The grounds were meticulously groomed, the armory scrubbed, and all vehicles and equipment of the Sault Ste. Marie-based, Michigan National Guard, Multi-Role Bridge Company looked brand-new with polish as Soldiers from the unit prepared for the “Spend a day with the Guard” event, May 6, 2016.
In total, more than 200 Northern Michigan seniors from seven different high schools were invited to ‘Spend a day with the Michigan National Guard’ via the Soldiers of the 1437th MRBC. Roughly half of those invited were able to attend. Upon arrival, students were divided into small groups and assigned a unit member host. The groups and their host traveled to 20 different learning stations that featured a variety of unit equipment and vehicles. Students were encouraged to be fully ‘hands-on’ for the day and to ask the Soldiers questions about the items and about their experiences in the Guard.
One station included a just-for-fun competition where group members raced one another to gear-up in the suits, boots, gloves and mask required for any Soldier entering a potentially contaminated location. Those who were able to attire themselves properly were then given a 25 lb. pack of gear to carry to the finish line – equivalent to the weight of testing kits, radios, infrared glasses and other items that responding Soldiers usually have to carry. No students made it beyond donning the suit and pack, to the, “pull the wagon-load of additional equipment” phase (computers, first aid kit, water, blankets, satellite phones), but all students left the station with a smile on their face and a funny story to tell.
“We are excited to share what we do with young adults who might also be interested in learning these skills,” said Staff Sgt. Brian Bizeau, the Recruiting and Retention noncommissioned officer working out of the Sault Ste. Marie armory. “The 1437th is a great unit to offer something like this because they have a wide variety of skills represented, from communication specialists and large equipment operators like bulldozers and excavators, to crane engineers, high-capacity fuel-truck mechanics and of course everything associated with the many types of water and land bridges that this unit is famous for.”
“The best part is that almost all of the skills being demonstrated during the event have civilian employment equivalents. Everything a Soldier learns and does as a member of this unit improves his or her employment marketability. Smart kids are coming to the Guard these days to get a head start on their career paths. It’s a great honor, and responsibility, to be part of shaping a young person’s life,” Bizeau said.
Upon arrival at the armory, the students were divided into small groups that traveled to 20 different stations, set up in and around the armory, showcasing Guard capabilities. Each station was manned by 1437th unit members who offered information and answered questions. Some stations, like the chemical/gas chamber display, included a competition where two members from the student group would race to don all of the clothing, mask, gloves and boots required for operating in those conditions.
“The recruiters will be busy,” said Sgt. 1st Class Ann Dailey, a senior member of the 1437th and a primary planner of the open house events. “But people sometimes forget that each time we demonstrate our equipment and skills we gain experience that benefits our performance when deployed. It truly is a win for both participants today.”
To add to the complexity of coordinating the day, Dailey had several new unit members and cadets to work into the mix of demonstrators and group leaders. “I’m not worried,” Dailey said. “Even the newer unit members have basic training and are responsible enough to handle themselves, and they have been matched with seasoned members who can answer any questions they can’t.”
Dailey’s confidence was well placed. Private 1st Class Anthony Suriano took on an all-female group of students from Sault Area High School like a pro. Girls ask questions – lots of questions. Suriano never faltered. “I don’t know if any of them will enlist,” Suriano said, “but I know they have all the information they need to evaluate Guard options, and they seemed to have fun. The day was definitely a success in my opinion.”
The day concluded with students donning life jackets to join Soldiers on Guard boats on the Saint Mary River as the boats grabbed, guided and connected a few sections of one of the floating bridges the 1437th is responsible for constructing during mobilizations. The unit also constructs land bridges, ribbon bridges, and other structures to aid the travel of forces in a variety of locations and environments.