|Attendees of the Texas Adjutant General Dinner at the Driskill Hotel during the National Guard Association of the United States Conference pass the time through laughter with new friends.
Story by Officer Candidate Micah Barnes
AUSTIN, Texas - Army and Air National Guard officers from all 54 states and territories descended upon Austin, Texas, Aug. 21-23, for the 132nd National Guard Association of the United States conference. The attendees ranged from single bar officers to a four-star general, with many bringing their families to share the experience.
The conference, designed to bring together officers of all grades to discuss the issues currently facing the Army and Air National Guards, provides a meeting point for NGAUS to ensure their voices are heard on Capitol Hill in Washington.
"NGAUS is one of the 10 recognized military associations that the Department of Defense can participate in," said Army Maj. Jeffrey Larrabee, a National Guard Bureau Strategic planner. "They're advocates for the guardsmen, who lobby in Washington for their specific interests."
The discussions and resolutions of the conference move up to the National Guard Bureau for review, ensuring that the coming year's agendas reflect the intentions of NGAUS members.
"These could be anything such as better equipment, better health care and retirement benefits, " said Air Force Maj. Gen. Tod S. Bunting, NGAUS chairman and adjutant general of the Kansas National Guard.
Keynote speakers included Texas Governor Rick Perry, Gen. Craig R. McKinley, Chief of the National Guard Bureau, and Senator Leticia Van de Putte, District 26 state senator for Texas.
"One thing I learned in my time in the Air Force is that the squeaky wheel gets the grease," said Perry. "I'm going to keep calling for the Guard for any job because I know that it's going to be done right."
In addition to the business meetings, the conference also featured events aimed at further strengthening the camaraderie of the Guard community. The events, which brought together spouses and children to bond over common interests, included the exhibit hall, youth programs, a rodeo, the spouse luncheon, and several dinners and mixers.
The exhibit hall housed more than 400 vendors showcasing everything from military equipment to coffee mugs designed for different branches, installations, and services. Some booths featured interactive activities, including the National Guard Formula racecar, a simulated combat environment wherein players cooperatively engage a mission, and several fixed and rotary wing simulations.
"These groups span really the spectrum of companies that do everything from sustainability for the Guard, to helping the families of the Guard," said Richard Goldberg, senior vice-president of Public Affairs for DRS Technologies.
The children of the attending officers had a chance to experience practical exercises in public affairs through the backpack journalist program. Throughout the conference, the kids attended many events, such as the opening ceremony where the MacArthur High School drill team performed in front of the more than 1,000 audience members, a visit to the Texas Army National Guard Airfield in Austin, Texas, and a press conference with Bunting and Texas Army National Guard Commander Brig. Gen. Joyce Stephens.
"I think this whole thing was awesome," said Gian Carlo Morales, 12, from Dallas, Texas. "I got to use everything from the video camera to the microphone that records everything."
The officers and their families enjoyed the nightlife offered by Austin, the live-music capital of the world. Evening events ranged from mixers for the warrant and company grade officers to a true Texas rodeo.
"Some people don't know that we have rodeos in New Jersey, but it is not quite the same as being at a Texas rodeo, and I'm pretty jazzed to the be there for it," said Goldberg.
The final night concluded with a cocktail reception and states dinner at the Austin Convention Center.
"Texas has been a wonderful host of this event," said Goldberg. "It's more about the people, building a relationships, and knowing what the needs are."