Guard changes provide women more opportunities

Upcoming changes for the North Dakota National Guard in the western half of the state mean more opportunities for female soldiers, a wider variety of career choices in military specialties and greater accessibility of the units to the community.

Upcoming changes for the North Dakota National Guard in the western half of the state mean more opportunities for female soldiers, a wider variety of career choices in military specialties and greater accessibility of the units to the community.

It also signifies the largest restructuring of all Army forces - active, Guard and Reserve - since World War II. It's the biggest NDNG transformation since 1955, when the state moved from infantry to engineer units.

The Guard's new modular structure basically means smaller units rather than large battalions to meet specific needs, Dickinson Sgt. 1st Class Brian Schmoker said. A press release and talking points dated Sept. 12 add the brigade-based units will no longer be tied to a specific division. This makes them rapidly deployable and better able to conduct joint operations. The National Guard also is provided the same equipment as a similar active duty unit, the release stated.

"If the Army calls upon them, they will have the training, the background, the knowledge to do so," Col. Bill Prokopyk said of the brigade-based units. "We have to do our part for national defense. Our Guard members and Guard units have all kinds of flexibility to get things done."

Modifications in the Dickinson area are slated to begin Oct. 1, with the conversion taking two years to complete.


Gov. John Hoeven and Maj. Gen. David Sprynczynatyk announced last week the Guard is about to undergo its largest transformation in more than 50 years. A press release states the Guard leadership has planned future force structure for several months to posture the organization for relevancy with today's Army and Air Force and the modular unit concept.

The changes also better posture military resources within the state for response to emergency scenarios such as fire, flood and blizzard support, the press release stated.

This does not signal the closure of armories or a reduction in force structure, said Prokopyk.

"The new force structure will enable our National Guard to better support the active forces as well as serve the people of North Dakota in an emergency," Hoeven said in the press release.

The transformation has already begun with the Fargo-based 119th Fighter Wing moving from the F-16 Falcon to the C-21 Learjet and Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS).

Adjustments in Dickinson include the change from a combat engineer unit to a horizontal engineer unit. A combat engineer unit provides mobility and counter-mobility support to maneuver units in building obstacles to block the enemy and making paths through enemy obstacles for combat forces. A horizontal engineer unit utilizes heavy construction equipment such as dozers, pay loaders and graders to support the needs of the Army, Schmoker said. This basically means completing dirt work, building and repairing roads and clearing rubble, he added.

The horizontal unit is not a combat effects unit, allowing greater prospects for female recruits. In the previous military occupation of combat engineers, females were not allowed into that military occupational skill.

"What this means for Dickinson and the western side of the state in general is we will have heavy equipment onsite to react to natural disasters, such as the snowstorm of Oct. 5," Schmoker said.


The force structure in Dickinson will change as well, with company headquarters in Dickinson in charge of the horizontal platoon, a horizontal platoon in Williston, an equipment support platoon in Mott and a dump truck section in Hettinger. The area Guard will retain a detachment of combat engineers as well, Schmoker said.

These particular changes are occurring in Dickinson so heavy engineer equipment on the eastern part of the state can be spread out to be more available in times of need, Schmoker said. Primarily, equipment that already exists in North Dakota will be re-distributed across the state, he added.

The changes will make the Guard an operational force, rather than a strategic force, and will offer the opportunity for local soldiers to expand their career and travel horizons, Schmoker said.

"Everyone is leery of change, but I think in the end, it will be good," he said. "There's growing pains, but it will be pretty much beneficial for everybody."

The greatest benefit to the transformation is the local unit will be able to offer more and faster services to the communities in western North Dakota in times of need and "better able to support a state mission here," Schmoker said. While the change isn't necessarily creating more jobs, it is adding variety for soldiers to do something in their area of interest, he added.

"We owe a service to the community and it's my job to take care of the soldiers as well," Schmoker said. "A large part of it is to spread out the assets throughout the state."

There won't really be a change in recruiting efforts, Schmoker added. Recruiting for this past year has been one of the best on record, and that ties into the fact the Guard can now sign up more females, he said.

A possible downside is the fact Schmoker now needs to bring together four cities instead of just one to form a cohesive team that can respond when called upon to do its job, he said. The unit as it sits today has 114 people, a number which will increase to 160.


"It's a command and control issue for me," he said.

Schmoker foresees the unit needing a larger motor pool in the future and expressed a concern about lack of space for storing equipment.

Unit number designations will change, with the unit falling under the name of the 816th Engineer Company Horizontal and the Williston unit Detachment 1, 818th Engineer Company (Sapper).

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