Eight years serving, best experience ever

I am so grateful a humanitarian mission was my first deployment experience. You truly do not understand till you are sharing your time with an orphan, what the mission really reaps. Yes, I completed some upgrade training to hone my skills of welding, grinding, painting; but the joy on the children’s faces meant the most.

They would greet us every morning on the job site, wait for our lunch break to challenges us in soccer or volleyball, and send us off every evening with hugs, smiles and laughs. While we worked hard, we also played hard — yet the kids would still beat us barefoot and fast while we straggled behind in our steel toed boots.

I love being here with these small spirited children, to think this is their only home they know and I helped make it a better place is the greatest reward. Actually reconstructing a living space for two small-group homes, while working with the Latvian Army Land Forces and the local community contractors, displays the best part of being in the military.

I will cherish these memories of what we can accomplish with teamwork, the children’s smiling faces when they received their gifts of new clothes, and the excitement of our installation a new soccer net. We came to reconstruct a building; we left with full hearts knowing we gave exactly what these children needed: our time and our love

About the author: Staff Sgt. Conrad Marin is assigned to the 139th Civil Engineer Squadron, Missouri Air National Guard.

Eight years serving, best experience ever

Don’t focus solely on the test

The annual physical fitness test doesn’t matter. This is a bold statement considering that as a military professional your career depends on it. However, focusing on the test alone does not support a healthy lifestyle. The goal of the test is to gauge your level of fitness, but it is not intended to be the sole measurement of a healthy lifestyle. If you learn your mental limits and invest some time into learning your body, you will discover your own path to health and wellness.

Sure, when the test comes around there may be stress involved, tests are inherently stressful, but if a certain base level of conscious eating and exercise is the norm for you, then the test will just be one more workout that supports your overall health and wellness. If, however, regular diet and exercise is not part of your lifestyle, an increased amount of anxiety may build up as test day gets closer. Isn’t one of the first Air Force core values Integrity First? That means we need to be honest with ourselves.

This is harder than it sounds when it comes to the food we eat and our level of exercise, but there are tools that help (I’ll list them at the end of this article). Integrity isn’t a concept or idea, it is something we live and practice with those around us, which makes it even more important to honor ourselves the same way. We may not all be nutritionists or fitness professionals but chances are we can work out the basics. Eat fruits and vegetables, control portion size, cut back on added sugar and salt, and get plenty of exercise and rest. That last bit is important. Disconnecting from work and other stressors is critical to a healthy existence.

What we don’t know we can find online, from credible sources. Some of those sources are the Mayo Clinic, The National Institutes of Health (part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services), the USDA, the FDA, and even WebMD. Just like any resource, no matter if it is a government source or not, I highly recommend verifying information from multiple studies and sources because science, just like anything else, can be highly subjective. Continually thinking about lifestyle, reading food labels, and planning exercise for you and your family will help avoid pitfalls and panic when it comes to the annual physical fitness test.

Often times, for months leading up to the test, Airmen may go on a so-called diet, increase their level of exercise and focus on known problem areas. After the test, despite vows to the contrary, Airmen may slide back into bad habits and physical neglect. Does this sound familiar? Even if you haven’t personally experienced this, chances are you have seen it.

While it is true that serving in the military is a unique occupation that ties physical capability to livelihood, it is also true that just like any other concept, it is about perspective. It’s not necessarily a negative life impact to be held to an elevated moral, ethical, and yes, physical standard. Signing that binding contract of service may help motivate and ultimately instill the habits that provide a healthful life style. And, setting the example physically, emotionally, and mentally doesn’t just affect you, it helps the Airmen, friends, family, and the community that you serve. The other Air Force core values can be used as a motivator here too because in order to perform your job excellently (Service Before Self and Excellence in All We Do) you have to be healthy.

According to the National Institute of Health and Human Services, more than two in three adults is considered to be overweight or obese. And, about one – third of children from ages six to 19 are considered to be overweight or obese. This can lead to a host of physical and psychological challenges like diabetes, depression, and heart disease. As community examples and Airman in the U.S. Air National Guard, what standard should be aimed for? It’s our job to lead the way. It doesn’t have to be overly difficult or painful and it’s not like we have to give up all of our sweets and lazy days. If you’ve tried to completely cut something out, you’ve probably discovered that it is incredibly hard and you may even binge eat that box of chocolate cookies. There is always room for reasonable desert, it’s about mindfully eating.

