By Sgt. 1st Class Jon Soucy
National Guard Bureau
ARLINGTON, Va. (11/28/12) - It's a scene that is perhaps as old as the U.S. military itself –Soldiers gathered around a cot or makeshift table, playing cards during downtime.
The Soldiers relax and joke while Command Sgt. Maj. Brunk W. Conley uses each card game as a perfect opportunity to talk with them.
"I could sit and talk with young privates and specialists all day long," said Conley, the sergeant major of the Army National Guard. "I'm a high school physics and chemistry teacher. I like being around the kids. It keeps you young. They keep you engaged and realize what makes this country great."
As part of his visit to New York to get a feel for National Guard response to the disaster, Conley not only spent time talking with Soldiers during downtime, but also spent time with them as they took part in debris removal and cleanup operations in Queens, water and food distribution in Brooklyn, and various other points along the way.
Conley said he was impressed by the Soldiers, the work they were doing and the dedicated response they had to simply "help out."
"I think that's universal throughout the Guard," Conley said. "Those are your neighbors. That's your state. That's part of what you signed up for."
The response, Conley said, was no different than when Guard members helped in 2005 when Hurricanes Katrina and Rita devastated New Orleans.
"The spirit of the Soldier and the Airmen was the same," he said. "There was no difference. I'm here to help my neighbors."
The difference, however, was in the geography of the affected area.
"I think we were able to downsize-right size-a lot quicker here," he said, in reference to the Guard response.
"They weren't dealing with floodwaters here," said Conley, who served as part of the response to Katrina. "They were dealing with the initial storm surge and the damage from that, which was just as devastating as Katrina, but they didn't have the standing water to have to deal with over time."
Responding to incidents such as Sandy is one of the reasons many Soldiers who took part in relief operations enlisted in the Army Guard, said Conley.
"I would ask each group how many of them joined to do this and 75 percent of the hands would go up," said Conley. "They joined because they wanted to be a part of things. They wanted to be engaged in missions at home and overseas, but they also wanted to stay in their communities and help their state."
And at the peak of operations, more than 12,000 Guard members responded from
21 states and the District of Columbia.
"These young kids, these young Americans, are the true epitome of the Citizen-Soldier," Conley said, adding that speaks volumes about the future.
"The future is solidified by those great privates and specialists out there over these last three weeks of Hurricane Sandy (relief operations) showing, demonstrating to America what we're capable of doing," he said.
The trip itself was planned weeks before Sandy made landfall as a way for Conley to get a sense of issues affecting the enlisted members of the Army Guard.
But, with Guard members responding in the aftermath of the storm, Conley said it provided an opportunity to meet with Soldiers "as they were doing their mission and talk with them about what motivates them and what they're doing (as part of response efforts)."
And for Conley, it comes back to spending time listening to Soldiers and hearing their concerns, which he said is one of the things he enjoys most.
"I hit the lottery," he said. "I can't believe they're paying me to do this stuff."