CAMP SMITH, N.Y. – Employers from Long Island and the Albany, N.Y., area crammed a four-day training weekend into one day during an Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve "boss lift" to the New York National Guard's Camp Smith Training Site Monday, Sept. 16.
The 20 civilians were moved to and from the camp north of Peekskill, N.Y., by UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters. Once on the ground, they toured the New York Army National Guard's newest maintenance facility, ate a lunch of meals, ready to eat (MREs), and experienced the training simulators at the post.
A high-point for the employers was the chance to fire M4s and M9 pistols on one of Camp Smith's ranges. Sgt. 1st Class Frederick Goldacker, a member of the 2nd Battalion, 108th Infantry, and Sgt. Omar Ortega, a Soldier in the 1st Battalion, 69th Infantry, put the civilians through a quick safety class and then got them shooting.
"It was unbelievable," said Matthew Zink, the training director for the Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Union in Albany.
"It gets your heart going," said Jerry Anthis, a service manager for Sinclair fuels, after firing an M4 on the full-auto setting.
Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, known as ESGR, is a federal program to help business owners and supervisors understand what their employees do as Guard members and reservists.
The goal, said Emil Baker, the ESGR outreach director for New York, is to ease the friction that can occur when a Guard Soldier or Airman asks for military leave.
Bringing employers to Camp Smith to get a brief taste of military life is part of that, said Baker, the owner of the Big Moose Deli in Hoosick Falls, N.Y.
"It gives them the ability to understand that this is not just playtime – the weekends that they go and train – this is an important mission," Baker said.
Bosses can be nominated by the Guardsmen who work for them. In many instances ESGR invites business owners who have reached out for information about the Guard or reserves, Baker explained.
Gina Berrent, a supervisor at New York University Winthrop Hospital, was nominated to participate by a National Guard Soldier who works for her.
"I was so honored that he even considered me for this," Berrent said.
Kevin Peters, a supervisor at the Longwoods Youth Association, said the two Guard Soldiers who work for him recommended him for the trip.
"It was an unbelievable chance for me to come here today and I wouldn't miss it for the world," Peters said.
The event was orchestrated by Maj. Michael Sicinski, a member of the Camp Smith garrison, and 16 Soldiers who volunteered to come in for a duty day.
"I wanted to put on a showcase for the coolest stuff and give them the widest range of exposure, the best bang for the buck," Sicinski explained.
"The guys called it going Hollywood," he added.
To do that, Sicinski rolled out the most impressive simulators the New York Army National Guard has at Camp Smith.
The employers experienced the Engagement Skills Trainer, in which they fired M-4s and M9s at digital targets on standard Army qualification courses, and then conducted simulated missions.
"It was exciting and I hit the targets," said PSEG senior supervisor Lindsay McKinley. "I am a sharpshooter."
The bosses also got a chance to go through the Virtual Convoy Operations Trainer which allowed them to fire an M2 .50-caliber machinegun from a simulated humvee.
"It was very realistic to shoot a .50-caliber gun and just to see the training the guys go through," Peters said.
The best and most impressive event, Sicinski said, was the Range-In-A-Box simulator. This system put the civilians in a close combat environment and let them shoot at real physical targets with soft pellet ammunition.
While the civilian guests had a great time in the simulators, the MRE lunch didn't go over as well as he thought it would, Sicinski admitted.
"The MREs were not a big hit," he said.
"They're interesting," said McKinley, the PSEG supervisor, as she ate chili mac from an MRE packet.
The Soldiers showed the civilians how to use the MRE heaters and discussed the merits of different entrees. They also pointed out that a key part of the MRE experience was trading items.
Berrent said the chicken with tortillas she ate "wasn't so bad," but she opted to top off her lunch with a bag of very civilian potato chips.
"I tried to trade my Reese's Pieces for a Tootsie Roll but I didn't get any," she added.
Most of the Soldiers who put on the ESGR event volunteered to take a day off from their civilian jobs to be there, Sicinski said.
One of those was Staff Sgt. Arthur Harrison, whose drill job is to run the convoy operations trainer.
"It is kind of important and I am glad this program is here," he said. "This way the employers get to see exactly what people do when they come here to train."