139th Photojournalist and endurance athlete Senior Airman Sheldon Thompson recommends getting involved. Everyone is different and while the Air Force PT test may be standard, there are many paths to health. While he prefers peddling a bike or running down a trail, someone else may prefer hiking, gym workouts, or kayaking. The goal is to engage in heartrate increasing, sustained activity throughout the week. There are various groups such as Team Red White and Blue, a veteran’s non-profit group, which specializes in connecting veterans with community through fitness and social activities. It doesn’t have to be elaborate though, it’s the daily effort that counts and getting motivation from anywhere, such as friends and family, helps. Why not gather a group to walk with you at lunch?

With twenty four hours in a day, the priority is to make just one hour, or even half an hour, dedicated to movement. Set a fun goal every day and focus on that, not the result. Adventure fitness is the ticket for those who would rather spend time outside exploring. The only thing needed for adventure fitness is an open mind, perhaps a little curiosity, and shoes or a bicycle. Go outside, get your heartrate up and explore. Others would rather watch a show as they tackle the treadmill climb, which is perfectly fine!

Of course nutrition plays a huge role. For most, simpler is better, exercise and eat a balanced diet. If the goal is to lose weight, you have to burn more calories than you take in each day. But keeping track of calories, exercise and activity isn’t easy. That is where technology comes into the picture. Why not use the smartphone for more than just Instagram and Facebook? There are a host of easy apps that can help someone keep track of activities and calories. Some phones like the Apple iPhone (5S and later) and Samsung Galaxy S5 have built in pedometers. While we know that working out is crucial, so is your daily activity, especially if you have a desk job. If your phone doesn’t have a pedometer, activity tracker prices have dropped dramatically. Some of them are as inexpensive as $15. While technology can be overwhelming, in the case of fitness and health, it’s important to focus on what works for you.

If you experiment and find that MapMyFitness is the right app, coupled with a FitBit, or a less expensive generic brand, then stick with it. And, pay attention when that move indicator lets you know that it’s time to get up and take a few steps. Make it a game to track your calories. If you overshoot your calorie intake target, that’s ok, be easy on yourself, and maybe go for a short run or walk after dinner to balance the scales. It’s easier to keep track when the information is on the screen in front of you (this helps with that integrity challenge). While the focus should be making each day count, the long game is how we measure success in inches, pounds, and healthy hearts.

Technology and trackers put the reality of our nutrition, daily activity, and workouts in front of us. They are our personal trainers without the continuing cost. They help us identify trends over time and even connect us socially with friends who are doing the same (strava is like Facebook for active people). My favorite is Garmin Connect (and Strava) coupled with a Vivosmart, Vivoactive, or Fenix 3 for harder training. But, there are a lot of options out there, some smart phone capable and some basic. I’ve included some links at the end of the article to get you started. If you keep at it, it will turn into habit. This lifestyle change will improve your health and turn that annual one hour PT test into just another data point in your already healthy day.

Overall article on the best 2015 fitness trackers

Garmin vivo series




(About the Author: Master Sgt. Shannon Bond is a photojournalist assigned to the 139th Airlift Wing.)

Don’t focus solely on the test

From Marine to Airman

I was standing in the parking lot of the barracks I had called home for the past three years aboard Marine Corps Air Station Yuma. There was a slight desert wind across my bald head, and the sun was brightly shining across cloud free skies, as is common in this Arizona region that is the #1 sunniest place on Earth. That’s not even a hyperbole: Google it. My 2010 Toyota Corolla was accessorized with a small U-Haul sports trailer and in my hand was a freshly signed copy of my DD-214. … I may or may not have been taking a selfie at this moment… It was October 15, 2012 and I was officially EAS’d from the active duty Marine Corps where I served for five years as a combat photographer.

The tiny hair follicles could already be felt piercing through the skin of my face. In a few days I could almost imagine it being evolved into a mountainous beard that could be featured on paper towel ads! … or it’d just be three days worth of fine grained stubble… but in my mind I’d have morphed into a ravage form of the locked-and-popped “devil dog” that I’d been for the past several years. Holey jeans, facial hair and sleeping in til 0700!

I had a great Marine Corps experience and wouldn’t trade it for anything. The pride, honor and occasional misery we all shared is what created the unity to the sacred club of the Eagle, Globe and Anchor. That’s all cliché and great of course. Joining at the age of 27, I wasn’t looking for the military to define me, for I was already quite well define as who I was as a person. When I randomly walked into the recruiter’s office in June of 07’ I was looking for a challenge and a way to experience life!

