ALPENA COMBAT READINESS TRAINING CENTER, Mich. - "Leadership is serious. Lack of leadership can cost someone's life."

Orvie Baker, formerly a member of the 82nd Airborne Division, spoke to a room of silent Airmen and Soldiers at Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center on April 25, 2019. "Leadership is a lifetime mission."

Before he began his briefing on the importance of leadership, Baker said he wanted to tell a story of a private first class back in 1988 "that wanted to prove to the world that he's a man, so he became Airborne."

Baker's first unit as an enlisted Soldier was with the 82nd Airborne Division. It was his world until he had to take his first jump outside of airborne school.

"I was sitting in the plane, looking around to see if anybody on this plane was as scared as I was," Baker said. "Nobody gave me that look back."

Baker laughed, exasperated. "Everybody looked like they had killed somebody before they got on the plane!"

When everyone was ordered to stand up and prepare to jump, Baker was shaking and could barely stand.

However, someone helped him up and gave him a stern, half-crazed look that said, "You're gonna jump today."

He had 120lb of equipment strapped onto his 149.5lb frame. He stabbed himself twice trying to secure himself to an anchor line. Then the door opened, giving him a full view of the moon-lit ground thousands of feet below.

"In this moment of terror, these fools lose their minds." He heard someone behind him scream over the roar of the jet engines, "I'm ready to die!"

"Why are they doing this on my first jump?" he yelled at the laughing audience.

At that moment, if you don't want to jump, all you have to do is put your hand over the anchor line and you can't be pushed out. His turn soon came to jump out of a perfectly good airplane.

And he jumped.

"Why do you think I went out that door?" he asked, staring down the audience of silent Guardsmen.

"It's because of leadership. When I looked around, everyone who was a leader was ready to go. They looked at me like failure was not an option."

This was one of many briefings that composed the Michigan National Guard Joint Junior Leadership Conference held April 24-26 at Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center.

This is the first time both Michigan Air and Army National Guardsmen, ranks E1-E6, have joined to attend a professional development event like this.

The conference featured a presentation by Command Sgt. Maj.�Christopher�Kepner, Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Chief of the�National Guard Bureau.

"We cannot fight in a sustained conflict without the Guard," Kepner said. "We are key players in the national defense strategy and we have to continue to be key players."

Kepner highlighted the importance of the enlisted presence in the National Guard as a lethal and ready operational force.

"I have faith in our enlisted corps," Kepner said. "And I would tell all of you that, as you move up in your career, to never forget that you are enlisted and always be proud that you are enlisted. Never let anyone take that away from you. You might be talking a little bigger, broader, but you still have that opportunity to influence."

"Yes, I'm in an office where there are 3-star, 4-star generals. But when I look at myself, I'm a command sergeant major. That's it. I am very, very proud of that."

The conference featured briefings spanning from leadership and military dynamics to health and emotional intelligence.

"I think that events like this bring out the best in the junior enlisted and NCO corps," said Michigan Air National Guard Staff Sgt. Clifford Mua, who both attended the event and spoke on using connections to build resilience. "We are the backbone of the U.S. Armed Forces and events like this make us remember who we are, what we do, the challenges we face, and how we can work together as one unit to remain successful and victorious."

Two similar events have been held in the past by the Michigan Air National Guard, the first in 2016 for E1-E6 and the second in 2018 for senior noncommissioned officers. This year, Chief Master Sgt. Trever Slater, Command Chief Master Sgt. for the 110th Wing, made the push to include the Army.

"Bringing the Army in, we didn't know what to expect," said Michigan Air National Guard Chief Master Sgt. Jenny Balabuch, the Air Staff Superintendent at Joint Forces Headquarters and organizer of the previous two conferences. "I've seen a lot of networking with Army and Air, which is amazing. You don't get that on an everyday basis."

"It keeps Soldiers and Airmen connected like our organization demands; Army and Air in one National Guard," Mua said.

This connection within the Michigan National Guard is what creates the lethal fighting force that is so critical to its war-fighting duty.

"If I can go out that door, you can go out that door. If we die, we die together," Baker stated right before dropping the room of Guardsmen to do push-ups in 82nd Airborne style.