|Soldiers and airmen visit over 80 different vendors of civilian and military products and services inside the American Bank Center exhibit hall during the 52nd annual National Guard Association of Texas Conference in Corpus Christi, Texas, March 26. The exhibit hall offered a one-stop shop for attendees to try out an array of new technologies and services geared toward military use. NGAT has traditionally worked diligently with our state and national legislature on several quality of life improvements for Texas Military Forces, along with being an opportunity for people to discuss new ideas and identify future goals.
Story by Spc. Suzanne Carter
CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas - As the waves crashed against the harbor, hundreds of men and women dressed in army combat uniforms and air battle uniforms converged on Corpus Christi, Texas, for the 52nd annual National Guard Association of Texas Conference.
This conference brings together enlisted and officer personnel from the Texas Army, Air, and State Guard, providing a forum for all service members to voice their issues and messages for the Texas Military Forces in a public domain.
Senior leadership accomplishes the mission of this conference through a series of break-out sessions and forums where both the officers and enlisted personnel discuss new training programs, the current state of the Texas Military Force as a whole, and new changes in doctrine like the repeal of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy.
"Many times when you try to send emails back and forth, you don't always get your true point across to everyone," said Maj. Ian Manire, executive officer for the Headquarters of the Texas Air Guard.
Whereas past conferences focused on assembling large numbers of Guardsmen to distribute the information at one time, this year's conference embraced individual growth breakout sessions as noted by Air Force Maj. Gen. Nichols, the Texas adjutant general.
"The new format should enable each of you to spend more time informing yourselves on those issues and opportunities that exist in support of command and its mission, while allowing ample time to network with your fellow conferees." said Nichols.
NGAT also gave the newly appointed Texas Adjutant General the opportunity to convey his mission and strategic vision to all of the state's military personnel at one time.
For his first key point, Nichols stressed the importance of placing the solider, airmen, civilian, and family first in order to have a more efficient and effective force. Throughout the conference, speakers and guests echoed this message in public forums, breakout sessions and activities.
To satisfy this strategic vision of placing the people first, Nichols announced his top priority of ensuring the soldiers and airmen of the Texas Military Forces have the finest resources, equipment and training available, both at their drilling stations and at the duty schools they attend throughout their service.
"We need to make sure that everyone we send to the various schools are actually able to go and finish them the first time," said Brig. Gen. Joyce Stevens, Army assistant adjutant and commander of the Texas Army National Guard. "This will help not only to save money that can be put to other goals, but help our soldiers stay at home as long as possibly with their friends and family."
Most service member may have only expected to attend meetings, but the conference also featured an exhibit hall, hospitality rooms, an evening banquet and social mixers.
Vendors in the exhibit showed their support for the Guard by allowing the Guardsmen to see a wide range of products and services geared toward the military. The booths touched on different aspects of military life from food, hygiene, education, and equipment storage to training like the mobile range system and the interactive Laser Shot simulation.
"We want to introduce this product to the entire state of Texas, since it is one of the largest states and has one of the largest National Guard forces," said Gregory Turner, sales development and management for Strategic Systems Incorporated. We saw NGAT as the best place to demonstrate our product."
The conference offered several sessions geared toward Guardsmen's families, educating them on the Family Readiness Group and their resources that many service members overlook or misunderstand, such as suicide and crisis preventions.
In both the opening ceremony and the dinner held during the conference, senior officials presented awards to volunteers and family members of Guardsmen for their exemplary volunteer service to the units of the Texas Military Forces.
"This is a great way to show our appreciation and support we have for the men and women in the National Guard for the services that they provide for us each and everyday," said Rose Montao, a member of a Family Readiness Group out of San Antonio, Texas.
At the conclusion of the conference, Guardsmen returned home to rejoin their units and share the lessons they garnered during the weekend of networking and collaborating with their peers and comrades.
"This is one of the few opportunities where you can get everyone together," said Manire, "looking at each other eye to eye and talk about those issues that we don't always get a chance to do."