Employers of Utah Guard Soldiers

Get a 'Lift' to Fort Lewis

 

By LTC Hank McIntire

 

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Published May 11, 2010

 

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Employers and Soldier representatives board a Utah Air National Guard KC-135 Stratotanker for Fort Lewis, Wash., April 1.

Photo by LTC Hank McIntire

Employers and Soldier representatives board a Utah Air

National Guard KC-135 Stratotanker for Fort Lewis, Wash., April 1.

FORT LEWIS, Wash. — Twenty-nine civilian employers of members of the Utah Guard’s 144th Area Support Medical Company hopped aboard a ‘Boss Lift’ April 1-3 to Fort Lewis, Wash., to see their Soldiers in action as they prepared for a 12-month deployment to Afghanistan.

Boss Lifts, sponsored by the Utah Committee for Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, are part of a national ESGR program which gives civilian employers of Guard members an on-the-ground taste of what their Employee-Soldiers are going through during their preparations to deploy.

The Camp Williams-based 144th consists of 80 Soldiers with the mission to treat patients in a hospital/clinic setting and provide medevac and ambulance support in a combat environment at Bagram Air Base and forward locations in Afghanistan.

Justin Withers, an employer from Questar, rides in the cockpit of the KC-135 for the landing at Fort Lewis.

Photo by LTC Hank McIntire

Justin Withers, an employer from Questar, rides in the

cockpit of the KC-135 for the landing at Fort Lewis.

En route from Salt Lake City to Fort Lewis on a Utah Air National Guard KC-135R Stratotanker, by luck of the draw—literally—a few passengers had the rare chance to sit in the cockpit’s jump seat for takeoff and landing.

"That was really cool!" said Justin Withers, of Questar Gas, of his few minutes in the cockpit. He was on the trip to see employee SPC Tom Munford. "I tried to soak it in and enjoy all of it. It was exciting and a lot of fun."

Employers also got an up-close look at a midair refueling operation as a group of A-10 Thunderbolts—better known as Warthogs—from Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, sidled up one by one to the boom at the rear of the KC-135.

Passengers did a bit of sidling as well as they peeked over boom operator MSgt Jason Blood’s shoulders while each A-10 received its share of the KC-135’s liquid payload: 8,000 pounds of fuel dispensed in just three minutes flat.

An A-10 Warthog aircraft approaches the boom of a Utah Air National Guard KC-135 over Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho.

Photo by LTC Hank McIntire

An A-10 Warthog aircraft approaches the boom of a Utah Air

National Guard KC-135 over Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho.

Once on the ground at Fort Lewis, employers received a briefing from leaders of the 191st Infantry Brigade, the unit responsible for training the Soldiers of the 144th for their mission in Afghanistan.

"It’s important for employers to see the quality of training that the Armed forces provide their workers, who will come back to them after a year in Afghanistan," said COL Jay Gordon Flowers, commander of the 191st. "It’s also important for Soldiers to see that they will have a job on the other side of this deployment."

To get a taste of what their employees go through each day, after the briefing employers were issued and had to assemble the same personal-protection gear their Soldiers wear to include helmet, goggles and flak jacket.

Captain David Stefl, commander of the 144th ASMC speaks to his Soldiers and their employers at a barbecue dinner in their honor April 2.

Photo by LTC Hank McIntire

Captain David Stefl, commander of the 144th ASMC speaks to his

Soldiers and their employers at a barbecue dinner in their honor April 2.

After checking into the Rainer Inn, the hotel at Fort Lewis, employers rested for a few hours from their early-morning start before being bused to a formal dinner and social with senior officers and enlisted members of the 144th.

"The training is going well, and my Soldiers are very motivated," CPT David Stefl, commander of the 144th, told employers. "We’ve had nothing but praise since we’ve been here. It’s the Soldiers who make that happen."

"You’ll gain a greater respect for the person wearing this green suit during the training tomorrow," Stefl promised.

"We’ve been pretty punishing on you employers over the last decade," added MG Brian Tarbet, adjutant general of the Utah National Guard, during his remarks at the dinner. "In the National Guard and Reserve, we don’t do business without you."

Employers enjoy an Army breakfast at a field dining facility with their Soldiers before observing the day's training.

Photo by LTC Hank McIntire

Employers enjoy an Army breakfast at a field dining facility

with their Soldiers before observing the day's training.

"You see someone leave your ranks, it affects your bottom line," he continued, acknowledging the sacrifice required to support their Soldier-employees. "It’s money out of your pocket. It’s a challenge for co-workers to cover. We’re aware of that."

"As you will see tomorrow, your Soldiers aren’t out on a lark," Tarbet concluded. "These medical people have performed miracles. Soldiers, Marines, Airmen and sailors are alive today because of what these guys do."

As Tarbet predicted, the following day proved to be far from a lark, with the cold, rainy weather that Fort Lewis is famous for.

