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Wyoming National Guard makes history

On a cold and windy January day, members of the 2nd Battalion, 300th Field Artillery of the Wyoming Army National Guard made history by conducting the first live fire HIMARS Rapid Infiltration (HIRAIN) at Dugway Proving Grounds in Dugway, Utah, Jan. 21-22, 2021.

“For the 2-300th, it’s kind of historic for us,” said Lt. Col. Robert Lemay Lejeune, commander of the 2-300th, emphasizing the importance of this event.

HIRAIN missions have been around for a long time in the military and are a staple of combat in the Middle East that the 2-300th consistently trains for.

“This is one of our mission essential tasks,” explained Training Officer Maj. Shawn Stensaas. “It will help us improve and maintain our proficiencies and relevancy to support missions around the world, wherever they may be.”

The 2-300th first began practice for the exercise in 2015. For this attempt, they utilized a C-130 Hercules aircraft provided by the 153rd Airlift Wing out of Cheyenne, Wyo. Using the aircraft in this method allows the artillery greater mobility and a substantial increase in the overall range of their mission. This tactic makes HIRAIN missions very flexible.

“It can be used in any theatre where you can land a C-17 or a C-130,” explained Lejeune.

While it might appear that the use of aircraft in a field artillery mission like the HIRAIN would be normal, this is not the case. The normal method the soldiers of the 2-300th use to fire their artillery is to drive their M-142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) to a set point on the battlefield and then to fire from that location. While this method can be highly effective, it is limited by the range of the artillery used, usually 18-42 miles. This range can be extended by conducting a HIRAIN mission.

“I can conduct a raid but it’s as far as I can drive and secure myself forward on the battlefield,” explains Lejeune. “Which is relatively short when you compare the distance to an aircraft. So by working with the Air Force, we add this great new capability in terms of range.”

This exercise that took place Jan. 21-22 saw the 2-300th load two HIMARS and one Humvee onto the C-17 Globemaster III. The airplane then took off from Cheyenne and flew to Hill Air Force Base in northern Utah. The following day the C-17 crew flew the members of the 2-300th to Dugway Proving Grounds where the HIMAIRS exited the aircraft, obtained a good firing position, and fired their payload. They then rapidly reentered the aircraft and returned to Wyoming.

This week’s mission included collaboration from an unlikely source, the 315th OSS Airlift Wing out of Joint Base Charleston in Charleston, S.C. The 315th provided the aircraft that would was used for the event, the C-17, a much larger aircraft that allowed the 2-300th to use two of their HIMARS and one Humvee.

This collaboration with the 315th came about by happenstance according to Col. Kent M. Porter, commander of the 115th Field Artillery Brigade, which is the headquarters unit for the 2-300th.

“They reached out to me,” Porter said, explaining how the mission came to life. “They had a mission on the west coast and part of their validation is to take mobile equipment up in their aircraft. I made a few phone calls and we have just built a good relationship that we hope to have continue.”

“We cannot do this without their assistance, it truly is a team effort,” Lejeune concurred.

Given the essential status of the HIRAIN mission in combat operations, training was required to conduct these exercises safely and effectively. The teamwork between the 2-300th and the 315th should continue for a long time.

94th Troop Command welcomes new commander

94th Troop Command welcomed their new commander, Lt. Col. Marko Rubich, on Nov. 14, 2020. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the change of command ceremony that had been planned to be held in Cheyenne, Wyo. was cancelled in order to comply with local state and health guidelines. Rubich took over command from Lt. Col. Toby Alkire.

Alkire, who served as the 94th’s commander for almost three years, will be moving on to become the Joint Director of Operations in Cheyenne.

“I’m really going to miss this position,” Alkire said. “I am leaving with a heavy heart. We have some of the best leaders in the Wyoming Army National Guard in Troop Command.”

Alkire felt a good majority of the success he found at the 94th came from the exceptional command teams, leadership, and full time staff that were there. He was especially thankful for Command Sgt. Maj. Lindsay Schmidt who helped him throughout his command. He felt that he couldn’t have asked for better people to work alongside.

Alkire also said he is going to miss working with the wide variety of units 94th has, but looks forward to working with domestic operations and Homeland Security. He has no fears that the new commander of 94th will do great.

Rubich previously served with the 115th Field Artillery Brigade where he was the deputy commander. He has been a member of the Wyoming National Guard since 2013, after transferring from active duty.

“The command relationship with soldiers is special compared to almost any role you might have,” Rubich said. “It’s an honor to be able to command 94th Troop Command.”

As commander, Rubich plans to focus on individual soldier readiness, deployment readiness and improving and maintaining relationships with the other units that the 94th is aligned to train with.

Throughout his 16 years in the military, Rubich said he has been a part of many units similar to those that fall under the 94th. He hopes to be able to further the units and help them to become better than they were before.

“This is a privilege that only comes around a couple of times in an officer’s career,” he said, “and my door is always open. I am here for every soldier in the formation, all they need to do is pick up the phone and call me.”

Wyoming National Guard concludes Cyber Shield exercise

The Wyoming National Guard partnered with the Wyoming Office of Homeland Security to participate in a Cyber Shield 2020 exercise last month. Army and Air Guard members and state employees came together for the training event to test their capabilities for real-world cyberattack scenarios.

