July 11, 2009

Richmond recruiters well received at Richmond International Raceway

By Sgt. Andrew H. Owen
Virginia Guard Public Affairs

RICHMOND, Va. —Soldiers of the Virginia Army National Guard were out in full-force at the Richmond International Raceway the week of June 27. Between the 29th Army Band, a color guard team and Soldiers from the Virginia Army Guard Recruiting and Retention Command, the pit area was literally crawling with men and women in fatigues.

  Virginia Guard at the Richmond International Raceway

Spc. Justin Jones greets Indy driver Dan Wheldon before the Suntrust Indy Challenge June 27 at RIR. Jones was selected as the "Hometown Hero," an outstanding Soldier chosen to represent their hometown, their state, and the National Guard. Jones recieved special treatment, including pit access during the race, the chance to participate in prerace ceremonies,and the opportunity to line up with the team next to the car during the National Anthem. (Photo by Sgt. Andrew H. Owen, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

As early as Thursday, June 25 Soldiers from Virginia Army National Guard R&R were seen at the raceway participating in several events held as part of the pre-race activities for the June 27 Suntrust Indy Challenge, including the “Indy Experience” and the opportunity to get autographs from the different racecar drivers.

Area recruiters used the race events as a way to give back to some of the Soldiers and local supporters of the recruiters who have helped identify potential recruits in the past, according to Sgt. 1st Class John Lewis, a Richmond-based recruiter.

During the “Indy Experience” Soldiers invited from the Dove Street Armory in Richmond were given the opportunity to don racing suits and helmets and strap in to a special two-seat National Guard Indy car where they were sped around the track for three laps at 160 MPH, according to Lewis

“It was the most fun I’ve ever had on the ground,” said Staff Sgt. William George, an airborne qualified recruiter.

Thursday also provided the Soldiers the opportunity to meet some of the racers in person and get their autographs. The Soldiers were able to meet such famous racers as Danica Patrick, and driver of the National Guard number four car, Dan Wheldon.

One Soldier, Spc. Justin Jones, was selected to be the “Hometown Hero” for the race and all the pre-race activities. Jones was selected by his company commander for his outstanding work while deployed to Iraq with the 237th Engineer Company in 2008. As part of Jones’ duties he sat next to all of the Indy drivers during fan autograph sessions and gave out his autograph to fans alongside the drivers.

“He was as much of a hit as the drivers,” said Lewis.

  Command Sgt. Maj. David Hudson

The National Guard Bureau Senior Enlisted Leader, Command Sergeant Major David Hudson poses with "Firehawk" at the Richmond International Raceway June 27. (Photo by Sgt. Andrew H. Owen, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

The day of the race Soldiers and their guests were given a tour of the Panther Racing Team No. 4 National Guard trailer where they were given the chance to witness crew members running last-minute checks and analysis of the race car. The car was fitted with a special decal for the race. The decal was a depiction of the Virginia National Guard Joint Force Headquarters’ unit patch, the same patch worn by many of the Soldiers in attendance.

Prior to the playing of the National Anthem by the 29th Army Band the night of the race, Jones was recognized onstage in front of the crowd in the grandstand for being an exemplary Soldier who has served his commonwealth and country both domestic and abroad. The race fans welcomed Jones with large applause and cheers.

Between the adrenaline from watching the race and the fanfare of the star-studded race teams, many Soldiers in attendance had the time of their lives during the long hours spent at the race complex that weekend.

"I have been a Recruiter since 2002, and this was without a doubt, the best race ever. I especially enjoyed the 'red carpet' that the Panther Racing Team rolled out for us Soldiers and our guests," said Sgt. 1st Class Michael Girardi, a Richmond-based R&R noncommissioned officer.

While Dan Wheldon did not finish first, he did finish in the top 10, which will still draw fans’ attention to the National Guard-sponsored car and driver and will continue to help draw new recruits in to the Guard each year.

“The Guard sponsors the Indy racing team to help with brand recognition. We want the general public to recognize the National Guard and think of us when it comes time to think about the military service,” said Lewis  “Our trackside display offers opportunity to talk to potential recruits who we normally would not have contacted, we usually get a few recruits enlisted from each race, especially NASCAR races.”

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