About 200 employers and community leaders from the Pacific Northwest traveled to Gowen Field in Boise last week for a close-up look at challenges soldiers of the National Guard’s 116th Brigade Combat Team face as they get ready for their deployment to Iraq. The occasion was the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve’s Boss Lift, ESGR’s way of thanking employers of citizen-soldiers for sacrifices and inconveniences caused by training and mobilization.
Jack Johnson, ESGR’s Area 6 coordinator, (left) and La Grande attorney David Baum (right) take in the sights at the Idaho Air National Guard’s landing strip. With them is Boss Lift guest Charles Brown of Sherman County.
Boss Lifts give those employers a chance to experience what their employees go through once they don their uniforms and report for duty.
Jack Johnson of Cove, ESGR’s Area 6 manager, said the trip was a real eye-opener for many.
“I think a lot of them were astounded,” Johnson said. “Many of them told me they didn’t understand until this trip what it’s like to be a member of the Guard or Reserve.”
Many of the Boss Lift participants, including 13 from Oregon and seven from the La Grande area, flew to the event on aircraft furnished by the military.
Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve is a Department of Defense Agency that seeks to promote a culture in which American employers support and value the military service of their employees.
All the Boss Lift participants attended an assembly where ESGR representatives talked about the important role Guard and Reserve forces play in national security.
Also stressed was the importance of employers who go above and beyond the call of duty in allowing their workers the time to train and serve.
“Almost half of the country’s military is made up of Guard and Reserve members. This wouldn’t be possible without you,” ESGR’s Dick Deam told the guests.
Following the welcoming assembly, participants split into groups, boarded buses and traveled to stations featuring hands-on activities and displays of weaponry and other gear.
Among many other things, they saw how video simulation is helping troops train for combat.
In an indoor rifle training area, with M16s and M-4 carbines hooked to a computer system, they engaged in a virtual firefight. Enemy soldiers came at them, dodging, ducking for cover and firing back.
Mike Becker, Mike Becker General Contractor in La Grande, flashes a victory sign after peeping through the sights of a machine gun.
In a trailer outfitted as a Close Combat Tactical Trainer, participants drove or acted as gunners in virtual convoys through the streets of Baghdad.
There were many static displays as well, with assigned soldiers and airmen showing off a Bradley Fighting vehicle, a Bradley tank, an up-armored HUMVEE, an A-10 jet, radar equipment, and more.
Boss Lift participants experienced the glory of flight in a couple of different ways. Each one got a chance to take the controls in the Idaho Air National Guard’s A-10 flight simulator, and each also experienced a real-life ride on a National Guard Blackhawk helicopter.
The Blackhawk flight ferried the civilians to the nearby Orchard Training Area, where the 116th — which includes the La Grande-headquartered 3rd Battalion — is training for its second deployment to Iraq in less than five years.
La Grande accountant Brent Gunderson, president of the Union County Chamber of Commerce, was among many who said the Blackhawk flight was the best part of the Boss Lift.
“What an incredible piece of machinery that is,” he said.
See LIFT, 6BTim Seydel, head of University Advancement at Eastern Oregon University, also came along on the Boss Lift. He said Eastern regularly participates in the jaunts because of its many connections with the military.
“We have the GOLD and Reserved Officer Training Program, and many Guard members who are students. We’ve worked hard to ensure we’re a military-friendly school,” he said.
Seydel, like Gunderson, said he was pumped about Boss Lift’s Blackhawk flight. He also said a tour of a tactical operations center in the field was a more-than-worthwhile experience.
“It was really neat to experience the operation and see how it worked. It was so elaborate and complex, so technologically advanced,” he said.
Gunderson said that when Johnson invited him to take part in the Boss Lift, he jumped at the chance.
“It was a one-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” he said.
He said his company doesn’t currently employ any Guard or Reserve members, but could in the future. He said he was impressed with the soldiers he met at Gowen Field and at the Orchard Training Area.
“I didn’t meet a one who wasn’t proud of serving their country and being in the Guard, and I didn’t meet a one I wouldn’t mind having as an employee.”
Local attorney David Baum, a former officer in the 3/116th and the father of SFC Karl Baum of the 3/116th’s Company D, said the Boss Lift gave him confidence that his son will arrive safely back home after his second tour in Iraq.
Baum also said he is more aware of sacrifices employers and citizen-soldiers make together.
“After that program, I feel a lot more like a patriot,” he said. “We’ve got to support our troops.”
Other local people taking part in the Boss Lift included Mike Becker, owner of Mike Becker General Contractor; and Bret Blanca from the the Oregon Youth Authority’s RiverBend Youth Transition Facility.
The Boss Lift featured a dinner Thursday night. Among the speakers was former Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne.
Kempthorne said he closely monitored the 116th’s first deployment to Iraq in 2004-05. He visited the soldiers during stateside training, and later flew to Iraq for a first-hand look at field operations.
The former governor said that based on what the 116th accomplished its first time in the troubled country, it should do well the second time around.
“Their sector was a lawless one before they arrived, and it was a lawless one after they left. But it was not lawless while they were there,” he said.