By Tech. Sgt. Cheresa D. TheiralAugust 29, 2008
DENVER (Army News Service, Aug. 29, 2008) - National Guard troops from across the country descended on Denver recently to help support one of the largest events the city had ever seen.
While Denver hosted the Democratic National Convention, units from the Georgia, Nebraska, Utah and Wyoming National Guards met - some for the first time ever - to support the Colorado National Guard, along with state and local authorities.
"It's an eclectic group," said Col. Tom Duffy, a task force commander from the Colorado Army National Guard. "We all work together toward a common goal."
"This is the kind of thing the Guard should be doing - working for the state, working for the homeland and the people around you - just being on call," said Spc. Kelly Razor, of the Nebraska National Guard.
The primary mission of these Guardsmen was to support local, state and federal agencies. While the city of Denver called out its law enforcement, emergency medical and fire personnel to support the DNC, the Guard focused its combined efforts to ensure the Soldiers and Airmen were ready to provide support if needed.
"This is one of the opportunities we get to use our training," said Pfc. Nic Mathis, a Colorado Soldier. "Opportunities like this, to actually guard the nation, are what I signed up to do."
As with almost any National Guard mission, units were prepared to assist military and civilians alike if authorities called upon them, task force officials said. They explained that in a civil support capacity, Guardsmen are capable of providing medical and security support, in addition to other specialties reserved for catastrophic events, such as site decontamination, personnel evacuation and medical triage.
"Medical is medical. We treat patients, and we help people, so when we're together, that's still what we do," said 1st Lt. Amy Johnson of the Nebraska Air National Guard. "It's just about taking care of people."
"This is a great thing to experience and be a part of, knowing if something happens, that you're there to take care of those who matter," said Tech. Sgt. Bonnie Atkinson of the Colorado Air National Guard.
But even when they're not working with those authorities, they're training for it.
"I love all the concurrent training," said Spc. James Taylor, a Nebraska Guardsman. "It's good to see that we have more people integrating into it now - the joint service actions - it makes me feel more confident in the people around me, that they're competent in what they're doing."
Prior to setting up their equipment, the Guardsmen practiced donning and doffing their specialized personal protective gear and setting up and moving any external equipment in order to ensure they were ready to respond to an event if called by authorities.
"The more you practice, the more naturally it comes to you when you're faced with that type of situation," said Maj. Jewel Churchman of the Georgia Air National Guard.
"We've all been certified to the same standard when it comes to these missions," said Sgt. Patrick Dougherty of Georgia. "When we set this equipment up, it should be the same in Atlanta as it is in Denver as it is in Nebraska."
Although Guardsmen are trained and prepared for a number of missions both stateside and overseas, they hope they never have to put some of their training to use.
"We've trained a hundred times" said Dougherty. "This will be our first real-world mission, and hopefully we'll chalk it up to training when we're done."
The dynamic nature of the mission presented a number of unique opportunities for Guardsmen and civilians to work together, officials said, as well as for civilians to gain insight into military operations.
"With the Unites States involvement in war right now, I think we often think of Soldiers as always being in the middle of active duty, and that active duty always implies that they're at war," said Bette Matkowski, the president of one of the facilities Guardsmen are using as a temporary home station "We tend to forget that we have people back here - right in the United States - who are helping to defend us, helping to keep us safe."
"This is new for me [dealing with military]," said Virginia Williams, an administrative assistant at one of the facilities where Guardsmen are operating. "I think I've always maintained a certain regard for people who are ready to put their lives on the line, so for me, it's only intensified my respect and my regard. This is an important gift that they're giving us."
(Editor's note: A joint task force headed up by the Minnesota National Guard is now preparing to support civil authorities in Minneapolis and St. Paul during the Republican National Convention.)