Idaho National Guard sends first wildland firefighting crew to northern Idaho

Idaho National Guard sends first wildland firefighting crew to northern Idaho

Idaho Military Division Public Affairs/Master Sgt. Becky Vanshur

Idaho National Guard Soldiers and Airmen made organizational history by sending wildland Firefighter Type 2 Red Card certified Guardsmen to northern Idaho to fight fires for the first time. The newly assigned crewmembers of the Task Force Timber Shield left Boise Aug. 4 to assist the Idaho Department of Lands’ mission of containing more than 15 significant wildland fires currently burning in Idaho.

It is the first time the IDL requested Idaho Gov. Brad Little to issue an emergency declaration for making Idaho National Guard resources available to assist fighting against fires on the ground. For some Guardsmen, the volunteer notice came early in July and they immediately began training to earn their FFT2 Incident Qualification Cards, commonly known as a Red Card certification.

“I made sure my name was on that list when I heard the call for volunteers,” said 2nd Lt. Travis Stice. “It will be hard, physical labor, which I am excited for. I told my son that I was going to leave to go fight fires and he said, ‘but you are in the Army, you’re not a firefighter,’ and I said, ‘We do everything, buddy.’”

Stice is one of 72 Guardsmen who has earned his Red Card and more personnel are currently completing the training in anticipation of additional missions. He joined the Idaho National Guard four years ago and this is his first State Active Duty mission as a Guardsman.

“I am very excited that this is a state mission,” Stice said. “It’s the reason I signed up for the Idaho National Guard, to help the citizens of Idaho, along with serving my country. I just love my fellow Idahoans. I called my employer with one day’s notice and they said ‘awesome, just come back safe and we’ll work everything out when you come back.’ They were very supportive even with the short notice.”

The additional training for more Red Card certified Guardsmen stemmed after the governor issued the emergency declaration July 9 to mobilize Idaho National Guard fire line FFT2 qualified personnel to work on active wildfire efforts on the 6.2 million acres of land across mostly northern Idaho where IDL provides fire protection.

The FFT2 crew consists of sixteen fully trained Idaho Guardsmen. The IDL provided one crew boss and two squad bosses to complete a full nineteen-man crew.

“We are currently training more Soldiers and Airmen as they volunteer for this mission in the hopes of building a large capacity consisting of several hand crews,” said Lt. Col. Tony Vincelli, commander of Task Force Timber Shield. “This is the kind of mission that makes serving in the National Guard so unique and rewarding. I hope Soldiers and Airmen see how rewarding this mission is and truly understand the impact they could have.”

The Guardsmen were issued firefighting personal protective equipment, fire-resistant clothing, hand tools and sleeping accommodations just prior to leaving.

“The boots on the ground, physical labor of this kind of work is different than anything I have ever done in my career,” said Maj. Robin Kiska, from the 224th Cyber Operations Squadron, Idaho Air National Guard. “It’s like an extreme hiking adventure in extreme conditions. It will be hard work but a welcomed challenge.”

The governor’s emergency declaration also authorized other personnel to support fire logistic activities and make National Guard aircraft resources available.

Currently, the Idaho National Guard has two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters and pilots, crew chiefs, refueling crew and essential maintenance personnel assisting with aerial firefighting by delivering water using large capacity “Bambi Buckets,” or helicopter buckets, suspended from helicopter cables. The UH-60 Black Hawk crews have been assisting Idaho’s mission this fire season since July 13 and have dropped more than 187,096 gallons of water on several fires.

Additionally, a request for help at the Idaho Fire Cache warehouse in Coeur d’Alene sent eight Guardsmen on July 21 to provide logistical and operational support of daily refurbishment operation to include palletizing orders, building kits, cleaning, repackaging firefighting hoses and pulling stock of supplies and equipment for state and federal wildland firefighters.

The IDL, the Idaho Office of Emergency Management and the Idaho National Guard developed a partnership a few years ago through a Joint Powers Agreement, defining the process involved in interagency coordination, support, training and planning during times of emergency involving mutual aid of wildland fire relief within Idaho.

“Today marked yet another milestone in the proud history of the Idaho National Guard as wildland firefighter ground crews mobilized and deployed to support the growing wildland fire threats across our state,” said Brig. Gen. Russ Johnson, director of the Idaho National Guard Joint Staff. “Our National Guard service members – and their families – have again answered the call to support the citizens of Idaho during this volatile fire season.”

Currently, around the country more than 770 National Guard Soldiers and Airmen from eight states are assisting with fighting wildland fires. Four UH-60 Black Hawks, two CH-47 Chinooks and one UH-72 Lakota are supporting aviation wildfire operations across the nation. Four C-130 crews are in California, Nevada and Wyoming equipped with Modular Airborne Fire Fighting Systems. To date, National Guard MAFFS crews have made 357 drops and flown 366 sorties in support of the fires across the United States. The National Interagency Fire Center reports over 38,200 fires have burned a total of 3.2 million acres across 14 states.

