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Michigan Joint Operations Center Keeps Ford Funeral Plans on Track

By Staff Sgt. Alec Lloyd, USAF
Special to American Forces Press Service

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich., Jan. 2, 2007 – Members of the Michigan National Guard are busy here at the Forward Operations Center, helping ensure that all is ready tomorrow for the final phase of the nation’s farewell to former President Gerald R. Ford.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
U.S. Air Force Col. Frank Walker, Michigan Air National Guard, briefs the Forward Joint Operations Center in Grand Rapids, Mich., in preparation for the funeral of former President Gerald R. Ford. Photo by Staff Sgt. Helen Miller, USA

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

An otherwise unremarkable conference room here in the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel has been transformed into the high-tech nerve center for the Michigan Guard’s contribution to paying final respects to the former commander-in-chief.

Two dozen officers and troops are busy coordinating the activities of more than 600 Army and Air National Guard members serving in various capacities, from manning the Forward Joint Information Bureau in the hotel to performing duties at Grace Episcopal Church, the Grand Valley Armory and the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library and Museum.

This is the first time the National Guard has provided this kind of support. Because Michigan has no active-duty units, the National Guard has stepped up to perform the task.

“Our main job here is communication,” said Lt. Col. Sean Sullivan, the day shift supervisor for the FJOC. “It is a significant emotional and historical event. We are doing the best job we can for the Ford family and the country. I’m proud to be part of this organization and this event.”

Rendering the proper honors due to a former president requires meticulous preparation that incorporates appropriate protocols, longstanding traditions and the wishes of the president’s family. Sullivan said the National Guard has been preparing and updating its plan for carrying out this role as far back as 1986.

Sullivan, who grew up in nearby Lowell, Mich., and serves as the Army National Guard’s state training officer, shares the affection many Michigan residents have for the only U.S. president to come from their state. This, he said, gives the Guard's support for the funeral an added emotional impact for many of the participants.

Although most of troops supporting the mission come from the Army National Guard, the Air National Guard has a small but significant contribution as well.

“We have really operated as a ‘purple’ team; we have really integrated,” said Air Force Col. Frank Walker, director of mission support for the Michigan Air National Guard and senior Air National Guard liaison in the FJOC. “We look at ourselves as a total force.”

Walker said National Guard troops supporting the mission recognize that the eyes of the nation and world will be upon them tomorrow. “We are representing all of the Guard,” he said. “This is a significant emotional event. It is a solemn occasion, but it is also the celebration of a great person and a great Michigander.”

Pfc. Timothy Logan and Pvt. Christian Fricke both volunteered to help provide security. Members of Company C, 1st Battalion, 125th Infantry, they were assigned to check identification outside the FJOC and help direct visitors. Both have been in the Guard for two years.

“My mom was the one who got the phone when I got the orders,” said Fricke. “My dad said, ‘You should be really proud; you are making history.’”

Logan agreed. “I’ve never met any president before, so this is really a great honor,” he said.

For Maj. Andrew Roman, assistant day supervisor of the FJOC, the biggest challenge is logistical. Organizing unit requirements and getting the assets in place present their own difficulties, but the New Years’ holiday added a new wrinkle: finding billeting for 650 soldiers and airmen on a holiday weekend when most hotels are already booked solid.

Despite these challenges, Roman said things have gone well. “Most people understood their initial roles in the plan,” he said. He called the funeral activities an opportunity for the Michigan Guard to demonstrate its mission capability to outside agencies.

Sgt. 1st Class Steven Conley, who is serving in the FJOC as the assistant operations noncommissioned officer, summed up mixture of pride, excitement at taking on a challenging mission, respect for Ford and grief over his passing, that many of his fellow Guard members supporting the mission share.

“This is an historic event,” Conley said. “I’m proud to be involved.”

(Staff Sgt. Alec Lloyd serves with the Michigan Air National Guard’s 110th Fighter Wing.)

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