Story By Capt. Andrew Layton
Michigan National Guard
GRAYLING, Mich. – On the afternoon of July 27, 2020, eight Soldiers re-enlisted in the Michigan National Guard at an observation point overlooking some of the finest training grounds in the country. This week, the National All-Domain Warfighting Center (NADWC) is hosting Northern Strike 20 at these facilities – the National Guard’s premier joint fires exercise.
With the smoke of field artillery mixed with the growl of A-10 Thunderbolt jets overhead, the re-enlistment ceremony was made even more unique by its presiding official: Gen. Joseph Martin, 37th Vice Chief of Staff of the Army.
Martin also presented coins to six other Michigan Guard members, recognizing their outstanding performance not only at Northern Strike, but throughout the state’s response to COVID-19, historic flooding, and civil unrest during the first half of 2020.
“I’ve never met a four-star general before,” said Staff Sgt. Sue Wilcox, a human resources specialist with the Michigan National Guard’s 63rd Troop Command who has excelled in three different roles during the state’s missions to fight COVID-19. “This was a very special moment and I’ll always remember it.”
Martin, a Michigan native, took the opportunity to visit Soldiers in Northern Strike’s training fields because of the exercise’s unique contributions to the U.S. National Defense Strategy. Northern Strike fuses Michigan’s capabilities at the NADWC to offer a tailorable, scalable, and cost-effective readiness producer for the reserve component.
Participants at Northern Strike 20 include active duty forces from the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Army, and U.S. Coast Guard, as well as personnel from the Army National Guard, Air National Guard, U.S. Army Reserves, U.S. Marine Corps Reserves, and the NATO partner country of Latvia.
“This is an important visit because Northern Strike is an incredible exercise that challenges the training audience across multicomponent, multinational, and interagency partners,” Martin said. “The National All Domain Warfighting Center (NADWC) in Northern Michigan is an outstanding location to replicate the future operating environment, benefitting overall readiness of training units as well as DoD modernization efforts.”
The NADWC, which includes the Michigan National Guard facilities of Camp Grayling Maneuver Training Center and Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center, is home to nearly 148,000 acres of training area and the largest special use airspace complex east of the Mississippi River. The Michigan National Guard has partnered with public health officials to develop a comprehensive plan that allows Northern Strike, held each year since 2012, to continue in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic while safeguarding participants and communities.
The COVID-19 risk mitigation plan emphasizes social distancing, required use of masks when social distancing is not possible, frequent sanitization, and other precautions.
In addition to meeting with Soldiers, Martin discussed the contemporary and future relevance of Northern Strike with leaders of the Michigan National Guard, as well as a representative from the office of Congressman Jack Bergman, a member of the House Committee on Armed Services.
“Northern Strike provides a multi-component solution for joint live-fires integration and exercises tactical through operational-level command and control constructs to support Army service component and Joint Force readiness. The event provides a challenging all-domain venue for Army leaders to increase lethality by focusing on sensor to shooter effectiveness and proficiency from company to division level,” said Maj. Gen. Paul Rogers, Adjutant General and Director of the Michigan Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. “The exercise also presents a premier opportunity for Army Futures, sister agencies, and defense industry partners to test emerging technologies for the future war fight.”
While acknowledging the importance of exercises like Northern Strike to fill training and task iteration gaps for the reserve component, Martin asserted that the future readiness of the force begins, at its most basic level, with the individual Soldier’s decision to serve. He also noted that the Soldiers assembled on this hill today were re-enlisting to serve the citizens of the State of Michigan – part of the National Guard’s mission to respond to State and Federal authorities when called upon.
Michigan National Guard Soldiers who re-enlisted include Spc. Raymon Baskerville, Spc. Eshaun Simmons, Spc. Isarel Conerly, Spc. Silvano Caldera, Sgt. James Purvis, Sgt. Johnathan Beerman, Sgt. Stephanie Garza, and Sgt. Shareef Sasnasopa.
Michigan National Guard Soldiers who received coins include Master Sgt. Rodney Roach, Staff Sgt. Sue Wilcox, Staff Sgt. Zachary Hein, Sgt. Dean Swoffer, Sgt. Jessie McMillan, Spc. Alex Zickfoose.
“When Soldiers raise their hand and swear an oath of allegiance; not to a king, not to a four-star general, not to a place, not to a monument, but to an idea – that sets us apart from most other countries across the face of the earth,” Martin told them. “When your kids and your grandkids ask you what you did, you can tell them you proudly served in the Michigan National Guard.”