TUCSON, Ariz. --
Nearly 100 business leaders from the Western United States and Guam converged on Arizona's 162nd Fighter Wing at Tucson International Airport Oct. 27 and 28 to learn about the Air National Guard's mission and people.
Lt. Gen. Harry M. Wyatt III, director of the Air National Guard, hosted a Business and Industry Days
event at the Air Guard's international F-16 training unit to give the employers a clear picture of how Guardsmen simultaneously serve the nation and the civilian work force.
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The regional event was started in 1972 by the first Air National Guard director, Maj. Gen. I.G. Brown, as a way to reconnect Air Guardsmen with civilian employers during the Vietnam War. Today, with fewer Americans serving in the U.S. Armed Forces, Air Guard officials view Business and Industry Days as an important vehicle to create awareness and support for America's Citizen Airmen.
"We've tried to keep alive this tradition because we recognize the important role that employers - business and industry - play in mission accomplishment and supporting our Guardsmen and families," said General Wyatt.
"We hope to show them a day in the life of their Airmen. By running them through the different venues we have planned for them here they'll have a deeper appreciation for their Airmen and likewise will understand that our Airmen appreciate what our employers do for them. We hope these individuals will have a good experience and will go back to their state and spread the word about the value of hiring Guardsmen and the quality of work and individuals they have in their employ."
Adjutants general from 10 western states and Guam personally invited the most influential business leaders from their areas to participate. They arrived here with representatives from their state's Air Guard to experience several aspects of military life.
On the first day, the group shared a combat dining out where they were served unitized group rations from a Single Pallet Expeditionary Kitchen, or SPEK. The Air National Guard Band of the Southwest from California played during the dinner, after which, General Wyatt spoke about the overall history and mission of the Air Guard.
Day two began with briefings from 162nd Fighter Wing leadership, Employer Support for the Guard and Reserve, and Air National Guard Command Chief Master Sgt. Chris Muncy. The group then toured the base to see the mission first hand.
They flew F-16 simulators, visited with maintenance personnel, witnessed the power of an F-16 afterburner during an engine test and watched base firefighters perform an aircraft fire extraction demonstration where Airmen rehearsed a pilot rescue exercise.
"I'm really impressed. This has given us the kind of exposure to the military that otherwise we would never get," said Shawnie McLaurin, a Human Resources Manager for NV Energy in Las Vegas, Nev. "It definitely gave me a sense of what our servicemembers go through and their degree of commitment and dedication to our country."
"I must say that everything here is so well organized and first class all the way. We are learning so much that we can take back to our workforce as we look at ways to serve as you serve."
According to Command Chief Muncy, programs that help educate employers and the general public are extremely vital for today's Guard and Reserve.
"Most people don't know who we are and that's on us. We have to go out and tell our story," he said. "It's good for our Guardsmen and it creates one more group of advocates."
Muncy also said the 162nd Fighter Wing was the right platform for Business and Industry Days due to its history, reputation and fighter training mission.
"You have so much to see here and people love to see single-seat fast movers," he said. "Besides, you can't beat Arizona weather in late October."
"I want to thank the 162nd for hosting this because it's an extremely important event," said General Wyatt. "We wanted to highlight the 162nd because we thought it would be representative of the type of training and job skills required to be an Air National Guardsman."