LACKLAND AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- Twenty-six civilians visited the 149th Fighter Wing Nov. 8 to see what the Air National Guardsmen with whom they work do when they are in uniform.
The wing hosted Bosses Day in coordination with the local committee of the Employer Support for the Guard and Reserve (ESGR). Wing members gave the visitors a close look at an F-16C aircraft and a Small Portable Expeditionary Aeromedical Rapid Response (SPEARR) unit and a glimpse of the world through night vision goggles. They also arranged for them to ride on a KC-135 while it refueled F-16s in flight.
In a preliminary briefing in the wing operations building auditorium, the guests may not have known what they were in for when a man entered wearing a heavy firefighter's jacket and helmet. As the fireman removed these items to reveal his Air Force uniform underneath, he introduced himself as Maj. John Pollard, commander of the 149th Security Forces Flight. Donning the distinctive beret, he pointed out that, like other Guardsmen during training weekends and other periods of duty, he wears "another hat."
The self-described cop boss acknowledged the important role civilian bosses - to include employers, managers and supervisors - play in keeping the Air National Guard a viable and effective force by accommodating their Citizen-Airmen when they must be absent from their civilian jobs.
"It's tough on you [because] you need to fill the void when we're gone," said Major Pollard to the bosses. "Without you all, we can't fulfill our mission at the 149th.... Thank you for spending the time to come out and see what we do."
One of the visitors was David Splitek, superintendent of the Lackland Independent School District, which employs the spouse of one the unit members nearby.
"I pass by this [unit] all the time," said Mr. Splitek. "But I didn't know there were so many people here in the National Guard."
In fact, there are about 900 Airmen in the Lackland-based unit, whose activities revolve around the F-16 Fighting Falcon and its operation.
Bill Jones, one of three visitors from DPT Laboratories, Ltd., a pharmaceutical company, took special interest in the static aircraft display. Invited by Maj. Art Tamayo, who works for DPT, Mr. Jones enthusiastically accepted the invitation because his adopted son had joined the Air Force two years ago and is currently serving overseas.
"I'm interested in all aspects of Air Force aviation," said Mr. Jones, who asked many questions of his hosts.
Capt. Harold Hill of the 149th Medical Group answered questions about the SPEARR unit, which he termed a "small trauma team." The SPEARR tent, designed to be erected within minutes, displayed some of the equipment the unit's medical professionals use - and very recently used in response to Hurricane Ike. The visitors also got to see images of the "meds" in action.
The guests also had the opportunity to wear Night Vision Goggles, which the F-16 pilots use in flying night operations. Although the civilians were confined to a darkened room, they could briefly experience viewing their surroundings and what resembles a miniature train layout (minus the train) in an eerie greenish tint.
"That was my favorite part," said Elisa Carter, a principal in the Seguin ISD, which employs Staff Sgt. Troy Depalermo. However, she made that statement while she and the other guests shared box lunches ... before they rode on the KC-135, courtesy of the 465th Air Refueling Squadron, from Tinker AFB, Okla.
The refueler took off around noontime and flew a round trip toward Laredo, Texas. After attaining a comfortable altitude, the aircraft was joined by successive "four-ship" flights of the 149th Fighter Wing's F-16s that took turns refueling. The passengers likewise took turns, working their way to the back of the aircraft where they could watch the refueling in process.
After the two-hour flight, Ed Cooper, chief executive officer and president of Acuity Healthcare, LP, who acted on the invitation of Maj. Scott Galliardt, exclaimed, "What a great way to spend the afternoon!"
The visitors clearly enjoyed themselves, but they learned some things as well, not only about what their employees or co-workers did but also about the rest of the 149th Fighter Wing.
For example, Randy Boehme, laboratory services director for Nix Healthcare, said that, before his visit, he didn't really know what Ruben Garcia, a technical sergeant in the medical group, did in the National Guard.
"I've never been in the military and didn't know much about the National Guard," he said. "I had no idea all the maintenance it takes to keep the F-16 flying. I learned a lot about the 149th [and] that it did much more than fly F-16s."
In the final session before Bosses Day concluded, Col. John Nichols, wing commander, reminded the guests of the special contribution they made when they support their employee-Guardsmen who respond to natural disasters within the state.
"Our theme is 'Texans helping Texans,'" he said. "When we have the opportunity to assist our fellow Texans, it's a good thing."
He noted that the experience National Guard members bring from their civilian jobs helped them succeed in their mission. "The two careers meld together," he said. "Great people make this unit go."
Caryl Hill, employer outreach director for the Texas Committee, ESGR, invited the guests to sign the "Statement of Support for the Guard and Reserve." All of the guests took a copy with them or signed it on the spot.