Idaho Army National Guard participates in new smart weapon training

Idaho Army National Guard participates in new smart weapon training

Idaho Military Division Public Affairs/Crystal Farris

The Idaho Army National Guard’s 1st Battalion of the 148th Field Artillery Regiment returned from its annual training July 24, after spending more than two weeks at Camp Guernsey, Wyoming, where it participated in its first M1156 Precision Guidance Kit new equipment training.

“Receiving the PGK NET was a great opportunity that will enhance the battalion and the 116th Cavalry Brigade Combat Team’s lethality on the battlefield,” said Lt. Col. Eric Orcutt, commander of the 1-148th FAR. “We purposely sought to field the PGK prior to the brigade’s upcoming mobilizations. If the PGK capability exists in the theater of operations we end up in, then our Soldiers will be trained to employ it and bring a precision capability to the fight.”

The GPS guidance kit with fuze functions and integrated GPS receiver, provides the 1-148th FAR with the latest technology to perform its warfighting mission and enables the unit to more accurately deploy munitions within 30 meters of an intended target, as opposed to the average 50 meters of traditional artillery.

Small aerodynamic fins on the fuze allow the system to make flight adjustments of the round’s trajectory and steer the shell on target. A fail safe can also prevent the shell from exploding if it falls outside 150 meters of an intended target.

This enables Soldiers to more confidently call in artillery support close to their position, reduce the number of shells needed to destroy a target and reduce difficulties in keeping crews supplied, said Sgt. 1st Class Mike Taylor, master gunner with the 1-148th FAR.

The fuze kit weighs three pounds and threads into the nose of conventional 155mm high explosive artillery shells, providing near-precision capabilities at a cost far less than precision munitions, Taylor added.

During the training, Soldiers belonging to Batteries Alpha, Bravo and Charlie learned about the PGK’s capabilities and conducted live-fire for the first time since the 1-148th FAR completed its National Training Center rotation at Fort Irwin, California, in 2019.

Orcutt said Camp Guernsey provided the battalion the ability to effectively train and conduct live-fire with more than 10 kilometers of open land.

“The 1-148 FAR was excited for the training at Camp Guernsey,” he said. “After last year’s annual training during COVID-19, everyone was eager to get back on the guns, on the hill, behind their fire direction computers, or wherever their job is. The training area was wooded, green, and full of terrain that many have not had an opportunity to experience, keeping the morale high and the training challenging.”

The 1-148th FAR employs fire to destroy, neutralize, suppress or shape enemy forces; provides fire support to maneuver in close combat and during counterattack to control land areas; and provides counterfire.

It is equipped with M1096A6 Paladins, self-propelled howitzers that fire 155mm artillery shells. Crews that operate the Paladin consist of four-man teams; a driver, a number one man, a gunner and a howitzer section chief.

The number one man is responsible for loading and firing the howitzer, the gunner fuzes the round and cuts propellant powder, while the section chief manages all firing data and ensures the howitzer is laid on target.

Idaho National Guard memorializes WWII Medal of Honor recipient

Idaho National Guard memorializes WWII Medal of Honor recipient

Idaho Military Division Public Affairs/Crystal Farris

The Idaho National Guard dedicated its newest barracks in honor of Medal of Honor recipient U.S. Army 1st Lt. Vernon Joseph Baker on Gowen Field, Tuesday.

Baker was one of seven African Americans awarded the Medal of Honor for service during World War II. He received the award nearly 50 years later for his extraordinary heroism on April 5 and 6, 1945, while in Viareggio, Italy. The award is the nation’s highest and most prestigious military decoration.

Jerome Mapp, former Boise City Council member and Caldwell planning and zoning director, speaks “I’m thankful that on this day, we will create a lasting legacy in the name of 1st Lt. Vernon J. Baker, Medal of Honor recipient,” said Jerome Mapp, former Boise City Council member and Caldwell planning and zoning director. “Those who will enter into this building will have the opportunity to learn about Baker, his leadership and the sacrifices he made.”

Baker joined the Army in 1941 and later attended Officer Candidate School to earn his commission as a second lieutenant in 1943. The following year, he deployed with the 92nd Infantry Division to Italy. On April 5, 1945, Baker led 25 African American infantrymen through a maze of German bunkers and machine gun nests to attack Castle Aghnolfi, a German stronghold.

He lost 17 of his men during the battle. However, Baker destroyed various enemy installations, personnel and equipment during the attack. The next night, he volunteered to continue the advancement of a battalion through further enemy minefields and heavy fire.

Baker earned the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions, the Army’s second-highest award for bravery.Baker medal of honor

In the early 1990’s the Department of Defense and the U.S. Army initiated an investigation that determined a climate of racism had prevented African American service members from receiving proper recognition for acts of courage during World War II. In total, seven African Americans, including Baker, were later approved to receive the Medal of Honor.

Baker was the lone survivor of those seven individuals on Jan. 13, 1997, and the only African American to ever personally receive the award for service in World War II, when he accepted the Medal of Honor from President Bill Clinton at a ceremony in the White House. He was 77 at the time.

