Gallatin is, "an energetic small city set in the idyllic countryside only 30 miles north of Nashville . . . offering a rich variety of recreational, educational, and economic activities you'd expect to find in a bigger city", according to their official website (www.gallatintn.gov). Two key words stand out in that statement-- "rich" and "variety"--and apply not only to activities offered by the city but also the character of those it employs.
1st Sgt. Dustin Dunn, Staff Sgt. Jeremiah Hackard, Staff Sgt. James McFadden, Spc. Barrett Reid, and Spc. Austin McClard, all members of E Troop, 2nd Squadron, 278th Armored Cavalry Regiment, a Tenn. Army National Guard unit based out of Jamestown, are currently participating in the Army National Guard's eXportable Combat Training Capability program with the 278th ACR at Fort Hood during the month of June.
As Citizen Soldiers, three of the men serve as police officers and two serve as firefighters for the City of Gallatin. While this may seem a routine scenario for Guardsmen, nothing could be further from the truth. Five individuals from one employer all serving in the same Tennessee National Guard unit is an extraordinary reality. The fact that these men drive more than 100 miles to the National Guard armory in Jamestown, leads one to ask the simple question: Why do they do it?
Hackard, a section sergeant with the unit, joined the Tennessee National Guard in 2008 for no other reason than to serve his country and the state of Tennessee, and in June 2016, he began serving the city of Gallatin when he joined the fire department.
"I joined the National Guard to serve my country, and it's now a big part of my life." Hackard said. "It's a big family. It's a brotherhood, and that's the same reason I joined the fire department."
The Army National Guard provides its Citizen Soldiers with highly sought after skills that can be applied to any job, and makes Guard men and women an asset to any company or organization, said Dunn.
"Being in the Guard has definitely helped me on the leadership side of things," Dunn said. "I'm a fire officer, so all the leadership traits that the military teaches as you progress within the ranks, translates to the civilian side as far as leading folks, taking care of folks and training folks to do their jobs."
Dunn began working for the Gallatin Fire Department in 2011, and now serves as a lieutenant firefighter. He joined the Tennessee National Guard in 1997, and said ever since the recruiter called him 20 years ago, he hasn't wanted to do anything else.
Not only does the Guard provide skills that make its soldiers great employees, it provides employment opportunities benefits. McClard and Reid joined the Gallatin Police Department shortly before coming to participate in XCTC, and said they received extra points on their application just for being in the Guard.
Not only did they join the police department together, they joined the guard together, graduated high school together and have known each other since they were four years old, said McClard.
"Actually, I had just talked to a recruiter one day, and he texted me out of the blue and asked if I'd ever thought about joining the guard," Reid said. "We actually went to the recruiting office at the same time, too."
McClard and Reid joined the Tennessee Army National Guard in April 2015. McClard joined as a squad automatic weapon (SAW) gunner, and Reid joined as a Bradley Fighting Vehicle driver. They said being able to participate in the XCTC gives them an opportunity to get more proficient at their jobs, and will prepare them to deploy and fight the Nation's wars.
In addition to job training and employment benefits, the Guard also provides education benefits for its Soldiers. Some of the benefits for Guard members include the Post 9/11 GI Bill, the tuition assistance program and a new legislation called the Tennessee Support, Training and Renewing Opportunity for National Guard (STRONG) Act. The new legislation, signed by Gov. Bill Haslam, provides funding for eligible members of the Tennessee National Guard toward a first-time bachelor's degree through a tuition reimbursement program.
McFadden, a master patrol officer for the Gallatin Police Department and a Sumner County emergency response team member, originally joined the Army as an active duty Soldier in 1998. Shortly after he completed his active-duty service, he decided to join the Tennessee National Guard. He currently serves as a maintenance motor sergeant for E Troop, 2nd Squadron, 278th ACR. Originally he joined the military for the education benefits, but his reasoning quickly changed.
"After I got in, I realized it wasn't for the money anymore--it was for the guys to the left and right of me," McFadden said.
The XCTC is realistic and challenging to all participants. The temperature is hot, and it's dusty every day. To describe the conditions as austere would be a good start. Although the training is difficult and mentally and physically trying, it keeps the 278th ACR's Soldiers combat ready and properly trained, said McFadden.
"It's very good training," McFadden said. "It's not great being away from family, but it's all part of the commitment we made. It's part of the service to our country, and we've gotta keep doing it and keep driving on."