Army National Guard command sergeant major visits GUARNG
Army National Guard Command Sgt. Maj. Brunk W. Conley is no stranger to the Guamanian culture. He’s been around many Soldiers from Guam in his more than 30-year military career. So he appeared very much at home during a recent brief visit to the island to meet the leaders and Soldiers of the Guam Army National Guard (GUARNG).
Conley stopped at various units of the GUARNG during the Soldiers’ drill Feb. 2. This was his first visit to the island, part of a travel schedule that took him first to Alabama, then to Hawaii before arriving on Guam, where an unexpected incident would leave him with a lasting impression about strong and real patriotism.
“I’m very excited to be here,” he said “One of my most serious mentors was from Guam. I’ve never had anything but positive relationships with Soldiers from Guam. My first first sergeant in the Ranger Battalion was Luis Palacios, who is now in the Ranger hall of fame. He was Guamanian.”
Conley took over responsibilities as the 10th command sergeant major of the Army National Guard in September last year. Previously, he served as the command sergeant major of the Oregon National Guard from July 2008. His military career began in December 1981 in the active Army.
Being with the Soldiers is one of the key reasons for these visits, Conley said. He visited each platoon of the 1224th Engineer Support Company, cooks from the 105th Troop Command, the 721st Army Band, a team of the 721st Signal Detachment, observed the Officer Candidate School cadets while at their Land Navigation and spoke with the non-commissioned officer/Soldier of the year competitors. He also handed out 11 of his command sergeant major coins to select Soldiers.
“In the last five days, I had a lot of senior engagements with adjutants general, USARPAC (U.S. Army Pacific) commanders and the senior (command sergeant majors), and I love those guys, but there’s nothing like seeing Soldiers,” he said. “When we walked around and we saw the 105th Troop Command Soldiers and just how good they looked in uniform, and how motivated they were, and how focused they were on the mission, it was very refreshing. I’ll go back to D.C., probably a little jet lagged, but really excited about the future of the National Guard.” There are two priorities Conley will tackle as soon as he returns to the National Guard Bureau headquarters in Washington, D.C. One of these is the Warrior Leader Course (WLC) extension to 22 days, which will affect the organization’s budget.
“That’s very problematic for the National Guard because the Army does not include pay and allowances for the active-duty Soldier. So, the seven day increase for them does not increase their personnel pay and allowances cost. But for us, it’s a major impact. We have to figure out how to pay for that because the Army is adamant about (WLC) being 22 days. We’re telling big Army we can’t do it without an increase in our training dollars,” he explained.
The other issue is about Structure Self-Development 1 (SSD1). SSD1, a requirement for all Soldiers, deals with training on tasks primarily focused at the team level and common leader and tactical skills.
It’s required, according to Conley, “but in many cases we don’t compensate (Guard Soldiers) and it’s just more hours at home away from their family. When it’s at the end of the day, or you’ve worked a 40 or 60 hour work week, and it’s time to either do the SSD1 or go coach the tee-ball teams, our Soldiers choose to go coach the tee-ball teams, which they should; or to be involved in the parent teacher association, or to volunteer at the food bank, or whatever they do. So that’s very challenging. We’re working through a way to compensate them for their time.
Conley said he plans to visit Soldiers whom he did not get to see from the 1-294th Infantry Regiment while they are training at their mobilization training site at Camp Shelby, Miss. The battalion is slated to deploy to Afghanistan, leaving island early in March for about two months of mobilization training, before proceeding to the combat theater.
“I wish I had more time to spend here and see more Soldiers, and share their concerns, and share their ideas with them….I’m so proud of our young Americans. So many people say disparaging things about this generation. But since 9/11 there’s not a single Soldier that enlisted without knowing that we’re a nation at war. And still they join us and they want to be a part of it... So I’m very proud of them,” he said.
There was one incident, however, Conley witnessed during his visit that he said he would remember for the rest of his life, leaving him a lasting impression about his short trip to this far-flung island, where America’s day begins.
“I want to share this with everyone. It’s one of the greatest things I’ve ever seen in my military career. It brought tears to my eyes today. I was with the band and they were cleaning weapons (and) were talking about going to Saipan just a couple of days ago. One of the Soldiers asked, ‘Who are your vocalists?’ and they pointed to a young specialist. He asked, ‘What have you been singing lately?’ and she said, ‘The national anthem and the Guam hymn, ’” Conley said.
Conley asked the young Soldier to sing the Guam hymn and she agreed. What happened next surprised him but made for a memorable moment in his career.
“The commander, a warrant officer, said, ‘No, we’ll all sing it.’ And there, in the arms room, in a circle, the group sang, and the sergeants majors, too, all stood at attention and sang the Guam hymn. I had tears in my eyes. It was one of the greatest things I’ve ever seen, how proud they were to sing their hymn. It was amazing. That’s one of the things I’ll always remember the rest of my career, even when I retire, until I die. It’s that one little group singing the Guam hymn in the arms room of the band headquarters.”