By Ann Keyes
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. - Whether they are on the firing line in national marksmanship competitions or doing their day-to-day military mission, Missouri's Citizen-Soldiers and Airmen are setting the standard for National Guardsmen across the country.
Since taking command of the Missouri National Guard in 2009, Maj. Gen. Stephen L. Danner, the adjutant general, said he has been consistently impressed by the professionalism and commitment of his troops.
"If you give a Missouri Airman or Soldier a chance to shine, that Guardsman will impress you every single time," Danner said. "Whether we're talking about the increased emphasis on state and national competitive events that Command Sgt. Maj. Jim Schulte has brought to the Missouri Guard or simply the outstanding work our folks do day in, day out, this is a top-notch organization that I'm proud to be a part of."
Sections within the Guard including its field maintenance shops and public affairs office have been repeatedly recognized as leaders in their field, Danner said. Additionally, the Missouri Guard has distinguished itself in a number of statewide and national competitions.
The week of April, 23 the Missouri National Guard's top shooters head to North Little Rock, Ark., for the Winston P. Wilson Marksmanship Sustainment Exercise, a national-level competition they walk into as returning champions, having won the contest the last time it was held in late 2010.
For five days, 400 Soldiers and Airmen battled on the ranges at Camp Joseph T. Robinson during the premier National Guard shooting event. Day to day, match numbers swayed, leaving participants unsure of where they stood in rankings. But when the winners of the competition were announced on the final night, Missouri dominated both by team and individually.
"I feel that the All-States win is a major accomplishment for the state and for all the individuals who participated. It shows the true potential and talent of the Missouri National Guard," said team member Sgt. James Whitener.
The Winston P. Wilson win was 40 years in the making - and it's anyone's guess how this year's competition will shakeout. Win or lose, however, the marksmanship team's notoriety is but one of many national-level appointments for Guardsmen who serve the Show-Me State.
Since that contest 18 months ago, the Missouri Guard has received accolades for competitive events in the Army's modern version of hand-to-hand combat, commonly known as combatives.
Just two years into the program in Missouri, combatives is taking off quickly. Beginning at battalion levels, Soldiers and Airmen compete as top fighters before moving on to state matches. Winners in various weight classes then grapple to become part of the Missouri Guard state team, competing in the annual National Guard Combatives Tournament hosted by the Warrior Training Center at Fort Benning, Ga.
Placing third as a team in the first year of competition, Missouri Guardsmen took the second place team title in February. Missouri Guardsmen also placed high in individual contests.
"The entire team competed so valiantly in all weight classes, in only our second year of the program," said Maj. Gen. Stephen L. Danner, adjutant general of the Missouri National Guard. "The efforts of the team are proof positive of the work ethic and competitive spirit of each of the team members."
The Army's Best Warrior competition works much the same way as the mixed martial arts competition. Soldiers and Airmen progress through unit levels before competing in a state competition. Regional, multi-state contests narrow the field to but a dozen that compete at a national Best Warrior contest also held at Fort Benning.
Sgt. Brian Wood represented Missouri in 2011, placing among the top competitors in the 'Soldier of the Year' division. The contest is intense; weapons qualifications, obstacle course and land navigation make the list of Soldier skills put to the test.
"In the Army National Guard there are over 300,000 enlisted members," said Lt. Christopher Pegg with the Warrior Training Center at Fort Benning. "These are the top 14 out of those 300,000 so it's a significant milestone for these individuals. It really represents the Army at its best."
"Our Soldier is one of the top finishers in the nation," said Missouri Guard Command Sgt. Maj. James Schulte following the Best Warrior contest. "He did an awesome job and we're very proud of that."
Missouri Guard top awards don't stop at physical, competitive events, even as the state's Citizen-Soldiers were called to six state emergency duty assignments over 2011, including floods, a blizzard and a devastating Joplin tornado.
In 2011, the Army's chief of public affairs announced the Missouri National Guard public affairs office was the winner in the 2010 Department of the Army Major General Keith L. Ware Special Events category and was awarded for their excellent community relations contributions.
The public affairs office also won second place for both the Web-based and Command Blog categories. An awards presentation was held in Washington, DC, at the Pentagon Auditorium on Aug. 19, 2011.
The 2011 Major General Keith L. Ware Public Affairs Competition results came out earlier this year. Missouri's public affairs office placed third in the Outstanding Initiative in New Media for its social media efforts; for a second year, won first place in the Command Blog category; was an honorable mention in the Television Information Program with the "Operation Rising Tide Documentary" and took home top honors for the "Rising Star" award for Outstanding New Broadcaster.
Cpl. Adam Winters, a broadcaster in the 70th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, is the winner of the "Rising Star" award.
"It's rewarding to know that the hard work and dedication of our public affairs team is recognized," Danner said. "They do a really superb job."
More recently, a regional disaster response force of Missouri National Guardsmen were certified as mission-ready after participating in a large-scale validation exercise involving several explosions in St. Louis.
The Region 7 Homeland Response Force, covering Missouri, Kansas, Iowa and Nebraska, received its validation certification following the March 19-23 exercise at the Muscatatuck Urban Training Complex in North Vernon, Ind.
The St. Louis-based Region 7 Force is one of 10 military rapid response teams being established by the U.S. Department of Defense to aid civil authorities in the event of a natural or manmade disaster that exceeds their response capabilities.
Each Homeland Response Force consists of 570 Soldiers and Airmen of the National Guard with expertise in search and extraction of disaster victims, incident site security, decontamination, medical treatment and command and control of the mission. Under Defense Department guidelines, each response force must have a 6-12 hour response capability to receive validation.
"We had to manage our forces appropriately and mitigate human suffering as quickly as possible using our security element and our decontamination, medical triage, and search and extraction capabilities," said Col. Wendul G. Hagler, the Region 7 Response Force commander and Chief of Staff for the Missouri Guard.
"Overall, I think this exercise was put together very well and represented a fair representation of what we might face in the real world. Our troops have shouldered this load under austere conditions and their performance has been outstanding," said Hagler.
That may explain the top honors in all categories, combatives, public affairs and marksmanship among them.
In early March, the Missouri Guard sharpshooters placed second in the nation as a team at the U.S. Army Small Arms Championships at Fort Benning, Ga. Individually, the four-man team placed high as well.
"I could not be more proud of the Soldiers in this organization today," Schulte told Guardsmen at the state's most recent Best Warrior competition. "Soldiers in the Guard today have enlisted or reenlisted knowing they will be called to serve both on the state and federal level. Currently, there are more than 1,000 Soldiers deployed to Afghanistan, Kuwait, Honduras, Guatemala and other countries. The Guard also has a state mission to serve on state emergency duty when the Missouri Governor calls.
"There is nobody in the military that does things better than we do," Schulte added. "When bad things happen to good people, the Missouri National Guard is there. We are the 21st century Minutemen," Schulte said.
For more information about the Missouri National Guard, please visit www.moguard.com and our social media sites: www.facebook.com/Missouri.National.Guard; www.twitter.com/Missouri_NG; www.youtube.com/MoNationalGuard; www.myspace.com/missouri_ng; www.flickr.com/photos/missouriguard; www.moguard.com/blog; www.pinterest.com/monationalguard/