CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait - Nine months ago the Kansas National Guard's 635th Regional Support Group became the first ever National Guard unit to take on the mission of filling about half of the key staff and support positions at U.S. Army Central Forward Command Post. The positions they filled were at forward elements mainly in Kuwait, which acts as the eyes on the ground for USARCENT, and controls the U.S. Army's ground forces in the Middle East.
After successfully pioneering the mission they concluded their tour by handing the reigns over to a fellow Guard unit, the Massachusetts Army National Guard's 151st Regional Support Group, at a change of responsibility ceremony at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait February 28.
"It was impressive to watch as we all wondered how the RSG was going to fit into the USARCENT headquarters," said Col. John Strange, the Deputy Chief of Staff for USARCENT (Forward). "Rounding out the U.S. Army theater headquarters was not a Regional Support Group mission, but it seems only a Regional Support Group can do it."
Traditionally a Regional Support Group is a headquarters unit comprised of less than 100 Soldiers whose role is to focus on base camp management. This is to allow the combatant commander to focus on combat operations. However, for the USARCENT mission the Guard units have roles that go far beyond the scope of base operations, filling staff positions in everything from range operations to engineering.
"They are going to gain a vast amount of knowledge of not just how the Army or the National Guard works, but of how the military as a whole functions," said Command Sgt. Maj. Curtis Palmer, the Senior Enlisted Advisor for USARCENT (Forward). "It gives Soldiers a lot of opportunities to excel outside their comfort zone, they are going to learn a lot more than what they went to training for."
Spc. Meghan O'Connell, who was trained as a Financial Management Specialist, is one of the 151st Soldiers who will find herself far out of her traditional role serving in the Executive Services Branch. This will take her from managing Soldiers' pay to planning visits and escorting dignitaries like General Officers and politicians around the Middle East.
"This mission gives the other branches we work with a chance to see what is unique about the National Guard," said O'Connell.
She explained that although her military training might not correlate with her job here, her experience in politics, marketing, and media relations in her civilian job gives her an advantage. "We all come from different walks of life, so we are bringing a bunch of new experience."
In addition to serving in positions at Camp Arifjan in Kuwait, Soldiers will also serve in positions throughout the Middle East, in roles as far east as Afghanistan and as far south as Qatar.
Over the past 9 months, Chief Warrant Officer 3 Camerlo Albino of the 635th managed 2 dining facilities that supported over 2,000 Soldiers and 125 contractors in Qatar, and oversaw food service operations in Bahrain. In addition to visiting other countries and building relationships with vendors, he said his most rewarding experience was serving the holiday meal.
"One of thee most rewarding parts was able to give them a little piece of home," said Albino. His replacement, Warrant Officer Evan Brooks, said that although he is new to serving at this level he is looking forward to similar opportunities like the U.S. Army birthday, and the 100th Anniversary of the Warrant Officer Corps.
In addition to their permanent stations the mission will also regularly require soldiers to travel throughout the theater to participate in USARCENT's 19 yearly exercises.
"I've learned more through my travels about other cultures and politics that I could never learn in a classroom," said Sgt. Mikayla Gentine, a public affairs broadcast NCO, who is a fulltime college student when she is not serving on Active Duty. "I've had opportunities that most haven't, and I'll never take that for granted."
The final task for the groundbreaking mission for the 635th was a two-week transition where they mentored their counterparts from the 151st on how to be successful over the next nine months.
"We are trying to build on what the 635th did," said O'Connell, who praised her counterpart for making her transition as seamless as possible, and who said based on her counterpart's experience there would be a lot of opportunities for career growth.
Palmer agreed that the opportunities to gain experience would be as abundant as the challenges.
"I've already seen Soldiers rise to the occasion. If one person doesn't know something, another Soldier is right there to share their knowledge and help them," said Palmer. "It always makes me proud to lead Soldiers and see them grow, and they will naturally grow into this mission."