An underlying sense of energy and spirit invigorated the room as Brandon Gangstad recalled how his past, heritage and love for fitness has shaped his important role as an Army civilian.
Gangstad, the operations chief for the Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security (DPTMS) for the garrison at Fort Bliss, Texas and native of Duluth, Minnesota, explained the critical role that he and other Department of the Army (DA) civilians serve for the Army as well as his part in the greater community.
"I work on current operations, where we track any tasks and orders once they are published," said Gangstad. "I also run the emergency operations center, where we support the leadership of the installation to make sure they have the information for the decisions they need to make; and the deployment operations center, where we help facilitate all the requests needed to make their deployment smooth."
Gangstad's role as the operations chief is crucial for the operational success, continued readiness and completion of training objectives for units across Fort Bliss.
"It's important to manage operations, because it can turn to chaos quickly," Gangstad said. "Every unit has its own priorities, if someone's not helping them manage those, then specific areas can become congested and clogged."
DA civilians such as Gangstad, a former Sergeant Major, come from a wide range of backgrounds and contribute a significant amount of experience and knowledge to the Army.
"I was fortunate to have a few jobs before I retired from the military where I worked with civilians, so I started to quickly learn the depth of knowledge and experience they have," said Gangstad. "I'd really pay attention to civilians as they told me how they've seen things done, as a lot of them have seen things done a lot of different ways and can give that information to you so that you can make a decision."
In order to ensure that the vast pool of knowledge and experience is best utilized, it is important to maintain a strong working relationship between DA civilians and Soldiers.
"There's a way to tap into that wealth of knowledge if a relationship is built," said Gangstad. "I know that sometimes there's a fine line where there are civilian and there is military, but when you build those relationships, you find that those civilians can do a lot for you that you don't realize."
Gangstad participates in the Fort Bliss community well beyond the role of his position as a DA civilian. He has also been the coach and manager of the Fort Bliss Army Ten Miler Team since 2007.
"When I was in the Army, I was on the Ten Miler team several times and I'm still active and an Ironman certified coach," said Gangstad. "I talked with the U.S. Army Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation guys and said that I'd really like to coach as a volunteer."
Gangstad reinforces the importance of teamwork to his team, a theme which defines his view on the importance of collaboration between DA civilians and Soldiers.
"I like to see that people come from all over the installation to become a team and work hard," said Gangstad. "The way I train isn't just 'Here's your task for the day, go do it,' but rather 'Here's your task, this is why you're going to do it and here's the benefit of it.'"
Gangstad finds tremendous pride in his heritage as a member of the Ojibwe people, a Native American people centered in Minnesota, northern United States and Southern Canada.
"I'm really proud of my heritage," Gangstad said. "When I was in the military, I cut my hair, had a flat top for 32 years and I loved it, but I'm proud of my heritage and now I've decided to let my hair grow back out."
A sense of family, belonging and tight bonds are present in both the Army and Gangstad's Ojibwe heritage, traits which Gangstad has come to appreciate and pass on through his family.
"There's a close-knit values system that Native Americans have that the Army has as well," Gangstad said. "I enjoy that and I teach my grandkids that. They don't call me grandpa, they call me Ogimaa which means 'chief' in Ojibwe."
Gangstad uses the opportunity of living in El Paso to connect with and support Native Americans in the Fort Bliss and El Paso communities.
"There's a good handful of Native Americans here in the El Paso area. I always try to go up and talk to them to get a little bit of background as to why they are here," said Gangstad. "It's nice to get with them and see different Native Americans who are keeping their heritage alive."
Gangstad's love for his Native American heritage is shared by many throughout the local communities who join organizations to further promote their culture and heritage.
"There's an organization called the Eagle Claw Warrior Society which is a conglomeration of different Native Americans who are here and who are mostly retired military," said Gangstad. "I'm an active member and we do different Native American ceremonies."
DA civilians such as Gangstad, with their wide array of experiences, knowledge and expertise, as well as the unique roles that they play in their communities, ensure stability and continuity, enabling mission success at Fort Bliss, the 1st Armored Division and across the Army.