More than 30 Arkansas civic leaders and employers boarded a C-130 military aircraft at Little Rock Air Force Base Wednesday, Oct. 23, inroute to Norfolk, Vir., to take part in ESGR (Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve) Bosslift 2003.
With the end of the draft, defense planners foresaw a potential problem with the nation's reserve service members and their civilian employers. The Deportment of Defense chartered the National Committee for ESGR in 1972 to inform employers of the ever-increasing importance of the National Guard and Reserve, and to explain the role of these forces in national defense.
Participants in Bosslift 2003 traveled on Invitational Travel Orders, from the National Committee, which allowed them to fly aboard the C-130 and to be admitted to some restricted military facilities, while in VA for three days.
Other than the noise factor onboard the C-130, participants marveled at the smoothness of takeoff and landing, as compared to their more familiar commercial flights. Passengers sat facing the rear of the airplane, which was opened upon arrival at Naval Station Norfolk, for an oversized picture window view of the largest naval base in the world.
Visitors were assigned spacious accommodations at the Bachelor Officers Housing, on base. Meals, tours and travel arrangements were scheduled by ESGR State Chairman, Melvin Thrash, and his 36 member ESGR state committee team.
While at Norfolk, the participants toured the USS Elrod (FFG-55), a twenty-first century battle frigate. The ship is also home to 216 officers and enlisted personnel. Narrow passageways, steep ladders, and cramped sleeping accommodations are all just part of the job for the crew on board. They all perform their task with calm efficiency.
Bosslift participants visited CINCLANTFLT (Commander in Chief of the United States Atlantic Fleet) Headquarters, for a command center briefing by CDR George Martin. Martin reviewed the responsibilities of the Atlantic and Pacific fleets and the coordination of the two fleets through what is now known as NORTHCOM (the new homeland defense-oriented Northern Command), located in Cheyenne, Wyom.
Martin reviewed the changes since 9-11, and how the command center received their first views of the terrorist attack on the towers in New York City. Martin was quick to praise the job done by civilian media reporting.
Participants visited the Naval Air Reserve where they were allowed to climb on board a MH-53E Sea Dragon Helicopter, U.S. military's largest and most powerful helicopter. The MH-53E's primary mission includes mine sweeping, neutralization, hunting, destruction, channel marking, and surface towing. The secondary utility mission involves the movement of cargo and equipment and the transportation of passengers. There is room for a jeep with a trailer, 55 passengers or 24 litters onboard.
They also boarded a E-2C Hawkeye, the Navy's all-weather, carrier-based tactical warning and control system aircraft, which uses computerized sensors to provide early warning and threat analyses. It is a high-wing aircraft with stacked antennae elements contained in a 24-foot rotating dome above the fuselage.
Commander Ulysses O. Zalamea welcomed the group aboard the USS Oak Hill (LSD 51), the third of a new class of amphibious ships. The primary mission of this Whidbey Island (Cargo Variant) ship is to dock, transport and launch the Navy's Landing Craft, Air Cushion (LCAC) vessels and other amphibious craft and vehicles with crews and Marines into potential trouble spots around the world.
While on board, Commander Zalamea presented ESGR Chairman Thrash with a plaque of appreciation for taking part in Bosslift 2003.
On the shores of Chesapeake Bay, the visitors toured Assault Craft Unit Four and toured a static display of Landing Craft Air Cushion and posed for a group picture. The Air cushion craft is used for transporting, ship-to-shore and across the beach, personnel, weapons, equipment, and cargo, by use of a high-speed landing craft capable of carrying a 60-75 ton payload. The air cushion allows this vehicle to reach more than 70 percent of the world's coastline, Bosslift participants visited Fort Monroe, Langley Air Force, and the 480th Intelligence Group, with members of the 123rd Intelligence Squadron personnel made up of Arkansas Air National Guard members.
Throughout the visit participants were allowed to talk with guardsmen and reservist from Arkansas. Each person had their own story to tell, of how they were going about their everyday lives one day, and found themselves activated and in Virginia the next, leaving home and family behind to answer the call to service for America.
Personally getting to meet the servicemen and women from Arkansas brought the whole visit closer to home, and gave it a personal touch.
Fighting the war against terrorism without the services and dedication of the Guard and Reserve and their employers, would be an impossible feat.
"Our military force is not large enough to get the job done without the Guard and Reserve," said Chairman Thrash.
Bosslift 2003 was deemed a huge success by those who were fortunate enough to make the trip. Observing the dedication and commitment of the Guards and Reservist, seeing their willingness to train and master difficult task and challenges--put things in proper perspective.
The ride home on the C-130 was quieter than the first. The conversations were of gratitude and praise for service jobs well done. The reflections were of those bright eyed self-sacrificing people in uniform, who when called, were ready.