After Baker retired from the service in 1986, he moved to Idaho to pursue his love of hunting. He later met his wife Heidy, who he lived with in their St. Maries home until Baker’s death in 2010 when he was interred at the Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.

Mapp said in 2020 he had wanted to recognize an African American from Idaho and remembered meeting Baker in 2000 during an event at the Idaho Black History Museum. Mapp thought Baker was worthy of recognition as an Idaho citizen and Medal of Honor recipient and requested he be memorialized by the Idaho National Guard.

Baker HallMaj. Gen. Michael Garshak, adjutant general of Idaho, said the organization wanted to honor Baker in a lasting way, where other service members could benefit from Baker’s accomplishments.

“Vernon Baker is a genuine American Hero,” said Garshak. “Not only for his heroic actions on the battlefield in World War II, for which he was awarded the Medal of Honor, but also because of his unfailing determination to put honor and country above all else.”

Construction of the barracks started in April 2020 and took three years and approximately $8 million to complete. It provides temporary lodging for up to 156 personnel with 39 private rooms and a shared dayroom.

It is the first building on Gowen Field to earn a gold certification in Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design; the second highest rating of four certifications that verify a facility’s green features. The Vernon J. Baker Hall earned its LEED rating through various features including integrated ground loop heating and cooling systems, low flow fixtures, sustainable building practices and sustainable landscape features.

Baker HallHeidy, who still lives in St. Maries, spent the night in the barracks prior to the dedication.

“It’s wonderful to have this building dedicated to my husband and a great honor for our family,” she said.

Outside the barracks is a stone that reads “Baker Hall,” a statue of an elk symbolizing Baker’s love for hunting in Idaho, and a plaque embedded into the bricks of the building entrance. Inside the building is his Medal of Honor citation and a brief history and biography of Baker.

We owe him everything we’ve got… and then some.

We owe him everything we’ve got... and then some.

124th Fighter Wing Public Affairs/Staff. Sgt. Mercedee Wilds

124th Security Forces Squadron defenders went above and beyond to assist a 96-year-old World War II veteran.

Retired Capt. William Brand was a P-47 Thunderbolt pilot with the Eighth Air Force in Okinawa, Japan, during WWII. He now lives in Hailey, Idaho, but regularly travels to Gowen Field in Boise, Idaho to stay at the on-base lodging on days that he has appointments at the Boise VA Medical Center.

On May 6, 2021, 124th SFS defenders received an emergency call to the Gowen Field Lodging Facility. As Brand was checking in for a routine stay at the Gowen Field Lodging Facility he experienced a medical emergency, which left this WWII veteran with special requirements and a limited ability to properly care for himself and coordinate his VA appointments.

124th SFS defenders took it upon themselves to organize hourly shifts to check on the well-being of Brand, which included assisting with tasks of daily-living, providing essential needs and helping to coordinate with the VA for medical attention.

The defenders took on the role of dedicated care-givers, going beyond their typical duty and surpassing their daily requirements. To this group of 124th SFS members, it was an honor to help Brand and learn about his service to our country.

“Helping a veteran isn’t in our book for normal tasks, but it’s a sense of honor to help someone like that, who not only served our country but spent time in a war that we are still benefiting from,” said Staff Sgt. Jonathan Finer, a 124th SFS member.

Finer and the other defenders who helped Brand felt providing help and assistance to him, a brother in arms who dedicated so much of his life to protecting our country, was the least they could do.

“It’s an honor to be able to hear the stories from the direct mouth of someone who has experienced it,” said Finer, “my personal feelings are that we owe him everything we’ve got and then some.”

Youth summer camp, yeah!

Idaho Military Division Public Affairs/Master Sgt. Becky Vanshur

The Idaho National Guard’s Service Member and Family Support held two Child and Youth Program summer camps in Challis, Idaho, during June. The annual camp took place over two weeks to accommodate COVID-19 protocols.

The camp was the first for military children ages 10 and up from around the state in more than 18 months. Youth from the Treasure Valley, Eastern Idaho and Northern Idaho joined together in Challis for a four-day, fun-filled camp that also taught them valuable lessons on friendship and resiliency.

“The camp is not just for fun, although it’s a ton of fun, but we also build resiliency training into our curriculum,” said Nick Wagner, Child and Youth Program coordinator. “This year in particular we focused on communication with the campers, because we haven’t had a camp for a year and a half and the youth may be struggling with that going back out into society after COVID. We wanted to bring that factor into this summer’s camp, to learn the communication needed to appropriately treat and respect our peers, opponents and our teammates.”

The Idaho National Guard has hosted summer and winter camps for more than 15 years and each year the coordinators work to continuously improve the program by closing each camp with a session that lets campers speak about what they liked or didn’t like about the camp.

“I like that you can always meet new friends and then you can see them at other camps or events,” said Ashton Danielson, a fourth-time camper whose dad serves in the Idaho Army National Guard at Gowen Field. “You’ll always have those friends but you can continue to meet new ones because if you see someone alone or that doesn’t have a friend, you go and include them. I like that about these camps.”