Challenge accomplished – on to the next.

The official plan was to head back to St. Joseph, Mo., where in the near future I’d be attending Northwest Missouri State University to study Multimedia Journalism. I wasn’t married, I had no kids, and my Marine Corps experience consisted of hopping from unit to unit telling their story through photos and captions. Whether that was a grunt unit patrolling the streets in Iraq, a swarm of AH-1 Cobra’s raining hell from the sky above Yuma Proving Grounds, or hundreds of Marines and sailors manning the rails of the USS Iwo Jima as it coasted through the waters of Hudson Bay.

The first thing I did when I got back to St. Joseph was sign up for a Rugged Maniac 5k mud run in KC. A couple of weeks later I signed up for the Turkey Trot on St. Joe’s river walk. For my entire time in the military all we ever did was run, but this civilian running thing was surprisingly relaxing. No pressure, no competition, no senior enlisted eyes piercing your soul as PFT time came.

That yearly 3-miles we had to run always seemed so hard. It wasn’t because of the distance; it was hard due to the pressure that that particular three miles had attached to it. As I ran that turkey trot, I felt like Forrest Gump. I felt freed from my life of expectations, and “for no particular reason, I just felt like running.” I ran and I ran and I ran and before I knew it… I’d run a 5k.

It was leading up to the Rugged Maniac that I conveniently found a crew to run with, and that is how I got introduced to the previously unconsidered prospect of the Air National Guard. Krista Abernethy and Talia Klein were a couple people on that crew and as we shared stories of our military experiences, joining the Air National Guard just seemed logical. In the position I was in life, having just gotten off of active duty, “two days a month and two weeks a year”, seemed like the least I could do with my time.

I’m not going to lie – after two weeks of being out of the military, I started having withdrawals. While running past Phil Welch Stadium I felt that I wouldn’t mind having a foot remain in the world of the military as I pursue my journey as a civilian. Plus with a measly weekend a month, I’d be exposed to experiences that I otherwise wouldn’t have. Not to mention keeping up my retirement benefits. Win/win situation! However I had to keep my Marine bravado up for a couple months. I couldn’t just join a non-Marine branch without cracking a few pretentious jokes. What would my fellow Marines say if I didn’t give the Air Force a hard time? Ha.

Less than 6-months after I left Yuma and plenty of time to grow a luscious beard, I was clean-shaven and raising my right hand to enlist in the Air National Guard.

I can’t speak for active duty Air Force, but a “civilian warrior” is what it is. I could compare it to the Marine Corps until I’m blue in the face standing up on my chair belting out the Marine Corps Hymn with righteous indignation and waving a knife hand in contempt. The National Guard isn’t active duty by definition. It doesn’t have the same expectations or demands. I’m a civilian, with a civilian job, civilian responsibilities, civilian school and a civilian beard for 28 days of the month. I’m all of this plus a Guardsmen who sacrifices a mere weekend to train to keep my state united, my community safe and prepared to deploy as my job could necessitate. It’s more than that noble description though. I might have joined due to my comfort in the military and wanderlust for experiences, but the Air Guard had a lot of unexpected payouts.   As a Combat Photographer for the Marines I learned a lot of great skills as a storyteller and worked with some very talents men and women who had much to learn from. However, with any active duty military occupation, that experience pool to pull from is limited to the military world.

In my civilian life, as well as being a student, I’m a freelance photographer in the St. Joseph area. After only two years in the 139th Public Affairs I’ve been very fortunate to meet and work with people who do this same thing in the regular life around a four state radius. That experience I have to pull from and the connections I’ve made are priceless to the furthering of my career.

It is more than just some bonus personal development factors though. I feel more apart of the community of St. Joe then I ever had before the Air Guard. We are truly part of the community over here at Rosecrans. Maybe that is because our community in relation to others, truly appreciates the work we do here and the added dimension that we give to St. Joe.   I hear the words of praise from community leaders for the Air Guard while working for the Visitors Bureau covering various award ceremonies. I hear it during the regular visits from the mayor and other civic leaders to the base.   The interwoven tapestry between the Air Guard and the community truly surprises me.

It’s been almost three years since I stood in that dry heat of Yuma, skipping to my car with sweaty hands soaking my paperwork. I still feel like I’m in a transition period. I still feel like I have a lot more ducks to get in the row before I move into my future. I don’t know if St. Joe will be part of it, but I can guarantee the Air Guard will be.