The state of Wyoming gains a lot from this type of partnership. One of the principal responsibilities of the Wyoming Office of Homeland Security is to support local jurisdictions in times of emergency. WOHS does that through a supply of state and federal resources, and partnerships with agencies like the Wyoming National Guard allow them to be able to help the communities of Wyoming.

The event was initially supposed to take place at Camp Williams, Utah. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, they had to re-evaluate and move the training to a virtual environment. Historically, Wyoming has sent service members to Cyber Shield exercises to augment other state and territory teams. This event was the first time Wyoming operated as an independent team, which was in response to being moved to a virtual environment.

Training like this gives everyone hands-on experience in the event they do get asked to support certain cyber defense security situations that might arise. If requested, the governor can activate the National Guard cyber defensive team. They can be called on to assist in an environment that might involve a company’s critical infrastructure.

“Electrical companies, gas companies who have these large industrial control systems in their environment, we can potentially be called in to assist with that,” says Chief Warrant Officer 4 Warren Burgess, the information security manager for the Wyoming Military Department. “Even though they are a private organization, because they are determined to be critical infrastructure, we can be brought in to assist.”

The team kicked off the exercise with a scenario in which a company was concerned about its network. The company asked for recommendations on their security. In the process of helping the company improve its security, the team discovered a breach. They responded to that breach by helping fight whoever attacked the network, tighten it down to where it was safe again, and get the company back to business as usual.

There were several different scenarios presented to the team. These scenarios included issues like website defacement, ransomware, and phishing attacks. Website defacement can be something as simple as changing a picture to make a company look bad. Ransomware is a form of malware that encrypts files, and the hacker demands money to fix said malware. The most common type of ransomware is phishing. Phishing is when a user clicks on a phishing email attachment that could then send usernames and passwords to a hacker who now has access to that network.

But there are systems in place set up to detect these types of attacks. Firewalls, intrusion detection systems, and even just an inventory of a company’s network can alert users to possible issues.

“I am working on the log analysis team. That means I am utilizing tools and an intrusion detection system to try and look for alerts that the system has was compromised,” says Tech. Sgt. Angel Wiles, a cybersecurity subject matter expert and participated in the exercise virtually. “I review lots of technical data that comes through, and then I have to decipher what that means, and what’s happening so that I can report it to other teams who are also helping to monitor for those things.”

These tools help prevent cyberattacks on a system. If they don’t stop an attack, they at least give the cyber team information they need to fight it.

There are a lot of benefits that come from a collaboration like this. Getting to know faces and getting comfortable working with each other will make it easier in the future if they are all pulled in to assist in a cyber-defense situation. The team can also learn the different ways each person does things, and perhaps learn a new, more efficient way to do something.

“I think it’s good to get a lot of outside perspectives, and lots of outside feedback, to say that’s one way to do it, but you could also do x, y, and z,” says Wiles.

The event was also the first time the team operated jointly. No one had ever interacted with each other before. Burgess reached out to find participants from the state first, then asked the Air Guard to see if they wanted to participate. They jumped on the opportunity. The exercise brought all the IT cyber responders into a single environment to train together. Burgess hopes this is the first step to help everyone work together in the future.

133rd Engineer Company completes recertification for reaction force training

The morning began bright and hot as Soldiers from the 133rd Engineer Company formed up and began classroom training outside for their National Guard Reaction Force recertification. The Wyoming Army National Guard partners with the Air National Guard’s 153rd Security Forces Squadron instructors in order to receive recertification.

NGRF falls under the National Guard Support to Civil Authorities, which is the process by which civil authorities can request military assistance. The NGRF is called upon by the governor in the event local law enforcement needs additional support for situations like crowd control or entry point security.

“These are things that need to be done in the event some sort of riot crisis or security issue arises that we need to resolve,” says Lt. Col. Cole Kelly, the Director of Military Support for the Joint Operations Center in the Wyoming Military Department.

Kelly signs the recertification for Soldiers, which occurs annually. Comprehensive NGRF training happens at least quarterly, but can be added to Mission Essential Tasks that are performed more often. The 133rd is the unit designated as the NGRF, and has been training every year for the last four years.

133rd Company Commander, 1st Lt. Eric Jacobs, has been with the unit in different capacities for the last six years.

“The whole time that the 133rd has had this unit, I’ve been involved with this training,” he says, whether as platoon leader, executive officer, or now the commander.

Instruction began with demonstration of different tactics for crowd control, all of them aimed to de-escalate tense situations. De-escalation involves the proper handling of non-lethal baton, shield and pepper spray equipment. The Air Guard instructors gave an overview demonstration of the equipment and then turned Soldiers over to stations for hands on experience.

Quarterly training might have set scenarios to run through, but for this day, Soldiers were given the task to come up with and run through their own scenarios.

“They are going to walk through a patrolling scenario and they are going to have to react to some items, such as an Improvised Explosive Device, or some other security situation. Whatever they decide to come up with,” Kelly says. “They’ll walk through different scenarios at separate stations.”

NGRF training benefits the state of Wyoming in that the unit provides support to local law enforcement when needed. Having a trained force ready, whether they are utilized or not, means they will be prepared if the time comes.

“I think it’s important the community sees this training and the National Guard Reaction Force and the Wyoming National Guard as a whole as a resource for them.” Jacobs goes on to say, “If we get called out, it’s not to police people up, it’s to protect Wyoming’s assets. Our most valuable asset is our people.”