The program focuses on camp activities that help military youth grow, become more resilient and gain confidence. Each year they find more ways for activities to focus on the campers helping each other, motivating one another and working together while learning about sportsmanship, resiliency and coping with change during each challenge or activity.

Campers are broken into teams to allow for friendly competition and the sense of belonging to a group and working together for a common goal. They participate in events such vader ball, obstacle courses, archery tag, relay races, tug of war, 9-square, spike ball, yard games, basketball, volleyball, baseball and gaga ball. Additionally, campers were able to use their free time to create arts and crafts, make time capsules and learn 4-H activities with the Idaho National Guard’s College of Idaho 4-H partnership.

Campers also enjoyed a slip ‘n slide, performed campfire skits and had an end of camp dance party.

The camp continued to follow strict guidelines for COVID safety and protocol and held two camps broken down into smaller crowd numbers to accommodate these guidelines.

“We’ve had to get creative the past year and a half and come up with ways to reach out to our youth virtually,” said Wagner. “And this summer getting back into it, we had to break it into two camps to keep within the 50-person guidelines.”

During each camp, volunteers and chaperones ensure a safe and successful camp. Six teen counselors were present to help lead sessions, support resiliency, help make connections and provide positive influence for the youth. Wagner said the camp could not successfully run without the volunteers, teen counselors and chaperones.

“I have been coming to this camp as either a camper or volunteer for 15 years, for a total of 30 camps,” said Cloe Muthiora, a camp volunteer who was recognized recently with the 2020 National Guard Bureau Youth Development Volunteer Award for her time spent volunteering to the families of the Idaho National Guard. “I started coming when I was 10 and then came back as a chaperone once I was old enough and have been chaperoning ever since. This program is the reason I am who I am. I am a teacher now and I have leadership positions in other organizations because I grew up involved in this program, developing those skills. I started learning leadership skills when I was just 14, which gave me so many opportunities to explore who I wanted to be and become the best version of myself.”

The next camp will be the Winter Bash, held in January.

“Our Child and Youth Program is a great resource offered to military families,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Kevin Dean, Idaho Army National Guard senior enlisted leader. “I have been an advocate of this program ever since I had the pleasure of chaperoning a camp and that is when I came to fully support and promote this program. Whether it’s a summer camp, winter camp or a routine get together, this is a great opportunity for our kids to meet other military children who they can relate to with the struggles that sometimes comes with being a military kid compared to other kids in their community.”

Cancer can’t stop Guardsman from deploying

Cancer can't stop Guardsmen from deploying

Idaho Military Division Public Affairs/Maj. Robert Taylor

Cassandra Cridland has known her husband, Sgt. 1st Class Wayne Cridland, since junior high.

“The thing to know about my husband is he’s just committed to life,” she said. “Whatever he’s doing in the moment, he’s fully committed to that. If he says he’s going to conquer something, you might as well stand out of his way. He’s going to do exactly that. Whether it’s cancer, going on a deployment or mowing the yard.”

Cridland was diagnosed with Stage 4A squamous cell carcinoma in February 2009. In September 2010, he deployed to Iraq with the Army National Guard’s 116th Cavalry Brigade Combat Team in support of Operation New Dawn.

“That’s what we train to do,” Cridland said. “As an NCO, I didn’t want another NCO leading my guys into combat and being responsible for them. If something happened to them, I didn’t want that responsibility on someone else’s shoulders who hadn’t spent a lot of time with them.”

Cridland said the cancer started in his left tonsil and then spread to the left side of his face, jaw, tongue and neck. His doctors proposed an aggressive treatment plan that gave Cridland an 85 percent chance of surviving. For eight weeks, Cridland was to receive radiation every day and chemo every Monday for five hours. Cridland said he had an IV port inserted into his heart to accept the chemo because the heart’s vessels are bigger than other blood vessels, which allows them to handle more damage from the chemo.

At seven weeks, Cridland said the treatment was causing him more harm than the cancer was, so his doctors had him take a week off. At that time, his chances of surviving dropped to 14 percent.

Cridland finished the last week of treatment in June and said he was given six months to live. He had shrunk in size from 190 pounds to 124 pounds while receiving treatment. He had a feeding tube for nearly three months because scar tissue from the radiation made it impossible for him to swallow. After it was removed, he had to learn to chew and swallow again. His doctor wasn’t sure he would be alive for Christmas. Cridland had other plans. He quickly went back to work and working out.

“I told him I didn’t have time for that and I was too dumb to die,” he said. “My wife absolutely wouldn’t let me quit. Every time I got down, my wife was there to remind me I had things to live for and keep me going.”

Cassandra said she deals with stress by walking and that while Cridland slept after treatment, she’d walk nine or 10 miles a day.

Cridland said he only missed drill once due to the cancer. He was hellbent on deploying with his unit, B Company, 145th Brigade Support Battalion, even as doctors told him they didn’t think it was possible.

