Story by Staff Sgt. Scott Raymond, Kentucky National Guard Public Affairs
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="570"]
Gen. Frank J. Grass, chief of the National Guard Bureau speaks with Soldiers with the 138th Field Artillery Brigade at the Wendell H. Ford Regional Training Center in Greenville, Ky., April 17, 2015. During his three-day visit, Grass met with Soldiers and Airmen across the state, attended Thunder Over Louisville and Military Appreciation Day at Keeneland in Lexington, Ky. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Scott Raymond)
-- Military challenge coins are handed out everyday for excellence, but it's not everyday that a Soldier's first coin is from a four-star general. That was the case for Pfc. Lauren Walker, a combat medic with the 1163rd Area Support Medical Company.
"That was my first coin, my first big recognition as a Soldier that I'm doing the right thing," said Walker. "It's a pretty big deal to me."
[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="381"]
Pfc. Lauren Walker with the 1163rd Area Support Medical Company speaks with Gen. Frank J. Grass, chief of the National Guard Bureau at the Wendell H. Ford Regional Training Center in Greenville, Ky., April 17, 2015. The 1163rd was finishing up the unit's pre-mobilization training prior to a scheduled deployment to Afghanistan this spring. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Scott Raymond)
"It means a lot to us that he came down here from D.C. to see the little 1163rd. It was a great reminder for us to stay motivated to keep up the hard work and keep driving on."
Visit our flickr page for more photos of Gen. Grass' visit to Kentucky.
For Soldiers with the 1163rd, pre-mobilization training was going according to schedule April 18 at the Wendell H. Ford Regional Training Center in Greenville, Ky. Then in the middle of a field training class, everything came to a brief halt as Gen. Frank J. Grass, chief of the National Guard Bureau rolled up on their location.
Escorted by Maj. Gen. Edward W. Tonini, Kentucky's adjutant general, Grass visited as part of his initiative to travel to every state and territory to personally thank Guardsmen around the Nation.
"Every time I travel, one of the things I find is I learn something about the National Guard that I didn't know," said Grass. "Getting to visit Soldiers and Airmen here and learn about the missions that you all are doing is phenomenal."
[caption id="" align="alignright" width="255"]
Gen. Frank J. Grass, chief of the National Guard Bureau speaks with Kentucky Guardsmen of the 1163rd Area Support Medical Company during a visit to the Wendell H. Ford Regional Training Center in Greenville, Ky., April 17, 2015. Grass thanked the Soldiers for their service and answered questions from them on the state of the National Guard. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Scott Raymond)
"You think about the number of people that serve in uniform, this is an all volunteer force, and you've got to thank them," he said.
Grass observed part of the training class then spoke with the unit about their upcoming deployment and their thoughts on being a part of the Guard.
"What I find interesting everywhere I go is how young the force is, how talented and how astute they are to what is happening in the world, and they know exactly why they're joining."
Sgt. Duncan Wooster's story also inspired Grass. Wooster enlisted late in life and has a stable career as an airline pilot, but is also determined to be a true non-commissioned officer to the 1163rd. Grass complimented Wooster on helping young Soldiers of the 1163rd to devise plans to be smarter with the extra money they will make during the deployment.
"I'm excited and very honored to go work with such a great group of people and just want to try to influence them to make better decisions," said Wooster. "I took everything Gen. Grass said to heart and was very impressed that he took time to come out in the field to see us. It was an honor to meet him and speak with him one-on-one."
The National Guard chief's visit left a positive buzz with the unit. A drive that their leadership hopes carries them into and through their deployment to Afghanistan.
"The time Gen. Grass spent with the Soldiers indicates to me that we stood out and made a positive impression on him," said 1st Lt. Anna Mataspha, officer in charge of the 1163rd's training. "How many other units in the Guard have come across the Chief of the National Guard, that's pretty special and it elevates us to be even better than what we already are. It's a great boost right before they deploy."
During his three-day visit to Kentucky, Grass also met with Soldiers of the 138th Field Artillery Brigade in Greenville and Soldiers with Charlie Co., 1st Battalion, 376th Security and Support Aviation upon his return to Louisville. Grass was also an impressed spectator at Thunder Over Louisville, April 18 and a special guest at Military Appreciation Day at Keeneland in Lexington, Kentucky, April 19.
[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="381"]
Gen. Frank J. Grass, chief of the National Guard Bureau and Chief Master Sgt. Mitch Brush speak with Spc. Kyle Shenk with the 138th Field Artillery Brigade during Thunder Over Louisville, April 18, 2015. Grass visited with Kentucky Guardsmen on duty for the event throughout downtown Louisville. (U.S. Army national Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Scott Raymond)
"Thunder Over Louisville was just phenomenal and to see how much the military was involved, the salute to Veterans, the salute the Kentucky Army and Air National Guard, there was a half-million people there and you couldn't move without bumping into a Guardsmen or their family member somewhere."
In awe of the events and the participation of the Kentucky Guard, Grass departed Kentucky with final thoughts to the Citizen-Soldiers and Airmen of the bluegrass.
"I would tell them thank you for serving your nation and look at the opportunities you're getting as a member of the Guard, and thanks to their families and employers. It all becomes a family and the Guard is more family than anything I've seen."