Austin FastPark & Relax manager Gina Van Winkle had a pretty unique experience in November. She was able to see a day in the life of a National Guard member at Camp Bowie in Brownwood, Texas. We caught up with Van Winkle to talk about her experience.
How were you able to take part in this program?
Adrian Weaver, one of our staff at FastPark & Relax in Austin, is currently active in the National Guard. An organization called Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR), approached his unit and asked the guardsmen and women if they would like to nominate their bosses to take part in “Employer Day.”Adrian put my name in the hat and they invited me to participate. I was truly honored!
We hear you flew in a Blackhawk helicopter to visit Camp Bowie – what was that like?
This was just as amazing as I expected it would be! We flew very low, only 2,500 feet, so I was able to see a lot of central Texas on the way to Brownwood. I was surprised at how undeveloped Central Texas is! We wore earplugs, so the noise wasn’t too bad, but we were unable to talk to one another. The flight was surprisingly comfortable.
What did you do while you were there?
When we arrived, we went to a rifle shooting simulator and we were all able to shoot an M4 rifle. That was a lot of fun! After that, we toured the training area. The National Guard Homeland Response Force was training to prepare for natural and other disasters that occur on our homeland. They set up huge tents, computers, miles and miles of cable, lights, heat, and whiteboards. Each soldier had a designated task. This is where we met our soldier who talked about what he does.
After that, we drove to the town of Brownwood, where they were setting up an exercise. In conjunction with the city and county, they simulated a train derailment caused by a truck that was carrying chemicals. The officer walked us through the entire process they use to handle the crisis.
After leaving Brownwood, we went back to the base and met our soldier for lunch. He pointed out the best MRE (meals ready to eat) based on lots of experience from his deployment in Afghanistan. He showed me how to warm it up and shared other uses for the packaging and heat source. After lunch, we headed back to where the helicopter was parked. We spent some time talking to the pilots and other members of the guard about their experiences in the Army and their deployments.
Did you gain any insights from your day with the National Guard?
I was so impressed by the organization of the Guard. There are so many moving parts to an operation, and they all work together like a finely oiled machine. I know that they are well-prepared for any scenario that comes their way.
I was also amazed at how appreciative they were to us, the employer. I can’t thank the soldiers enough for their service and sacrifice, but here they were thanking US! I was humbled and honored by their gratitude and willingness to talk about their experiences and their current jobs.
Anything else you'd like to share from the experience?
FastPark & Relax in Austin – and I’m sure other locations – has employed dozens of former military and current Reserves/National Guardsmen over the years. Since we operate 24/7, we are a great place for former soldiers transitioning back into civilian life, those looking for a career and those planning to attend school after military life. We are a flexible workplace and a company that appreciates the sacrifices made by our military personnel.
I have quite a few family members and friends who served in the military, but I never got to see firsthand what a day in the life of a soldier looks like. This is an experience I will remember for the rest of my life!