“By the time he finished treatment, he needed something he could face head on,” Cassandra said. “He was completely out of control of the outcome of his treatment and he needed something he felt like he had some control over and I respected that. The deployment was something he needed. Doctors kept telling him he wasn’t going and he kept saying, ‘yes I am, just watch me.’”

Cridland said he argued with his doctors to clear him to deploy.

“I said, ‘if you can’t give me a medical reason why I can’t deploy, you need to deploy me.’ I think it was because I kept bugging them, they gave in and let me go. There was no medical reason for me not to go.”

Cridland deployed with the rest of the 116th Cavalry Brigade Combat Team in September 2010. The brigade trained at the Orchard Combat Training Center in Boise and at Camp Shelby, Mississippi, before deploying to Iraq.


Cridland enlisted into the Idaho Army National Guard in 2007 as a 91B wheeled vehicle mechanic. He previously served in the U.S. Army from 1985 to 1991. After a divorce that left him with primary custody of three children under the age of five, he decided to get out of the Army. With his children grown and 9/11 still on his mind, he joined the National Guard.

“I’m from that age group where you don’t attack America and get away with it,” he said. “I was still young enough to come back in, so I reenlisted.”

Cridland was nearly 40 at the time. He said he showed up to the recruiting station with long hair and no one thought he was serious about enlisting until he produced his DD-214, indicating he had previously served.

“I like serving my country and knowing we’re making a difference,” he said. “In the National Guard, we can serve the public with snow removal, firefighting support and those type of missions, and we’re available for combat if we’re needed. A lot of it is just giving back to the community and supporting them when they need us.”

Cridland said the biggest difference between serving in the 80s and post-9/11 was the Army’s change of mission. Cridland was a mechanic for an infantry line unit during his first stint in the Army. He said training focused on defeating Russia in the Cold War. His mission in Iraq was largely convoy security and escorting VIPs in an urban environment.

Cridland was a squad leader during the deployment as his unit conducted more than 260 convoys along the 17-miles between Camp Victory and Baghdad’s Green Zone. For most missions, he was the convoy commander with 11 other Soldiers. He said most days were uneventful, with one exception.

On July 7, 2011, part of his team was hit by an IED, which claimed the lives of Specialists Nathan Byers and Nicholas Newby. The Soldiers were the brigade’s only two causalities during the deployment. Byers was 24. Newby was 20.

“I had known Byers for quite a few years,” he said. “That hit me hard. He was a good kid.”

Cridland, and the other part of his team, responded to the scene in just minutes to assist with fire support and security.

During the deployment, Cridland checked in monthly with the local aid station to have his throat inspected once a month to ensure the cancer hadn’t grown back. It still hasn’t grown back, though he lives with what he describes as low-grade pain all the time due to the damage the chemo caused his muscles and joints. His heart and lungs are both scared as a result as well.

Cridland’s two sons also deployed with his company. They were assigned different missions to prevent the family from being involved in the same mass casualty event. Cridland would see his oldest son, Michael, occasionally and his youngest son, James, fairly often as they were located at the same staging area.

While the three were deployed, Cridland’s daughter got engaged and planned her wedding for the day after her dad and brothers were scheduled to return home. Cassandra said she ended up having to delay the wedding by two hours but as soon as the three got home, they changed and Cridland walked his daughter down the aisle.

Cridland said it felt good to be home and that the loss of two Soldiers just weeks before still weighed heavily on his mind without any real closure. He took 45 days off and then went back to work.


Cridland said early into his diagnoses, he went to his company’s first sergeant and told him he had cancer and that he didn’t want to get out of the National Guard. Cridland doesn’t know what decisions were made at higher levels, but said his first sergeant and his unit fully supported him and his decision to deploy.

“As long as I was making progress, they kept working with me,” he said.

Cridland said since recovering from cancer and returning home from a deployment, he has become a lot more focused on his relationship with his wife and pursuing his goal to be promoted to first sergeant of the only company he’s served in since 2007.

Cridland met Cassandra in junior high. His now brother-in-law introduced the two because they were both in the school’s band and enjoyed reading. They became friends but didn’t start dating until 1993, after both had married and divorced other people.

“After three years, we decided we probably should just get married because we found a friendship and companionship that felt like a lasting thing and not something that is temporary,” he said. “We work really hard to get through things and not give up.”

“She kept me going. I didn’t want her to end up spending the next 30 to 40 years around without me around.”

After the deployment, Cridland took his wife to Scotland. The two hiked 138 miles in 12 days. He also found a job much closer to his home in Sandpoint, Idaho. He now works as a diesel mechanic for a local mining company. He had previously worked in Wyoming and traveled back and forth during the month.

“I don’t let things worry me as bad as they used to,” he said. “I use to have this since of urgency about everything, now I pick and choose what gives me that sense of urgency. I take things as they come now.”

He plans to stay in the National Guard for as long as he can. He’s currently 54 and could have retired two years ago, but as much as he enjoys his civilian job, he enjoys being around Soldiers more. He plans to deploy with the 116th Cavalry Brigade Combat Team in 2022.