About the author: Senior Airman Patrick P. Evenson is a photojournalist assigned to the 139th Airlift Wing, Missouri Air National Guard

From Marine to Airman

Airman and bearcat

It’s a balancing act between being an Airman and a bearcat. (The bearcat is my university’s mascot.)

My Air Force training pushed me harder than I ever expected, and my transformation from citizen to warrior has greatly increased my confidence.

Still, I take life a day at a time. I stride to live by the Air Force core values of integrity first, service before self, and excellence in all we do.

While in and out of uniform, I aim to serve my family and the community anyway I can.

There are days I find myself struggling to balance being an Airman, a bearcat, and the personal aspects of my life. But neither surrendering nor failure is ever an option in my book. I chose to raise my right hand when enlisting, and I chose to chant, “Once a bearcat, always a bearcat”.

Between those two decisions, I have gained two fantastic families that are supportive and helpful in every possible way, they are part of my home here in Missouri.

If it wasn’t for my family, friends, bearcat family, and my 139th family, I wouldn’t be where I am today challenging myself to exceed the person that I was yesterday.

In my two years of service as of this month, my greatest struggle I have stumbled across is staying ahead of the game. Just with my luck, drill weekend just happens to fall on the exact weekend right before the dreadful sleepless week of finals of nearly every semester.

If it wasn’t for my handy dandy mini calendar notebook, my semesters would be a complete unorganized mission of finding my path through the rugged, tangled jungle.

I have learned to fine tune my time management skill by thinking days and weeks ahead to have an idea of how my semester will play out before the chaos of classes kick in.

Staying positive can be a challenge, but it is one of the key elements to being able to continue pushing forward to the ultimate goal of surviving the life of being a Bearcat Airman.

I remind myself on the daily basis that anything is possible when the right amount of effort and determination is put into it. I made the choice to commit to this journey, and I don’t feel an ounce of regret whatsoever.

About the author: Airman 1st Class Fern Knorr is an administrative assistant at the 139ht Airlift Wing, Missouri Air National Guard, and is a full-time college student.

Airman and bearcat

Staying fit with crossfit

I wasn’t always in shape. In my earlier days, I weighed much more than I do now. I didn’t count calories, I didn’t watch what I ate, and I definitely did not exercise. In fact, I hadn’t even realized how much weight I had gained. The Air Force Fitness program had just been implemented. This includes running, pushups, and sit ups. Insert laughter. I couldn’t even run one lap around the track. In fact I was so out of shape that I was forced to go the Health and Wellness Center for nutrition help. I also had high cholesterol. At that moment, I found a fitness mentor, Lt. Harold Overton….now a lieutenant colonel. He encouraged me, pushed me way past any level of difficulty I could have accomplished on my own. Before long, I was the fastest female in my unit, and was made a fitness monitor with Lt. Overton.

Fast forward a decade or so, insert more laughter…..and here we are. I’m now a master sergeant in the Missouri Air National Guard and I do crossfit and try to eat healthy. I’m here to encourage each of you to push yourself, and maybe decide to try something new. Is there is a moment in your life, a moment when you finally decide it’s time for a change. Maybe your moment is right now? Deciding to change your life is a big decision. It’s not easy to change bad habits, but it is possible if you are willing to just take the first step. I promise you it will be worth it. If you are reading this, you are important to us, to the unit you work in, to this base, and to our mission. We want you here.

Two years ago, I joined a local gym that offers crossfit. I will not lie, I was afraid to try it. I was afraid I might not be able to keep up with these so called “crossfitters”. Two years later, I must tell you, I love it! If you are in the military how can you not love a fitness program that only uses acronyms? I show up every day, knowing that I am going to be pushed to the limits for the one hour I’m in the gym (aka The Box). You can go online and check to see what the WOD (workout of the day), however….I choose not to do this! I don’t want to know! I just go, show up, and go for it. There are many classes each day you can attend, so there is really no way to say you are too busy to attend, as his schedule accommodates everyone. Each class has numerous smiling faces in it, everyone is very friendly, and we all encourage each other. Our instructors teach each class which is one hour long. It includes a warm up, a skill, and the actual WOD.

Joining a crossfit gym, in retrospect, is not nearly as scary as I had thought. They explain everything, they go over each and every single movement, every lift. They even give you alternatives and modifications to the exercises in case you have a previous injury or are unable to accomplish the assigned task. I do not want to know what I need to do at the gym, I don’t want to figure that all out, I just want to be told what to do, and see results. I never thought at 35 years old I would be able to do pull ups, but I can, and I do.