Employers reported at 0545 (5:45 a.m.) for a bus ride to enjoy an Army breakfast of eggs, sausage and all the trimmings with their Soldiers at the dining facility.

Wendell Winegar, right, grandfather and employer of 1LT Jeremiah Davies, center, shared breakfast together at Fort Lewis April 2.

Photo by LTC Hank McIntire

Wendell Winegar, right, grandfather and employer of 1LT Jeremiah Davies, center, shared breakfast together at Fort Lewis April 2.

Bosses and employers chatted excitedly in a modern version of the mess tent seen on the sitcom M*A*S*H, catching up after saying goodbye March 20 when the 144th left Utah for this first leg of their deployment.

Wendell Winegar, owner of an RV park in Island Park, Idaho, sat with his employee, 1LT Jeremiah Davies, who also happens to be his grandson.

"I’ve seen a lot of growth, mentally and physically," said Winegar, recalling his impressions of Davies and his fellow Soldiers. "You see them and they are compassionate with people. They are a tribute to the Service."

Davies, of Plain City, a platoon leader with the 144th, was touched and surprised to see his grandfather, who not only signs his paycheck, but as a retired Army officer also administered the oath to him when Davies joined the military.

Leland Slaughter, left, makes an unexpected visit to his son, PFC Leland Slaughter, a member of the 144th ASMC.

Photo by LTC Hank McIntire

Leland Slaughter, left, makes an unexpected visit to his son,

PFC Leland Slaughter, a member of the 144th ASMC.

"I just filled out the paper to give him an award," said Davies of his employer-grandfather. "I didn’t know they were going to fly him out here. He supported me all through college and when I commissioned he swore me in."

Winegar also spent time with another grandson, PFC Michael Winegar, 151st Signal Battalion, who happens to be stationed at Fort Lewis, preparing to deploy in October.

"It was really nice to see him," said Michael. "I haven’t seen him since I left for Basic."

Another duo reunited on this trip had even more in common than Winegar and Davies. Leland Slaughter, a civilian employee with the Utah Guard’s Survivor Outreach Services, met up with PFC Leland Slaughter, a medic with the 144th, and employed with Provo City’s water department.

ESGR Utah's Mark Harrison assists an employer with his 'snivel gear' as the group goes to the field to observe training.

Photo by LTC Hank McIntire

ESGR Utah's Mark Harrison assists an employer with his

'snivel gear' as the group goes to the field to observe training.

"This was pretty cool—I didn’t expect it," said Leland, Jr. "It’s been nice having him round. It’s made a difference."

The senior Slaughter, while thrilled to spend a few hours with his Soldier son, saw how this trip will make him a more effective resource to military families back home.

"This gives me a better understanding of what they are going through," said Leland, Sr. "I think it will help me in talking with the families and help me relate better to them and their Soldiers’ experiences."

After breakfast, Soldiers of the 144th left for the day’s training and employers broke out their "snivel gear," as Soldiers call it, to stay warm and dry. They had a hands-on tour of the Mine-Resistent, Ambush-Protected (MRAP) vehicle, the planned replacement for the humvee, and walked through the IED (improvised explosive device) "petting zoo" to see real examples of the deadly tactics and weapons the enemy uses against Coalition forces in Afghanistan.

Employers monitor the progress of their Soldiers during a training scenario at a mock Afghani village at Fort Lewis April 2.

Photo by LTC Hank McIntire

Employers monitor the progress of their Soldiers during a

training scenario at a mock Afghani village at Fort Lewis April 2.

Rounding out the morning, employers observed their Soldiers run through an exercise that required them to move a convoy through a danger area en route to a meeting with a tribal elder in a built-to-scale Afghan village complete with shops, huts, mosque and native roleplayers chattering in Pashto.

Employers watched in the rain from a distance and monitored the event on portable radios, hearing them successfully navigate the hazardous route to the village and seeing them learn some tough lessons as their encounter in the village turned "deadly" with the "loss" of a handful of Soldiers when one of the women roleplayers detonated an explosive device hidden under her clothes.

"I learned today that it’s hard," said a wet and cold Withers after the exercise. "Sometimes in the civilian world [we] have it a lot easier. [Soldiers] don’t stop if the weather’s bad. If it’s a rainy or snowy day, we [civilians] can slow down a little bit, but these guys don’t have that opportunity."

Specialist Patrick Couch, left, gives aclass to employers on how  to use an MRE heater during lunch April 2 at Fort Lewis.

Photo by LTC Hank McIntire

Specialist Patrick Couch, left, gives aclass to employers on

how  to use an MRE heater during lunch April 2 at Fort Lewis.

Employers and Soldiers returned to the mess tent and dined on the Army’s version of fast food, the infamous MRE (Meal Ready to Eat). At table after table Soldiers gave impromptu classes to their bosses on how to use the heaters that come in every package to bring the food to a palatable temperature.