He’s completed his military education and is his company’s combatives instructor and resilience trainer, efforts he’s made to learn as much as he can while he still serves.

“I had a college teacher who said once you have knowledge, no one can take it from you,” Cridland said. He said whenever you have the opportunity to learn something, you should learn it because then you own it and no one can take it.”

Cridland shares his story with members of his church whenever he can. He tells people not to give up when they are going through tough times. He tells people to keep fighting, knowing he’s made it through his worst days and is around to see his children have children.

“I’m not afraid to die, I just felt like there’s more here that I just have to do,” he said.

Idaho Guard partners in multi-agency all-hazards exercise

Idaho CST

Crystal Farris/Idaho Military Division Public Affairs

The Idaho National Guard’s 101st Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Team partnered with CSTs from 11 other states, along with more than ten different local and federal agencies and organizations, during Exercise ORCA 2021, to train in responding to various hazardous material incidents throughout Alaska, May 17 to 20.

The all-hazards exercise that took place simultaneously in Anchorage, Matanuska-Susitna Valley and Seward, involved the largest turnout of CST participants to an ORCA exercise, helping the 101st CST and other emergency responders maximize training opportunities while testing interagency coordination, interoperability and response abilities.

“It is important that we practice deployment operations and integration with other teams through exercises to ensure a rapid, timely and integrated response to a real-world threat,” said Capt. Jessica McBride, 101st CST survey team leader.

During the exercise, CSTs coordinated and worked through various scenarios, including identifying illicit and dangerous substances and responding to simulated attacks and disasters.

The 101st CST responded to the Anchorage Fire Training Center, which for the exercise simulated a residential six-story apartment building with approximately 20 rooms where terrorists prepared weapons of mass destruction.

“We were called in to conduct a relief-in-place of Alaska’s 103rd CST after it established perimeters with safe zones and threat zones, and then started site characterization of the building itself,” said Capt. John Bomsta, 101st CST operations officer. “We assisted in finishing the site characterization, describing what the building looked like and the possible threats we found. There was something to be found in every room and a lot of area to cover.”

Once on scene, the 101st CST worked through the night for approximately 12 hours continuing site characterization and field analysis of the building. During that time, it located five lab setups including a drug lab, a homemade explosives lab and a potential nerve agent lab. Rooms also had trips wires, motion detectors and confined spaces.

“We were able to provide field analysis of what we saw in the building in order to push information up to higher, which in this case was the FBI as incident command, on what they should look for at other sites,” said Bomsta. “As the story developed, other CSTs were located as far south as Seward, also responding to various terrorist threats in their vicinities.”

CSTs from Alaska, California, Connecticut, Colorado, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Washington and Wisconsin attended, in addition to other National Guard units such as Colorado’s 8th CBRN Enhanced Response Force-Package and members of Alaska’s 176th Civil Engineer Squadron.

Local agencies and organizations included Alaska Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, Matanuska-Susitna Emergency Management, Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, Major Marine Tours, Alaska Railroad, Anchorage Fire Department, Alaska State Emergency Operations Center, University of Alaska-Anchorage, Port of Seward and the Port of Alaska-Anchorage.

“The exercise was designed with scenarios based on what all the participating CSTs had communicated they wanted to see and tasks they wanted to accomplish,” said Maj. Robert Grimes, 101st CST commander. “Our team was able to achieve various objectives, including integrating with other CSTs and civil responders to build those relationships and learn each other’s capabilities and limitations.”

Unlike most other military units, CSTs work almost entirely alongside civilian agencies, including regional hazardous response teams, police, firefighters and other state or federal responders that function under an incident command system during emergency situations. Grimes said developing these partnerships make training scenarios like Exercise ORCA 2021 critically important.

“What we do as an individual team is just one portion of what it takes overall to respond to a real-world event like this,” said Grimes. “We train to provide the best support we can to civil authorities in the event of a domestic chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear high-yield explosives incident.”

As one of 57 teams located in every U.S. state and territory, the 101st CST is composed of 22 highly skilled full-time Army and Air National Guardsmen trained to provide incident and disaster management by identifying CBRNE agents and substances, assessing current or projected consequences, advising on response measures and assisting with appropriate request for additional follow-on state and federal military forces.

As part of Idaho’s emergency response structure, the unit is prepared and ready to respond at any time to hazardous incidents that threaten the community, state and nation and are often called upon state-side to assist in public safety events including sports games and governor inaugurations.

From the ground to the sky: Idaho’s joint fire exercise

From the ground to the sky: Idaho’s joint fire exercise

Master Sgt. Becky Vanshur/Idaho Military Division Public Affairs

Idaho citizen-Soldiers and Airmen trained together May 18-19 to support a joint fire exercise that combined live mortars from the ground with close air support from above. Included were live bombs, missiles and combined effects munitions at Idaho’s premier training location, the Orchard Combat Training Center.

The Idaho Army National Guard’s 2nd of the 116th Combined Arms Battalion and the Idaho Air National Guard’s 124th Air Support Operations Squadron and 190th Fighter Squadron joined forces from the ground to the sky in the large-scale joint training event.

