Rockets and refuelers: NHESGR highlights NH National Guard missions

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Kayla White
  • 157th Air Refueling Wing
More than 30 local employers from New England traveled to visit the soldiers of the 197th Field Artillery Brigade, New Hampshire Army National Guard, at Camp Grayling, Michigan on August 14, 2018.

The New Hampshire committee of the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve coordinated the visit to increase employer understanding of what their citizen-soldiers do when their military obligation takes them away.
The 197th FAB soldiers joined more than five thousand other participants from the Air Force, Marine Corps, Army, as well as coalition forces from the U.K and Latvia to participate in Operation Northern Strike. The joint-training exercise emphasized cooperation while providing a venue for participants to conduct mission command and fires synchronization drills with weapons such as cannons and rocket launchers.

“This is great for the soldiers and the employers,” said Bruce Thompson, the NHESGR state chair. “When we can get employers out to see the incredible things their employees do in service to their country, it makes a world of difference.”

Thompson, who served in the Navy for more than 25 years, recounted part of a speech from the former New Hampshire National Guard adjutant general, retired Maj. Gen. William N. Reddel III.

“He talked about how the key sources of support a soldier needs are like a three-legged stool,” said Thompson, skin weathered by time and experience, eyes bright with enthusiasm. “If they are struggling with their families, communities or civilian employers, it can seriously impact their ability and their desire to stay in the military.”

The day began early in the morning at Pease, where 157th Air Refueling Wing leadership gave an introductory briefing about the multi-faceted mission of the New Hampshire National Guard and thanked the employers for their continued support.

Then, employers toured a KC-135 Stratotanker before their flight to Michigan. They learned about in-flight refueling from 157th Air Refueling Wing and 64th Air Refueling Squadron boom operators.

Upon their arrival to the training site at Camp Grayling, soldiers greeted them.

Sgt. Mackenzie C. Sickel, a section chief assigned to the 197th FAB, led employers through static displays of the unit’s weapon system, the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS).

“We are busy out here,” said Sickel, gripping her tactical vest with one hand and gesturing to the bustle of activity going on around her, skin tanned from the time out in the summer sun. “I’m glad we could take the time to do this with them though. Plus, it’s never a bad day to fire a rocket.”

Employers and guardsmen lined up along the firing range, cameras poised to capture the planned live-fire demonstration of the HIMARS, which was due to happen at any moment. Complete silence filled the air before four rockets launched into the sky, plumes of smoke billowing into the sky.

Maj. Richard LaFlame, the 197th FAB brigade surgeon, works at Concord Hospital as a physician’s assistant. He invited his manager, Kate Sharpe, to visit him.
Sharpe had talked to military members about their experiences before, but had never seen it for herself.

“I appreciate the opportunity to be a part of this trip,” said Sharpe. “It has given me a better perspective about what Richard does when he’s away. It’s really inspiring.”