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Training Boosts Knowledge, Morale

Phoenix Sky Harbor Air National Guard Base -- Servicemembers from the 161st Air Refueling Wing traveled to Camp Navajo, Bellemont, Ariz., to complete annual training requirements Aug. 24 through 30.

During the training, servicemembers received instruction in classroom and outdoor environments. The training consisted of seven different courses: Ability to Survive and Operate, safety, operational security, finance, unexploded ordnance training, land navigation and weapons qualification.

Members of the 161st ARW were assigned to different training groups outside of their normal reporting structure for expanded social interaction.

"It's nice to see servicemembers from different squadrons and flights working and training together," said Col. Kurt Woyak, 161st ARW vice commander and Camp Navajo commandant. "In one training flight, you might have a servicemember from logistics or maintenance and maybe someone from the clinic altogether; they have probably never met each other before now and they get this opportunity to train together and build a relationship. It also helps them perform their job within the wing better, because they now know what other people in the wing do and how their job affects other people on the base."

Senior Airman Matthew Samuelson, 161st Force Support Squadron food services technician and training participant, agreed saying, "It gave me the chance to get to know people in other shops. I know the people I work with and I see the people come through the lines during [Unit Training Assemblies], but this gave me a chance to get to know other people on a more personal level."

Getting to know servicemembers on a personal basis was a sentiment that Master Sgt. Michelle Schwimer, 161st FSS and Camp Navajo first sergeant echoed.

"I especially enjoyed the opportunity as a first sergeant to get to know the members of my squadron back home and spend time with them," she said. "I encourage other first sergeants to come up here as cadre so they can have the same opportunity."

Having opportunities to do things that servicemembers wouldn't normally have the opportunity to do was a big part of Camp Navajo. This was especially true for the participants of the land navigation course, which was a new addition this year.

"Typically only aircrew undergoes this training, but this year we had everyone experience it," Colonel Woyak said. "Being able to use a topographical map and a compass and knowing basic survival skills is knowledge that everyone should have, whether you are flying an aircraft or not. The life support group has done exceptionally well presenting this information."

Airmen also had the opportunity to learn new skills through volunteering to help in the kitchen so that servicemembers from the 161st FSS could be free to experience the training courses as well. Non-FSS servicemembers helped to do such things as prepare sandwiches and chop vegetables.

"We asked cadre who were not training to volunteer in the kitchen and we had a lot of help from them, as well as from the chiefs and senior enlisted," Colonel Woyak said.

Airman Samuelson said he appreciated the help so that he could go through the training.

"During UTA's, we're performing our regular jobs, such as cooking, and we get very little time to complete training requirements so it is beneficial to be able to come up here and take three days to knock out our training," he said. "Plus, everyone's up here enjoying the woods, getting out of the everyday norm and having a good time."

Improving morale was an objective of this year's training, said Colonel Woyak.

"Camp Navajo has really improved our morale, especially because we're out of our normal environment - separating ourselves from the normal regiment in Phoenix," Sergeant Schwimer said.

She said it was rumored that because of the wing's high deployment tempo that servicemembers didn't want to spend time together, but she said she saw groups like civil engineering, which has had a very high deployment tempo, spending time together and having fun.

Chief Master Sgt. Terry Bronson, 161st ARW chief of safety and Camp Navajo cadre agreed saying, "It has been a great boost to morale. Everyone is up here with the same objective - to train. We're out of the heat and having fun."