By Sgt. Darron Salzer, Army National GuardDecember 30, 2011
ARLINGTON, Va. (Army News Service, Dec. 30, 2011) -- The U.S. experienced an unusual number of natural disasters in 2011, including Hurricane Irene, flooding across the northern Plains states and Midwest, southwestern wildfires and tornadoes that leveled communities.
These events were among the moments when the National Guard answered the call in 2011.
On any given day in 2011, thousands of citizen-Soldiers and -Airmen conducted operations here at home and abroad. Some of the most significant missions:
No. 10: Southwest Border
The National Guard continued its support with the Department of Defense and Customs and Border Patrol in Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas along the Southwest border, providing up to 1,200 Guard members to support civil authorities.
Earlier this month, officials announced that the Guard mission along the border would shift to the air, where they will assist with aerial surveillance, reconnaissance, intelligence and mobility capabilities.
No. 9: Air Guard gets new fixed-wing airframe
Two Air National Guard units were the first to receive the C-27J Spartan, a fixed-wing aircraft that looks like a miniature C-130 Hercules.
The 175th Wing, Maryland Air National Guard, and the 179th Airlift Wing, Ohio Air National Guard, phased out their C-130s as part of the base realignment and closure process.
The 179th was the first Air Force unit to receive the new aircraft and made Air Guard history by deploying the airframe in support of Operation Enduring Freedom for the first time in July.
No. 8: Youth ChalleNGe Program celebrates 100,000 graduates
Tori Walston, a National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program cadet from Louisiana, was the program's 100,000th graduate. At the 2011 ChalleNGe Champions Gala in Washington, Walston told her story of a second chance to a group of her peers, celebrities, members of Congress and National Guard leaders.
Since then, the program has surpassed the 100,000 mark and Walston has become an ambassador for her fellow cadets.
No. 7: National Guard participates in historic National Level Exercise
In May, about 40,000 National Guard members participated in the nation's largest interagency exercise ever, in cooperation with local, state and federal first responders and active duty service members.
NLE 2011 was based around the New Madrid seismic zone and tested the response capabilities of the surrounding states in the event of a catastrophic earthquake. States participating in the exercise included Arkansas, Alabama, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, Tennessee and Wisconsin.
As part of NLE 2011, U.S. Northern Command conducted exercise Ardent Sentry 2011, in which they implemented the dual-status command initiative, which allows for a commissioned officer of the Army or Air National Guard or active Army or Air Force to command and control state and federal military assets.
No. 6: Army and Air Force noncommissioned officer of the year
Utah Army National Guard Sgt. Guy Mellor was selected as the Army's Noncommissioned Officer of the Year in 2011.
Mellor, a gunner with B Battery, 1st Battalion, 145th Field Artillery, was named the Army's NCO of the Year during the 10th Annual Best Warrior Awards Luncheon at the Association of the United States Army annual meeting in October.
Pennsylvania Air National Guard Staff Sgt. John Norris was named one of the Air Force's 12 Outstanding Airmen of the Year for 2011.
Norris, a tactical air control party specialist with the 193rd Special Operations Wing, was selected by his unit as one of their Outstanding Airmen of the Year for his work while deployed to Afghanistan with the 101st Airborne Division.
No. 5: U.S. military forces cease operations in Iraq
2011 marked a milestone for U.S. military forces in Iraq. In a country where operations had been ongoing since 2003, the U.S. concluded military operations earlier this month in accordance with federally mandated regulations.
The National Guard were some of the very last military personnel to cross the border back into Kuwait, "locking the gate behind them" and signaling the end of nearly nine years of military operations.
No. 4: 9/11 anniversary
On Sept. 11, 2001, America saw herself facing an enemy using an unconventional means of attack. Before the dust began to settle, the National Guard was the first military responder to those attacks.
From escorting Air Force One and patrolling the skies over the nation's capital, to boots on the ground at Ground Zero, the National Guard performed several integral domestic operations since those attacks 10 years ago.
This year, on the 10-year anniversary, Guard members who were some of the first to answer America's cries for help told their stories in their own words. A common thread in all of their stories was that they were just doing what they were sworn to do: protect America from all enemies.
Many of these Guard members had plans to spend the anniversary with those that they loved or those that they had served with on that day.
No. 3: National Guard turns 375
Dec. 13, 2011, marked 375 years for the National Guard.
Celebrations at the National Guard Bureau and throughout the 54 states, territories and the district included cake cuttings, stories and oral histories. The Army National Guard Readiness Center in Arlington, Va. -- Arlington Hall -- was even paid a visit by television personalities from a popular cake baking series.
No. 2: Natural disaster response
In 2011, the U.S. saw an unusually high number of natural disasters. In the aftermath of tornados, flooding and wildfires, the National Guard supported emergency first responders all over the country.
Tuscaloosa, Ala., and Joplin, Mo., saw some of the worst tornado damage.
Alabama Guard members provided the state's largest-ever domestic response as about 2,900 citizen-Soldiers and -Airmen assisted local and state first responders to help restore water and electricity and clean up debris left by the twister. Alabama Guard members also provided security, logistic and air support.
In Joplin, the Missouri National Guard was on duty the night that the tornado tore through the town and remained on duty throughout the subsequent cleanup efforts. Guard members helped local emergency first responders with traffic control, security checkpoints and debris removal.
States along the Missouri River experienced some of the worst flooding in nearly a century in some areas. North Dakota was one of the hardest hit, but flooding also hit South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, Missouri, Mississippi, Nebraska, Arkansas and Louisiana.
At one point, almost 5,000 Citizen-Soldiers and -Airmen were filling sandbags, patrolling levees, providing logistic support and helping local and state authorities whenever and wherever they could.
Severe wildfires broke out across the Southwest where the Guard used UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters equipped with Bambi buckets and C-130 Hercules aircraft outfitted with the Modular Airborne Firefighting System to help control blazes in Texas and Arizona.
No. 1: Hurricane Irene relief efforts
The National Guard was called upon in almost every East Coast state to assist local authorities in preparations before, during and after Hurricane Irene struck the U.S. in August.
Guard members patrolled the streets of cities as Irene swirled overhead, ensuring the safety of citizens that had decided to wait the storm out. Guard members were activated in Connecticut, Delaware, Washington, D.C., Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North and South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Virginia.
Vermont was one of the hardest-hit areas. Many residents were stranded after they lost everything as the heavy rains and winds of Irene washed away homes and roads.
At the height of relief efforts, about 7,675 citizen-Soldiers and -Airmen from 18 states, the District of Columbia and as far away as Puerto Rico, contributed to the joint support of civil authorities who worked around the clock tackling Hurricane Irene.