“Our battalion hasn’t had this level of training or this level of interoperability working with the Air Force before,” said Maj. John Gregory, 2-116 CAB operations officer. “We want to get to that level of proficiency working with each other, Army and Air, and provide ourselves the most lethal amount of force and mass effects in one space, at one time.”

Integrating the Idaho Air National Guard to bring combined effects on the battlespace started two years ago with dry run munitions. This year the exercise combined live munitions. 124th ASOS joint terminal attack controllers worked with the 2-116 CAB’s joint fire observers to direct targets with combined live-fire weapons engagement.

Idaho’s A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft dropped 500-pound bombs and other munitions in close air support for a combined effect after the ground forces engaged with the 120-millimeter self-propelled mortar explosives. This is the first time the A-10s dropped the live bombs at the OCTC as airpower support for the Idaho Army National Guard.

“Joint live-fire integration is the key to success on the battlefield of tomorrow,” said Brig. Gen. Timothy Donnellan, Assistant Adjutant General – Air. “The Soldiers and Airmen of the Idaho National Guard will continue to train together following the National Defense Strategy. The live-fire integration training conducted will give the ground commander the confidence they need to dominate the battlespace of the future aggressively.”

A variety of weapon platforms and munitions are used to attack enemy air defenses through the U.S. Department of Defense’s concept of suppression of the enemy air defense, or SEAD mission.

“We want to build on this training and make it a grander concept over the years to come,” said Capt. Jacob Bartlow, 2-116 CAB assistant operations officer. “We settled on a concept of the SEAD mission. This training turned out to be a great run and integrated all three units.”

The training will continue to become more robust each year. Bartlow plans to have several iterations of close air support from the A-10s in the future and possibly integrate F-15s from Mountain Home Air Force Base to support SEAD.

“In future joint fire exercises at the OCTC, we can include scouts to identify the enemy, bring in artillery, mortars and air defense to suppress the capabilities of the enemy so we can free the maneuver in another portion of the battlespace,” said Bartlow.

Located 18 miles south of Boise, Idaho’s OCTC has 143,000 acres of vast terrain and world-class ranges with a four-season climate, making it ideal for preparing units for combat in a challenging and realistic training environment.

“We have incredible training space here at the OCTC,” said Bartlow. “Ultimately, we envision Idaho as the National Guard’s premier location for joint fire integration.”

Idaho Guardsman, mother sets example

Idaho Guardsman, mother sets example

Idaho Military Division Public Affairs/Crystal Farris

Sgt. 1st Class Gladys Montelongo was a single mother raising three children and managing a Subway restaurant when she decided to change career path and join the Idaho Army National Guard at 28 years old in 2009.

“I felt I had more to offer and wanted to be a positive role model for my kids,” she said. “I knew joining the Guard would provide opportunities for myself and my family.”

Through the Idaho Guard, Montelongo has since received approximately $55,000 in enlistment and reenlistment bonuses; purchased her first home using a VA home loan; met her current husband and used her military tuition assistance to earn a bachelor’s degree at Boise State University.

“Before joining, I never imagined having the means to buy a house or earn a degree,” she said. “The money and opportunities are available in the Guard. Joining has helped me provide for my family and motivated me to do better.”

In April, Montelongo was promoted to sergeant first class as the culinary management noncommissioned officer for Golf Company, 145th Brigade Support Battalion.

She is also currently pursuing a master’s degree in legal studies at the American Military University. Montelongo said continuing her education and career advancement sets the right example for her four children and also the 11 Guardsmen who she manages at work.

“Being a mother and an Army leader is similar in my mind,” she said. “I show my kids the value of hard work and dedication and push them to be the best in what they do, just like I push my Soldiers to be the best they can be.”

One of Montelongo’s children currently manages a Little Caesar’s restaurant in Lewiston, Idaho, while her oldest son serves in the Idaho Army National Guard as a specialist with the organization’s 148th Field Artillery Regiment.

“Seeing my son follow in my footsteps gives me a proud feeling as a parent,” said Montelongo. “I believe my work ethic and service has positively contributed to his decisions.”

Although some aspects of leading a family and a group of troops overlap, leading Soldiers can be a lot different than managing individuals in a civilian job, she said.

“The difference between managing a Subway restaurant and a culinary section in the military is that I’m responsible for the wellbeing and career development of my subordinates,” said Montelongo. “My troops are a reflection of my leadership, which I provide through on-the-job mentorship, training and counseling.”

Montelongo developed her leadership through years of experience as a senior food service specialist and while in Army leadership courses, where she learned to provide Soldiers purpose and fulfillment, she said.

“I take the time to get to know my Soldiers and what motivates them,” said Montelongo. “I look out for them, make sure they have what they need and advocate for their best interests. When everyone feels good, they do good things and that’s the rewarding part.”

While preparing large-scale meals for hundreds of Soldiers during training, including in field environments from mobile kitchens, she also provides her subordinates with motivation by getting in the kitchen and showing them how to spice up recipes using bacon or rubs made from scratch.

