Cross-border Guardsmen Find Opportunity to Serve

  • Published
  • By TSgt. Dan Heaton
  • 127th Wing Public Affairs
While most members of the Michigan Air National Guard hail from - not surprisingly - Michigan, that does not necessarily have to be the case.

Technical Sgt. Oscar Burkes is a case in point. A resident of Toledo, Ohio, Burkes serves with the Michigan Air National Guard's 127th Civil Engineering Squadron based at Selfridge Air National Guard Base, about 20 miles north of Detroit. Burkes transferred to the Michigan Guard in 2007 after the unit he was serving with in the Ohio Air National Guard disbanded as a result of the 2005 national Base Realignment and Closure Committee (BRAC) plan. Burkes was one of four Ohio Guardsmen who made the move in 2007.

"I wanted to continue to serve," said Burkes, "and work toward a retirement from the Guard."

Burkes and another former Ohio Guardsman, Master Sgt. Heath Laprad, recently spent two weeks serving with the 127th CES in the west African nation of Ghana, helping to rebuild a classroom training facility at Ghana's Acota air base.

Lapard said that the camaraderie of working with his fellow Guardsmen - either in the States or in far-flung locations like Ghana - is what prompts him to continue to serve.

Lapard and Burkes were serving together with the Ohio Air Guard at Sather air base in Baghdad when the word came that their Ohio unit would be disbanding. Lapard said he started making the arrangements to transfer to the Michigan Guard while still in Iraq.

Though Lapard served for about 10 years in the Ohio Guard after initially spending four years on active duty with the Air Force, he now lives in southeastern Mich. Guardsmen who live in border regions of the various states often cross state lines to serve in units that are convenient to their homes or have openings for Airmen with their particular skill sets. Lapard is the noncommissioned officer in charge of the engineering assistant unit at Selfridge ANG Base. He does similar work in his civilian job. Burkes is a utilities specialist with the Guard. In his civilian job, he works as an over the road truck driver for UPS.

Burkes was one of the few Michigan Guardsmen who had ever been to Africa prior to the Ghana trip.

In the 1980s, while serving on active duty with the U.S. Marine Corps, Burkes served as an embassy guard at the U.S. embassy in Djibuti, on the eastern side of Africa.

In total, Burkes spent six years working as an embassy guard with the Marines, also serving at embassies in Hungary, Japan and Yugoslavia, where he was able to attend part of the 1984 Olympics in Sarajevo.

"The war that tore apart Yugoslavia just broke my heart," Burkes said. "It was such a beautiful country and to see what happened there just a few years later was terrible."

"Working as an embassy guard, I got to see a lot of things and go places you don't normally get to go in the Marine Corps," Burkes said. "Now, I am going different places and seeing different things with the Guard."