As Soldiers continued with their training for the day, employers returned to the main garrison for a tour of the Medical Simulation Training Center to see how each Soldier is trained and prepared to provide basic emergency medical aid.

After a chance to clean up at the hotel, employers moved to the Allen Reserve Center to prepare for a barbecue dinner with their employees, many carrying the care packages brought from home or the office.

As members of the 144th entered the hall, spontaneous applause erupted from employers. Soldiers were visibly moved by the tribute as they formed a line around the perimeter of the room.

Employers applaud members of the 144th ASMC as they enter the dining room at the Allen Reserve Center at Fort Lewis April 2.

Photo by LTC Hank McIntire

Employers applaud members of the 144th ASMC as they enter

the dining room at the Allen Reserve Center at Fort Lewis April 2.

Soldiers needed little coaxing to move through the food line manned by Utah Guard leaders and Fort Lewis staff serving up barbecued ribs, chicken, hot dogs and hamburgers in the closest thing to a home-cooked meal that they would have for a long time.

Bosses and employees sat together to eat, chat and share their packages. Employers looked like parents on Christmas morning as they watched their "children" open the gifts they had brought.

This final opportunity to spend time with their employees was the highlight of the trip for many employers. Angelo Aguilar, of Honeywell International, is a supervisor to SPC Benjamin Carr at Hill Air Force Base.

"Ben brings a level of maturity to the job," said Aguilar, a retired Marine, believing that Carr’s military service enhances his work performance. "He helps train people; he stays on task. He knows how to communicate with me."

Specialist Benjamin Carr, left, shares breakfast with his civilian supervisor, Angelo Aguilar during an ESGR Boss Lift to Fort Lewis April 2.

Photo by LTC Hank McIntire

Specialist Benjamin Carr, left, shares breakfast with his civilian supervisor, Angelo Aguilar during an ESGR Boss Lift to Fort Lewis April 2.

"And he is in the [military] brotherhood," added Aguilar. "That’s why I’m here supporting Ben, because he is in the Club."

Carr, of Roy, knows that with Aguilar’s Marine background, his boss understands what it takes to be a Citizen-Soldier, and he’s glad that Boss Lifts help educate those who haven’t fully seen the light.

"It gives them a better appreciation for what we do out here and and how we get ready for what we’re going to do," said Carr, speaking candidly. "Some employers don’t really get what we do in the Guard. This is a really a good chance to understand completely what we do. Instead of sitting back and saying, ‘Oh, you just get to play Army,’ well, they come out and see our training and see if we’re really playing or not."

"It’s nice for them to see what they let us have our time off to do," added SSG Rachael Kotter, of Taylorsville, a medic with the 144th. In civilian life she is a phlebotomist with Intermountain Medical Center in Murray, Utah.

Staff Sergeant Rachael Kotter, right, enjoys a visit from her Intermountain Medical Center supervisor Shannon Atkinson before Kotter deploys.

Photo by LTC Hank McIntire

Staff Sergeant Rachael Kotter, right, enjoys a visit from her Intermountain Medical Center supervisor Shannon Atkinson before Kotter deploys.

Kotter is thankful that her boss, Shannon Atkinson, also "gets it."

"They hired me knowing that there was a possibility of my deploying," explained Kotter.

"I have a deeper respect for what these people go through," said Atkinson. "Getting to see her in her uniform just puts it into context. I see that when she is not at work, this is what she is doing. They deserve our support and respect. What they are doing is an honorable thing."

"What an honor to be invited here," Atkinson continued. "If [employers] have the opportunity, it’s a chance of a lifetime to spend these last few days with their Soldier. It’s inspiring."

Other Soldiers take comfort in knowing that their employment is secure and will be waiting for them when they return.

Justin Withers, left, visits with employee SPC Tom Munford at the barbecue dinner  April 2.

Photo by LTC Hank McIntire

Justin Withers, left, visits with employee

SPC Tom Munford at the barbecue dinner  April 2.

"I know my job is there when I get back, and I can step right back into my old shoes and pick up where I left off," said SPC Tom Munford, of Brigham City. "Other people, you can see the concern in their eyes. They’re not as sure as I am. Even my family was concerned about my job at Questar. I told them, ‘It’ll be there. I know they will support me.’"

Unit commander Stefl, a Farmington resident and physician’s assistant with Mountain Orthopedics in Bountiful, also knows what it means to have a supportive employer in Dr. Pepper Murray.

"I had a difficult time last time I deployed, but Dr. Murray has been great," Stefl said. "I’ve worked for Pepper for three years. It’s been quite a contrast from my last deployment. Night and day."

Stefl hopes that civilian employers truly understand how much they can contribute to the success of the Guard and Reserve.

"They are serving their country by letting their Soldiers serve in the Guard, making sure our freedoms are protected," he said. "It’s important that we make sure they have a way to come home and take care of their families."

For more information about Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, please visit www.esgr.org.