“The job is demanding and its hard work, but very rewarding,” Montelongo said. “As cooks, we work early mornings and late nights preparing and serving meals, but Soldiers look forward to seeing us and getting a hot meal in the field. It’s a nice feeling knowing we get to provide that to them, so we make it fun and ensure the food always tastes good.”

Idaho National Guard, Idaho Army National Guard, National Guard, 145th Brigade Support Battalion, Mother’s Day, Women’s History Month

Idaho Guardsman ranks top Guard team in Best Ranger Competition

Idaho Guardsman ranks top Guard team in Best Ranger Competition

Idaho Military Division Public Affairs/Crystal Farris

Idaho Army National Guardsman Capt. John Bomsta and his teammate, Sgt. 1st Class Nathan Smith from the West Virginia Army National Guard, were the top National Guard team and 10th out of 51 U.S. Army teams at the Best Ranger Competition April 18.

1st Lt. Christian Briggs, also in the Idaho Army National Guard, competed and placed 28th with his teammate, Spc. Jerry Marksbury from the Kentucky Army National Guard.

“Our Soldiers did an incredible job representing the National Guard and the Idaho Army National Guard at this year’s Best Ranger Competition,” said Brig. Gen. Farin Schwartz, assistant adjutant general – Army. “Their physical and mental perseverance is a testament to the quality of Soldier that makes up our great organization.”

It was the first time any Soldier from the organization had participated in the Best Ranger Competition since it started at Fort Benning, Georgia, in 1982. The competition determines the best two-Soldier team based on their performance through a series of physical and technical events day and night.

“This is truly a team event,” said Bomsta. “Similar to combat, you have to find strength in one another to keep going through your most vulnerable moments. My teammate was a brave man and, like me, would not quit. Finishing with someone of his caliber made the competition that much better.”

In addition to being Ranger qualified, Guardsmen must try out to place on a team and, if they advance, complete a three-month training course leading up to the competition. The course provides each Guardsman time to effectively train for the events and learn to work as a team, said Bomsta.

In September 2020, he made it through tryouts at Fort Benning and returned to attend the train-up course in January. Bomsta, Briggs and their teammates were four of 16 National Guardsmen who competed.

When he returned for training, Bomsta moved to an apartment in Columbus, Georgia, with his wife and four children. Having his family there at the end of each day provided much-needed support, Bomsta said.

For the next three months, his team trained with coaches 10 hours a day to prepare for the vigor of the competition. In the first few weeks alone, Bomsta said they walked almost 50 miles a week training on obstacle courses, in land navigation and during foot marches.

“We worked every day through the pain to prepare,” said Bomsta. “The competition had been a lifelong dream for us. We are both 34 years old and knew this could be our only shot. We formed a successful team by communicating our end goals and giving it our all to achieve them.”

The competition included a foot march, an obstacle course, a land navigation course, a buddy run, weapons qualification, combat water survival and infantry tactics. At the beginning of the competition, the particular events and order of events were unknown to participants.

“The first day opened with about an eight-mile run,” said Bomsta. “We ended that day with a foot march of more than 19 miles. The next day consisted of technical tasks, like shooting, repelling and mountaineering. On Day Three, we had the obstacle course, water assessment, more shooting and a final buddy run.”

Families and other spectators cheered on participants and observed some of the events. Bomsta said having his kids there was motivational and an opportunity to show them what hard work can do.

“To have my children see me do something hard and push through the pain was an awesome opportunity for a father to have,” said Bomsta. “Hearing them cheer me on picked me up and pushed me harder because there is plenty of need to be picked up in this competition.”

With little sleep over three days, Bomsta said he and his teammate struggled to stay sharp, especially during the technical tasks on the second day.

“We knew it was going to be a challenging competition,” said Bomsta. “We went in with a game plan to stay fresh for Day Two by not wearing ourselves out on the first day. We stuck with that plan for all of a couple hours until we got caught up in the excitement.”

By the end of the first day, Bomsta said his team did well on the weapons ranges and was fourth in the competition, which helped them push through the late-night foot march.

At that point, the teams in the bottom half were eliminated from the competition.

“Day Two was somewhat of a low point and cost us the opportunity to win the competition,” said Bomsta. “We were physically hurting, had no sleep and got complacent through the technical challenges. The land navigation course later that night turned into a second foot march and we ended up walking another 13 or so miles. In that moment, we just had to motivate each other to get through it.”

Some of the technical tasks performed the second day included treating an injured pilot while under fire before moving to an evacuation point, completing a hand grenade assault course, and assembling a mortar system on a bipod.

Although it was hard, the third day was better, Bomsta said.

“Just knowing we made that first cut gave us motivation to complete the competition,” said Bomsta. “We were so exhausted and the hard part was really maintaining focus. By the last event, which was a two-mile buddy run, I could almost taste the finish line. Once I crossed it, I had the biggest relief that it was over. I went straight to my family and collapsed in their arms.”