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NORTHCOM director of operations emphasizes National Guard families
NORTHCOM director of operations emphasizes National Guard families

Brig. Gen. Stephen Danner, adjutant general of the Missouri National Guard, speaks during the 35th Engineer Brigade Ball at Fort Leonard Wood.
FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. (Feb. 9, 2010) — Maj. Gen. Frank Grass, keynote speaker at the 35th Engineer Brigade Ball on Saturday at the Pershing Community Center on post, said he always will think of himself as a Missouri National Guardsman first.

Grass was the featured speaker at the 32nd annual ball, which included the presentation of the Distinguished Service Award to Maj. Gen. (Ret.) King Sidwell, former adjutant general of the Missouri National Guard.

Although Grass has been the director of operations for Headquarters United States Northern Command at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado since September of 2008, he began his military career when he enlisted in the Missouri Guard in October of 1969. He later completed officer candidate school in 1981 and eventually became commander of the 220th Engineer Company of Festus in 1986 and then the commander of the 203rd Engineer Battalion of Joplin in 1997.

Speaking at his former brigade’s ball was a pleasant homecoming of sorts for Grass.

“It is really outstanding,” Grass said. “A lot of these guys I’ve known for 20 or 30 years. To get to see them and get to see the young leadership in this organization is phenomenal. The fact that many of these folks have had two deployments and some are getting ready for their third speaks volumes. To have that kind of camaraderie and for their families to do that much sacrificing and still stick together is truly commendable.”

Grass, who was introduced by Brig. Gen. Stephen Danner, adjutant general of the Missouri Guard, and Brig. Gen. David Irwin, 35th Engineer Brigade commander, touched on the importance of Family and employer support for Guardsmen.

“Without a family, most of us would not be doing this,” Grass said. “The family has got to be there to stand behind you. When we deploy off, soldiers are busy and their mind is focused on the mission. Somebody back home has to pick up what’s going on back home, whether it’s taking the kids to a soccer game or continuing to work and keep the household going.”

He also addressed the functions of Northern Command and North American Aerospace Defense Command and the fact that Guardsmen need to keep training to be their best because the fight is far from over.

“The young leaders here need to continue to stay the course for the future and share their experiences and professionalism to the soldiers coming behind them,” Grass said. “We need to recognize that we are in a long war and never accept complacency.”

About 300 soldiers and their family members from all of the Missouri Guard engineer units in the state attended the event, which has taken place each year since 1977, except in 2008 when the unit was deployed to Iraq. The ball included a social hour, dinner, dancing and three award presentations.

None was bigger than the Distinguished Service Award presented to Sidwell by Irwin. The award is the third most prestigious in the Army, just below the Medal of Honor and the Distinguished Service Cross. It is the highest non-valorous military and civilian decoration of the United States of America military which is issued for exceptionally meritorious service to the government of the United States in either a senior government service position or as a senior officer of the United States armed forces or other uniformed services.

“Obviously I’m surprised,” said Sidwell, who served in the Missouri Guard’s top position from January 2005 to January of 2009. “It is certainly a great honor and I’m humbled by it.”

Sidwell, who was the assistant corps engineer with the 35th Engineer Brigade in 2004, said he shared the award with all those he’s worked with.

“I received the award because of the work of the Missouri Guard,” he said. “There are 11,000 Army and Air Guardsmen out there that had a hand in the success of Missouri and ultimately the award.”

Also receiving awards presented by Irwin were Spc. Michael O’Callaghan, of the 1138th Engineer Company in Farmington, who was named the 35th Engineer Brigade Soldier of the Year, and Sgt. Antonio Spina, of the 220th Engineer Company, who was named the 35th Engineer Brigade Noncommissioned Officer of the Year.

In addition, Irwin awarded miniature crystal engineer castles to Grass and Danner for their support of the brigade.

Other VIPs who attended the ball included Maj. Gen. (Ret.) John Havens, former adjutant general for the Missouri National Guard, Brig. Gen, Bryan Watson, commandant of the engineer school on post, Col. (Ret.) Brett Hanke, former commander of the 35th, Col. Randy Alewel, the Missouri Guard’s joint staff operations director, Col. Glenn Hagler, commander of the 70th Troop Command and Missouri chief of staff, Col. Gary Gilmore, state chaplain, Command Sgt. Maj. (Ret.) Frank Gross, former Missouri Guard state command sergeant major, Command Sgt. Maj. Matt Jenkins, former Missouri Guard state command sergeant major, and Command Sgt. Maj. James Schulte, the Missouri Guard’s state command sergeant major.

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