The Delaware National Guard uses drills to train how to handle emergencies.

For Sgt. 1st Class Brandon Kelly, being a member of the Delaware National Guard is not a job – it’s actually fun.

“I was able to stay local and help out my community, and do Army stuff all at the same time,” Kelly said of his initial interest in the Guard. “And, yeah, it is a lot of fun. It’s a lot of good training, and the people that you meet and work with are all highly motivated people, all willing to help out their communities and their nation.”

In his 13 years with the Guard, the 27-year-old from Wilmington has seen tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and conducted training exercises in the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.

Kelly is one of hundreds of active members in the Delaware National Guard who spend one weekend a month and two weeks a year ready to provide support in situations ranging from non-emergency situations to full-scale enforcement of martial law.

Disaster drill

Two weeks ago, Kelly was overseeing aspects of a preparedness drill – “Operation HIGHBALL” – held at the Guard’s New Castle headquarters, working with Combat System Engineers from throughout the state and the region, with the goal of forming a CSE platoon.

The three-day-long drill saw over 300 Guard personnel from Delaware, Pennsylvania and Virginia plus numerous civilian, state and federal agencies in a scenario where a commuter train collided with another train carrying chemicals.

The exercise saw Guard personnel dealing with the collateral damage that follows such a disaster.

“We were out in the training area doing wide-area search techniques, looking for hazmat containers or casualties from the exercise,” Kelly said.

Capt. Corissa Gott of Dover, who is entering her seventh year in the Guard, was one of the coordinators and planners, noting that it took over a year of planning.

“We kind of went off of what Delaware’s used to [like] hurricanes and snow storms,” Gott said of the planning process. “But a train derailment – we wanted to throw that twist in there; it’s something we’re not used to.”

She said in situations like the exercise, the Guard is there to support state services and agencies, should those agencies be overwhelmed in the face of an emergency.

“Not that [the state] can’t handle it – if they don’t have the capabilities, the equipment and the teams to go in there and perform certain specialized [tasks],” Gott said.

Being part of a team is one of the aspects that attracted her to serve in the Guard.

“It’s about pushing myself, too, and becoming a more well-rounded person,” she said. “I’m thankful for the opportunity.”

Public affairs director Capt. Bernie Kale, of Magnolia, said they would support the response efforts in the state, and sometimes in the region, if called upon to respond to just about any emergency.

“From natural to man-made disasters, the National Guard has been the go-to people to immediately support an incident,” Kale said. “We’ve responded to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, Hurricane Sandy in [New York and New Jersey], coastal flooding in Delaware, winter storms and more. The Guard is constantly training and preparing, so that when something goes wrong in the region. We stand ready.”

The Delaware National Guard has also assisted in U.S. military operations overseas.

According to Kale, there are nearly 3,000 citizen soldiers and airmen in the Guard, with roughly 750 full-time staff and 30 state technicians.

Service commitment and pay

A potential recruit has typically a three or six-year service contract with training one weekend a month (drill weekend), two weeks a year (annual training) and if a state emergency were declared, they could be called up to active duty to provide support in response efforts.

Members are paid the same base pay as active-duty military members, Kale noted.

“We only train two days a month so our paycheck is typically smaller, but the daily rate is the same,” he said.

The Guard offers full college tuition reimbursement, and enlistment bonuses that can run up to $20,000, Kale said.

“The bonuses are subject to change but that’s what they’re offering right now,” he said.

Guard history

The Delaware National Guard is a state government agency. It onsists of the Delaware Army National Guard, and the Delaware Air National Guard.

While the Delaware Army National Guard traces its roots to 1636, the Militia Act of 1903 ratified and organized the states into the current system. The Delaware Air Guard was formed in 1946, and was first fully assembled for stateside duty during the Korean War.

Maj. General Carol Timmons was the first woman to lead the Delaware National Guard as adjutant general. She retired in March after two years in command.

In 2018, the Delaware Army National Guard promoted its first female citizen soldier, Brig. Gen. Karen Berry, to the general officer ranks at their Smyrna Readiness Center.

A 31-year veteran of the Guard, Berry said on the day of her promotion last winter that she is often asked why she has stayed in active duty for so long.

“I’ve stayed all these years because many of you who are here today. You are part of my family, and I love my National Guard family,” Berry said.