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SUPPORTING WEEKEND WARRIORS

THE NONPROFIT THAT WATCHES OUT FOR THE WELFARE OF KANSAS NATIONAL GUARD MEMBERS

Article by Linda Ditch

Photography by Provided

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Most people think of the Kansas National Guard as a part-time military made up of men and women who show up for drills one weekend a month and two weeks during the year. However, the role of these "weekend warriors" has expanded. Now it is common for Guard units to deploy overseas right along with the regular active-duty military. 

Unfortunately, their benefits don't often fit their expanded role. That's where The Enlisted Association of the National Guard of Kansas (EANGKS) steps in to help. This nonprofit organization, comprised of Army and Air National Guard members and their supporters, works to ensure those who serve receive the status, welfare, and professional development necessary to support their careers.

"Most people don't stop to think that we've been at war since 1991," explains Troy Abel, a former EANGKS president and retired Kansas Air National Guard member. "Before Desert Storm, the Guard was what they called a ready reserve. But we're really not a ready reserve anymore. We're constantly deploying. That's our federal side. On the state side, we also have to maintain our readiness in case we have to help out with a natural disaster or things of that nature. I don't think a lot of people think about how much we are actually working like active duty right now."

With the COVID-19 pandemic, more guardsmen were engaged in domestic activity than ever in the history of the National Guard. They provided logistics for distributing medical supplies and medical help for testing in the early days, followed by assisting in vaccine distribution. 

The EANGKS's role is to make sure as guardsmen move through the different active statuses, their benefits and supports are in place. This is done primarily by promoting legislation to meet these goals. However, the association does not support any political candidates or parties.

The current EANGKS president for this year is Steve Peyton. Vice president Eugene Bradley oversees the group's legislative agenda on both the state and national levels. 

Abel notes, "Being on state active duty is very much different than being on federal active duty. When you're on federal active duty, you have the insurance and all the protections the federal government provides. When it comes to a state level, states do this individually. We just want to make sure that if somebody were to be injured or disabled, they are taken care of instead of just being left hanging."  

  For example, several years ago, the Kansas legislature passed a bill intended to give a property tax break to all state guardsmen, but the wording was for "active" Guard and reservists. "Active" is just one of three National Guard classifications. So only about 10-percent of guardsmen got the benefit.

The law was updated during the most recent legislative session. Abel says, "It's a perfect illustration of why we're here. To make sure lawmakers are informed when they're voting on issues that affect guardsmen. That they truly know, beyond just the dollars and cents, the effects of the legislation."

The general public can support EANGKS through donations for scholarship and disaster relief funds, participating in fundraisers such as the annual golf tournament, or becoming a corporate sponsor. More information can be found at eangks.org.

Traditionally, the golf tournament is done in conjunction with the state EANGKS conference. However, with the gathering being virtual in 2021, the tournament was held in Topeka in June. Because of the substantial local support for that event, EANGKS is considering creating an annual Topeka tournament along with one at the conference.

"Not many people know a lot about the Guard, but pretty much everyone knows somebody in the guard because they're all around you," says Abel. "They're citizens just like you are that have volunteered to step up and put themselves in harm's way if a disaster or national defense calls them to do so. Any support you can give us, you're investing right back into the security and safety of your state and nation." 

Visit https://eangks.org


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