BRANSON, Mo. - Some 300 unit, battalion and company commanders attended this year's Missouri National Guard commander's conference at the Hilton Convention Center in Branson. A flurry of presentations, as well as a real-time Twitter feed, went on throughout the two-day event, where topics included detailed policies and procedures and broader goals for the Missouri Air and Army National Guard.

During the conference, commanders on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan communicated via video about their successes and recommendations for improvements regarding deployment, getting Army-basic, old-fashion information to stateside commanders instantly who will now use the advice to execute their own deployments more effectively.

Chief Warrant Officer 5 Don Muschler, with the Guard's Operational Support Airlift Command in Afghanistan, said morale was high within his unit, and that execution of missions was going very well. He also praised his group's experience with the Soldiers' premobilization processing in Kansas City, advising it was of great benefit to get as much administrative work done at the pre-mobilization site as possible.

"Do your homework, contact your station and find out what needs to be done," said Muschler. "You'll still need another three or four days in country to go over things, but having the preliminaries out of the way really helped. Everything was smooth from there on."

In his keynote address, Brig. Gen. Stephen Danner, the Missouri National Guard's adjutant general, talked about his first 200 days on the job and the institution of over 50 new initiatives, including making sure Citizen-Soldiers and Airman receive awards promptly, especially Combat Action Badges.

"It's called taking care of Soldiers," said Danner. "It's what we do first."

Danner told commanders he will put a strong effort toward passage of a "Good Samaritan bill," which would protect Guardsmen from liability during natural disasters. Danner also intends to institute a professional development program to build individual officer confidence and provide senior leaders tools needed to mentor others.

This last effort aligns with that of the National Guard's senior officer, Gen. Craig McKinley, who stressed the importance of mentors for Soldiers and Airmen at the 131st National Guard Association General Conference in mid-September.

McKinley said many of his mentors played pivotal roles in some of the Guard's most successful programs, citing Youth ChalleNGe, a program using military-assisted training to help at-risk youth earn discipline and skills necessary to succeed as adults.

Youth ChalleNGe is also supported by Danner as a priority, as well as his vision known as Missouri Gray's, whereby Missouri Department of Correction inmates might bag sand for broken levees from behind bars. The Missouri Gray's program is an example of Guard partnerships that would benefit multiple groups and citizens across the board.

Partnerships have become a key focus for the Missouri Guard and the country's defense as a whole, as the Agribusiness Development Team in Afghanistan, pioneered in Missouri, gains wide acceptance as the key to victory in Operation Enduring Freedom. The goal of the team is to teach Afghanistan citizens best practices for farming, irrigation and energy production, ensuring Afghan independence by the country's ability to produce and sustain a viable standard of living.

Danner's Guard vision also includes a holistic approach to physical training that will include focus on nutrition. He seeks greater attention to Family Readiness Programs, calls for the possible creation of a West Point-like, four-year, accredited institute of higher learning, and touts the use of "21st Century Communication."

"If we are going to understand this generation we need to speak to them on their level," said Danner, citing the Missouri Guard's Facebook, Twitter and YouTube pages as some of the most popular National Guard social networking sites in the nation.

"I want folks to know what you do," said Danner to unit commanders, urging them to upload video of training and other events to viral sites.

Instantly communicating with unit commanders overseas seemed a big hit with those at the conference in Branson. Commanders asked questions of those in the war zone and the interaction provided a boost to at least one commander on the ground.

"It makes us feel better to know we have our Missouri Guard family at home," said Muschler.

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