bands are comprised of military personnel on Bagram and play covers of popular rock songs from the 80s and 90s.
The morning of, NGA-Afghanistan organized a 5K run followed by a strength competition that included push-ups, sit-ups and a bench-press event. Service members and civilians braved the early morning cold and rain to show support for their National Guard brethren. Participants were given a free t-shirt after they finished the race.
U.S. Army Sgt. Ryan Wilkins, the noncommissioned officer in-charge of retro-sort operations, attached to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 427th Brigade Support Battalion, 42nd Infantry Division, New York Army National Guard, organized the competition.
“I thought it went really well,” Wilkins said. “Despite the weather, we had almost 500 people show up for the run. This event gave active duty soldiers and Guardsmen an opportunity to come together. It was great to see them [active duty soldiers] show up to support us.”
The official ceremony took place in the afternoon. Guests from different branches and services enjoyed food, drinks and music by the 1st Infantry Division Band. The ceremony concluded with the reenlistment of 22 National Guard soldiers.
“We wanted to give these soldiers a special day to re-enlist,” said U.S. Army Maj. Thomas Dysinger, the logistics officer for NGA-Afghanistan. “I think it was especially significant to the Guardsmen who re-enlisted because they all got a coin from the general.”
Dysinger, who brought his logistics skills to the table to coordinate the main event, believes that celebrating the National Guard birthday is important because of its history and traditions.
“This event is a part of our culture as a military organization that has been around for a long time,” Dysinger said. “Part of that culture is our traditions, including how we celebrate events and remember the past.”
The celebration also gave soldiers a chance to relax for a change.
“When families read about events like this, it shows them that it’s not all bad over here,” said Howl. “It also gives the soldiers a way to get their minds off the war.”
The National Guard has served honorably in Operation Enduring Freedom as well as the conflicts that came before it. However, there is a stigma that many Guardsmen encounter when serving alongside their active counterparts.
During his speech, Howl talked about how the National Guard has progressed from a militia to a professional force capable of fighting side by side with the active duty military.
“I would challenge any commander to tell the difference between active duty and Guard components,” Howl said. “We are integrated and know our jobs very well; you can’t tell the difference between a Guardsmen and an active duty soldier now.”
“I think this event showed that the National Guard is a professional organization,” Dysinger added. “When we take the time to celebrate our history, it shows that we are the same organization no matter where we are in the world.”
With the conclusion of the re-enlistment ceremony, attendees grabbed food and drinks for the road and went their separate ways.
After months of planning, the soldiers of NGA-Afghanistan could finally congratulate each other on a job well done.
“We planned this event to showcase the National Guard, and it was great to see the active duty show their support,” said Wilkins.
Dysinger, who majored in history, was also pleased with the outcome of the event. He understands the heritage, culture and tradition that the military values so highly.
“This event was a reminder to us and those back home why the National Guard is so important,” he said.