The Enlisted Association of the National Guard of the United States should have held its annual conference in Arkansas in 2020 – then the COVID-19 pandemic happened. Now the group is set for a re-do in 2022.
The 51st EANGUS Big Dam Conference will be held Aug. 7-10 in Little Rock at the Statehouse Convention Center, 101 East Markham St.
Richard Smith, a retired Air Force chief master sergeant who now works as the National Guard Program Director for USAA’s Military Affairs department, said he has been involved with EANGUS for nearly 40 years.
“EANGUS is a family,” said Smith, who previously served as the 9th Command Chief of the Air National Guard, at the National Guard Bureau command chief of the Air National Guard at the Pentagon. “Going to an EANGUS conference is like going to a big family reunion.”
EANGUS Director Matt Krenz said the 2021 event in Albuquerque, New Mexico, topped out at roughly 1,300 attendees, but he expects an even higher turnout this fall as attendees participate in membership and bylaw meetings, hear from state and national leaders and network among the Air and Army National Guard.
While the “real intent” of the conference is to pass resolutions that determine EANGUS’s lobbying positions for the coming legislative session, it’s also a way, according to Smith, to reconnect with fellow enlisted service members.
“You cover a lot of bases when you go there,” Smith said.
Networking a ‘crucial’ component
Networking at the conference, according to Krenz, is “really crucial.” Service members attending on professional development orders, typically an E-6 and below, haven’t had a lot of opportunities to interact with senior leaders before the event.
The professional development brings together enlisted soldiers and airmen who typically have a specific curriculum, part of which includes breakout sessions for their respective components.
Those sessions address component-specific policies and various equipment and regulatory guidance, among other topics.
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Krenz said that, about five years ago, EANGUS implemented speed mentoring in which state senior enlisted leaders visit with groups of two to three junior enlisted members for five to 10 minutes in a rotation.
“The feedback we’ve gotten has been phenomenal,” Krenz said.
The National Guard Bureau chief typically speaks at the conference, discussing his perspective on what’s happening in the National Guard. A representative from VA – either the secretary or deputy secretary – will provide an overview on happenings in VA “and highlight any major issues they are working on,” according to Krenz.
For EANGUS exhibitors
Additionally, at least 150 vendors and exhibitors are expected to showcase services and products to EANGUS membership.
Smith, who has been with USAA for 12 years, said the company has had a presence at EANGUS since 1996 when it opened eligibility to enlisted forces.
His goal as an exhibitor is to connect with members and receive feedback. The majority of EANGUS members already are USAA members, Smith said, so his role is more one of awareness.
“A tremendous number of them come there just to say hello because it’s their company,” he said. “…When they stop by, they’re saying, ‘How’s my company doing?’ or they want to tell me a success story.”
There are also networking opportunities in the exhibition hall, where company representatives can talk to guardsmen who might have the skill sets companies are looking for. The 2021 event featured 111 exhibitors.
Registration remains open
New this year, a 5K will be held as part of the conference. The race will start in a park near the Big Dam in a down and back course across the dam.
While there’s business to be conducted, for Smith, the real purpose is the people.
“To me, as Dick Smith, it’s all about the networking,” Smith said. “I get to see people I’ve known all my adult life.”
Krenz said that EANGUS is in “constant communication” with Arkansas to stay apprised of COVID-19 case levels. As of press time, there were no mask or vaccine mandates in Arkansas, though the convention center itself could require masks.
To register for the EANGUS conference, visit https://eangusconference.org/.Read comments