|A group of Backpack Journalists take some photos Aug. 22 on an expedition to the Texas Army National Guard airfield during the 132nd National Guard Association of the United States General Conference in Austin, Texas.
Story by Spc. Suzanne Carter
A mariachi band struck up a song as Texas Adjutant General Maj. Gen. Jose S. Mayorga snipped the red ribbon stretched across the entrance in two. The doors to the exhibit hall swung open Aug. 21, marking the official opening of the 132nd National Guard Association of the United States General Conference exhibit hall at the Austin Convention Center in Austin, Texas.
Army and Air National Guard officers and their spouses from across the U.S. and its territories flooded the exhibit hall floor for three days, interacting with more than 400 vendors. The exhibitors showed their support for the Guard by demonstrating a variety of products and services, while conference attendees told vendors directly what they needed.
Mark Saturno, Simulation Systems Division business development director for Cubic Defense Applications in Orlando, Fla., said that the NGAUS convention is not the place to make sales, but a place to show support and appreciation for the National Guard and its mission.
"We have been dealing with the Guard for about a dozen years with our products," Saturno said. "The Guard has been very supportive of our company and our products, so we want to come out and show our support for the Guard."
With products ranging from combat training simulators to portable latrine devices and services from continuing education programs to custom coin and tag manufacturing, the exhibit hall offered officers of all ranks the most up-to- date technology, equipment and services available to their Guardsmen.
"There's a lot of new technology," said Guam Air National Guard Capt. Josephine Blas. "As you know, technology changes quickly, every day, so whatever they have that can help improve what we do for ourselves, for our troops, it's always great to see what they have."
By interacting with the vendors, attendees can discuss what improvements they want to see to best service their home units.
"It's an incredible opportunity for junior leaders to interact directly with folks in the industry," said Oregon Army National Guard Capt. Jonathan R. Tipton. "We can explain to them what we need, what we like and what we'd like to see happen."
Vendors in the exhibit hall said they use the feedback they receive to help guide the futures of their products and services as they relate to the National Guard.
"We talk to everybody from soldiers all the way up to the adjutant general about what the needs are for the Guard, where the Guard is trying to go," said Arthur C. Wright, business development and marketing manager for the Washington-Harris Group, a health services and information technology group from Greenbelt, Md. "If we don't know where they're trying to go and what their needs are, we won't know what services we need to provide."
Exhibitors also said they enjoyed hearing from the family members in attendance as much as the officers.
"The Guard is certainly very family-oriented," said Cora Jackson-Chandler, the Management Support Technology vice president of Defense Department programs, a research, evaluation and planning company from Fairfax, Va. "Because we do some work in the areas of sustaining, training, life-cycle support and transition of soldiers, it's good to hear from the family members."
Jackson-Chandler went on to say that having this interaction with the servicemembers and their families helps give her the full perspective of everyone who needs her company's services.
After a year of planning, a week of set-up and three days of marketing and networking, Exhibit Promotions Plus Director of Business Development Kevin M. Horowitz praised the conference for making available so many resources to which military leaders might otherwise not have exposure.
"They don't know what products and services are out there and what's available and what's the most modern technology," Horowitz said. "They need to see it, feel it, touch it, use it."