When community leaders from the local area fly out of the Kansas City Kansas Community College grounds today aboard UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters flown by the Kansas National Guard's 1st Battalion, 108th Aviation, they will have the opportunity to more fully appreciate the hard work and commitment of the National Guard.

By RIMSIE McCONIGA
rmcconiga@leavenworthtimes.com

When community leaders from the local area fly out of the Kansas City Kansas Community College grounds today aboard UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters flown by the Kansas National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 108th Aviation, they will have the opportunity to more fully appreciate the hard work and commitment of the National Guard.

The flights are part of the Kansas National Guard’s Community Connect program to increase awareness of the National Guard, its people and the role they play in protecting the security, health and safety of Kansans. Flight participants will include representatives from local government, education and businesses.
The Kansas Army National Guard thinks of the UH-60 as its aerial workhorse. This four-bladed, twin-engine, medium-lift utility helicopter is used for soldier and equipment transport, aeromedical evacuation, support for ground troops and other missions, according to Jane Welsh, acting director of public affairs of the Adjutant General’s Department.

While the main use for the Black Hawk is to transport soldiers from one location to another, the helicopter has a multi-functional job. It can also be used for medical missions. They are basically air ambulances and can be fitted to transport passengers on stretchers.
The helicopter can also be used to to hoist equipment from one location to another (HMMWVs, howitzer cannons, palletized supplies, etc.). The hoist capability is what allows them to use the 660-gallon bucket for wildfire suppression.
When wildfires rage, the UH-60 is one of the most important means of control. The helicopter can transport a collapsible 660-gallon bucket to drop water on the fires. They are able to place the water directly on areas that are inaccessible to, or too dangerous for fire crews working on the ground.
Many people are not sure about the different duties performed by active duty Army, National Guard and U.S. Army Reserves.

“The primary difference is that the National Guard has both a state and federal mission,” says Welsh. “The governor of Kansas is our commander in chief during normal operations. The president is our commander in chief when federalized. If there is a natural disaster in Kansas (tornado, fires, flooding, winter weather, etc.) there is a process in place that the counties can request assistance through the Kansas Division of Emergency Management and the Kansas National Guard can be mobilized to assist those areas. Our guardsmen have helped out with multiple disasters in Kansas to include the Greensburg tornado, stranded motorists during winter storms, road blocks, security and sandbagging during floods and most recently, wildfire suppression in Kansas. Our soldiers are citizen-soldiers which means they live and work in our communities and are part-time guardsmen.”

National Guard soldiers and airmen work side by side with first responders. They are never the first people on site because that’s what the first responders are trained to do. The National Guard is a vital backup, however. They supplement and enhance the efforts of the first-responders.
The Kansas National Guard has a long and respected history in the state and  has been involved in the nation’s conflicts since the state’s inception as a territory from the Civil War through today’s conflicts.
“Our guardsmen have assisted in Puerto Rico (Hurricane Maria), Texas (Hurricane Harvey), Louisiana (Hurricane Katrina), wildfires in California and Colorado, Haiti (earthquake recovery), and flood recovery in Colorado,” says Welsh.

As a way to educate civic leaders in local communities in Kansas about the benefits of joining the National Guard, the Community Connect program is proving to be effective. Benefits are many, but one of the biggest is that people get help paying for college tuition by joining the National Guard.
“This year the state of Kansas legislators passed a state tuition assistance for members of the Kansas National Guard,” says Welsh. “The benefits allow for payment of full tuition and required fees for up to 15 credit hours per semester.”
The National Guard has increasingly taken on a larger role in the defense of the nation and U.S. missions abroad since 9-11.
“At one point in 2005, more than half of the combat brigades deployed in Iraq came from the Army National Guard,” says Welsh. “Two days per month and 15 days of annual training is still the baseline. However, most guardsmen will train more than that as they prepare for a deployment every four or five years.”
Welsh says the Community Connect program’s message really comes more from state leadership through the Recruiting and Retention Battalion.
By reaching out to community leaders, the people who have a large influence in shaping public opinion, they hope these leaders will help spread the word about the National Guard’s missions at home and abroad, about the positive impact the National Guard has on communities and about the rewarding careers and benefits that come from being a member of the National Guard.