All good things must come to an end

Michigan National Guard
Story by Staff Sgt. Tegan Kucera
Date: 07.27.2019

The end of an era is coming to the Nebraska National Guard with the start of a new training opportunity.

Cadet Emily Cummings, a shadowing platoon leader with the 313th Medical Company Ground Ambulance, from Lincoln, Nebraska applies moulage to the hand of Pfc. Dwight Loperena an infantrymen with the 1/296th Infantry Battalion, based out of Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, during a mass casualty exercise at Northern Strike 19. Cummings, a native of Lincoln, Nebraska, and Loperena, a resident of Moca, Puerto Rico, are both at the Grayling Army Air Field in Grayling, Michigan, as part of their annual training in the National Guard. Northern Strike 19 is a National Guard Bureau sponsored joint, accredited exercise that provides accessible, readiness-building opportunities for units from all services to achieve or sustain proficiency in conduction mission command, air, sea and ground maneuver integration, and the synchronization of fires in a joint, multinational, decisive action and major combat operations environment that is scalable to unit resource levels.
(Michigan National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Tegan Kucera/Released)

For the first and last time the 313th Medical Company Ground Ambulance is at Camp Grayling, Michigan for Northern Strike 19 for some unique real world training at their annual training.

“We picked a darn good annual training, we’re having a lot of fun out here, the training base is huge, it’s beautiful and the mission is good,” said Capt. Melisa Ventre the commander of the 313th MCGA. “This is not an opportunity that we get in the state of Nebraska, to see all of these different ranges, to work with all of these different units, my Soldiers are super pumped and they are loving life right now.”

One of the advantages offered by Michigan is the multi-purpose range complex that offers over 17,000 acres to maneuver in for platoon and combined arms live fire, conduct indirect fire and aviation training simultaneously, artillery direct fire, live bombing up to 500 pounds, helicopter door gunnery and javelin and tow insert. This is one of the many unique ranges offered at Camp Grayling during Northern Strike 19.

Northern Strike 19 is a National Guard Bureau sponsored joint, accredited exercise that provides accessible, readiness-building opportunities for units from all services to achieve or sustain proficiency in conduction mission command, air, sea and ground maneuver integration, and the synchronization of fires in a joint, multinational, decisive action and major combat operations environment that is scalable to unit resource levels.

“Just in Camp Grayling alone there are so many different areas to train on, the Michiganders are blessed,” said Ventre a native of Crete, Nebraska.

The 313th MCGA is here and having a lot of fun going on Blackhawks in order to get to their aid stations to provide care. This service that was offered, and the command of the 313th MCGA thought it would be safer for the medics to do this rather than driving between the ranges that are two hours away from their area of operation. It is worth it because the areas they are going to also allow them the opportunity to watch what other units are doing for their training.

“I’ve never really seen the different units just work their hardest, because we’ve always been on the sideline waiting for something to happen. Now we’re still on the sideline waiting, but now we’re able to watch the action,” said Spc. Michael Stufft a medic from Omaha, Nebraska with the 313th MCGA.

Even though a lot of the training they are watching and receiving is a first for the 313th MCGA, it is somewhat bittersweet because this will be the last annual training the unit is going to perform. Soon the 313th MCGA will be a thing of the past as the Nebraska National Guard has decided to dismantle it as well the 110th Multifunctional Medical Battalion in the next year. This makes Ventre the last commander of the 313th and she would like to be the one who retires the colors after giving so much to the unit.

“That’s something I would consider myself lucky to do. We’ve been through a lot together,” said Ventre who has held command of the unit for the last three years.

Two large medical units are retiring their colors leaving a lot of medics within the Nebraska National Guard homeless, but some are seeing it as an opportunity for themselves to grow.

“I think it’s going to give the medics a different outlook on what it is to be a medic and it’s going to give them different opportunities than being in a ground ambulance company, it’s also going to give the state more opportunities,” said Ventre.

Instead of ground ambulance companies and medical battalions, the state is filling in with more infantry battalions, adapting to a changing army, and the medics are coming along for the ride, as many of them must decide where to call home. But not all the Soldiers are going to stay medics.

“I think things happen for a reason. I’m very blessed that I got a chance to be in a ground ambulance company,” said Stufft. “But since the switch is happening I got the chance to switch over to the firefighter unit, I’ll take it as it comes and learn as much as I can about the new job.”

There are only about a dozen firefighter positions in the Nebraska National Guard, so Stufft has much to be thankful for since this has been his dream all along. On the civilian side he is going to school for firefighting certification. He thought when that opportunity was not originally available upon his enlistment, he chose medic as that would go hand-in-hand with his civilian goal. He wanted to get his foot in the door and thought the military would give him the dedication and work ethic after high school he may not have learned otherwise.

“I’ve only gotten really good experiences from the military,” said Stufft who enlisted three years ago. “I know not everyone can say that, but so far for me I’m very happy with my decision.”

Even though he may not continue to be a medic for the military, Stufft still plans to keep his medical certifications up to date because it is still useful in the civilian world. It just reinforces the decision he made when he was younger,
a decision that has allowed him to see states like Michigan, a place he may never have visited if not for annual trainings. Northern Strike 19 has been his favorite exercise by far, not only because he got to ride in a Blackhawk for the first time, but because in his experience it has been the most well organized.

“It seems like they have everything here that we need, all the supporting unit pieces are in place,” said Staff Sgt. Sean Delancey a platoon sergeant with the 313th MCGA. “There’s a lot of joint and combined exercises going on that you don’t see elsewhere. It was a long drive from Nebraska (two and a half days), but it was worth it and other units should come too.”

Delancey is amazed at the opportunities it is giving some of the junior enlisted because when they are going up in the Blackhawks they are gone for a couple of days. The young sergeants have to take care of their Soldiers for that time period, on top of fulfilling their mission to provide medical care for units they are supporting.

“That is a lot of responsibility for a new sergeant, but it’s also a really good opportunity that we don’t always get,” said Delancey, a native of Lincoln, Nebraska. “Normally the sergeants don’t always have the opportunity to show what they can do when it comes to leadership.”

Delancey thinks that they will have more ability to show their leadership aptitude once they enter the Infantry line units. But unlike Stufft, who chose a new path altogether, switching from medic something Delancey can’t see himself doing.

“I’ve been doing it too long, I’ve been a medic for a long time and I have a lot of experience as a medic,” said Delancey who has maintained one job since joining over 17 years ago. “I would not meet the needs of the Army as well if I was not a medic. The National Guard would lose a lot of skills and experience that I have.”

Delancey is able to look favorably at the change because throughout his career he has been in many different units and has seen them reposition themselves to meet the changing needs of the Army. “I think when change happens, and you have absolutely no control over it, there’s no reason to dwell on it. Just roll with the punches and move on to the next thing,” said Delancey.

Right now Delancey and Ventre are trying to help their Soldiers find their new homes within the Nebraska National Guard. Not all Soldiers are as lucky as Stufft who got his dream unit, but they have faith the state will help find the Soldiers a new home. After this they will look after themselves to see what options they have that will help their career progression, but this will come after they get as much training and experience as they can from Northern Strike 19.

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