Here are my pro tips for crossfit:
Knee high socks may be old fashioned, but they serve a true purpose in saving shins!Climbing the rope is not out of the question, you can do it! Be proud of that rope burn on your shin! Own it!
Wrist wraps rock!
Gloves are for wimps, calluses are awesome!
No one cares what you look like, just roll out of bed and get to the Box.
Jumping rope is a true talent; those speed ropes whoop my hinnie (you will see why when you miss a double under)
Water bottle required. Your sweat will be dropping on the floor mat, it’s really gross.
No one is watching you, critiquing you. We are too busy working out to notice, we’re all dying just like you!
Grunting at heavy weights? Totally normal!
Crossfit shoes? Yes, they really do help, because they are flat.

About the author: Master Sgt. Thalia Phillips works in the 139th Operations Group, Missouri Air National Guard.

Staying fit with crossfit

Driving the distance

With a guard unit within close proximity to my place of employment, people often ask why I travel so far to St. Joseph, Missouri to be a part of the 139th Airlift Wing.

A little biographical information on me… I reside in a small community in Nebraska about three hours away from St. Joe. To set the record straight, because I do get asked by both native Nebraskans and ‘out of towners’ as we call them; by no means am I a Nebraska Cornhusker fan! My idea of a great game is when Nebraska is losing.

For just under 10 years I was a part of the 155th Air Refueling Wing in the Nebraska ANG; almost half of my military career. After a long conversation with a retired KC135 pilot who I supervised at the time, I decided to entertain the idea of joining the 139th. I was younger back then and in search of new opportunities. The feedback I received from this retiree was that the 139th had everything I was searching for, to include a close-knit community

At first when he brought up a unit in Missouri, I thought, “Missouri? What can they possibly have to offer over there in the sticks?” The same question my Missourian comrades have asked me when I tell them I am from Nebraska. As fate would have it, I ended up spending a week in Alpena, Mich., with the 139th and before that week was up, I had a new home with the 139th. I have never looked back.

Thinking back on those units that I have spent time with (155th Air Refueling Unit, 185th Fighter Wing, and the 132nd Fighter Wing) I could have made myself a permanent member with anyone of them. Yes, some of those units would not require me to stay in lodging because the distance traveled is far less than that of St. Joe. However, each one missed the element that St. Joe has given me for over eight years; a second family. Just like a traditional nuclear family, my second family has taken care of me and given me many opportunities that I may have not otherwise had. They are worth driving the distance for.

About the author: Capt. Rhonda Brown is a public affairs officer with the 139th Airlift Wing, Missouri Air National Guard

Driving the distance

They needed my blood

‘Service before self’ all started 15 years ago at basic training as it does for most of us. However in 2008 it took a new meaning for me during a base blood drive. Sometime down the road I changed from doing the traditional whole blood donation once every eight weeks to sitting on the machine to donate platelets every other week. It was just something I did. I had plenty of blood and if it could help someone else, I thought why not? The routine blood donation that I’d gotten into changed when I got a phone call for a special donation.

They needed my blood. Normally I make a donation of platelets and plasm. Those donations are processed and stored until a hospital calls for it. That’s about all I know of what happens to my blood after it leaves my arm. This was different. They needed my blood now. I had the right blood type, blood count, and I was cytomegalovirus (CMV) negative.   They wanted my granulocytes! Had to google it but google defined it as white blood cells. In less than 48 hours I was in the donors chair with a needle in both arms.

Still, this wasn’t a normal donation; it really gave me a different feeling. My blood wasn’t going into storage until needed; this was going immediately to a little boy fighting for his life at Children’s Mercy. This donation felt more intimate. Before, I had never known to whom or where the donation was going. This donation was going straight off the machine, into a vehicle and to Children’s Mercy; in just five hours, my white blood cells would be in that boy fighting for him.

I love serving my country and my state as an Airman and Guardsman, but the service doesn’t stop there. Who we are as military members, and how you support the community is in your hands. Maybe you’re not into needles or blood but if you can I would highly suggest stopping by your local Community Blood Center (CBC) or check out the next blood drive we have on base. It was only through my donations that the CBC even knew my blood could be used to save that child. Who knows what life you can save?

About the author: Staff Sgt. Eric Stitt is a fuels specialist at the 139th Airlift Wing, Missouri Air National Guard, and a regular blood donor.

They needed my blood