Tag Archives: Eppley Airfield

The Origins of the Nebraska National Guard

May 15, 2017 by
Photography by contributed by Nebraska National Guard

Wanderings of a lame cow set in motion forces that led to the establishment of the Nebraska National Guard.

“It started when President Franklin Pierce signed the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854, creating the Nebraska Territory and opening the frontier to settlers. That summer, an ill-fated bovine wandered from a Utah-bound Mormon wagon train into a large Sioux camp southeast of Fort Laramie (at the time located within Nebraska Territory, now Wyoming), where it was subsequently killed and eaten by young tribesmen. Demanding the arrest of those responsible, the Mormons reported the incident to Lt. John Grattan, the inexperienced leader of Fort Laramie’s U.S. infantry regiment.

Chief Conquering Bear (Brulé Lakota) refused to surrender the young men who had killed the cow, explaining they had done nothing wrong; the cow had voluntarily entered their camp, and, besides, the supposedly guilty men were visitors belonging to another band of Lakota, the Miniconjou. Grattan’s regiment opened fire and mortally wounded Conquering Bear; however, the infantry proved no match for the Brulé warriors, who completely annihilated the military detachment, killing Grattan and his 29 men. Author Douglas Hartman explains the anecdote in his book, Nebraska’s Militia: The History of the Army and Air National Guard.

The “Grattan Massacre” (aka “the Mormon Cow War”)—and the federal government’s failure to fulfill treaty promises—incited bands of Sioux to continue terrorizing settlers on the Mormon and Oregon trails. To augment federal troops, on Dec. 23, 1854, acting Gov. Thomas Cuming issued a proclamation creating the Nebraska Territorial Militia, which later became the National Guard.

The proclamation recommended “the citizens of the territory organize, in their respective neighborhoods, into volunteer companies,” which were grouped into two regiments: one north of the Platte River and one south. Cuming further instructed, “Companies are not to use force in invading or pursuing hostile tribes, but only in self-defense, and then no longer than necessary.”

Funding did not exist, however, so the early militiamen were expected to provide their own arms and equipment. By spring 1855, the state’s first organized units were formed: the Fontanelle Rifles in the town of Fontanelle, some 40 miles north of Omaha, and the Otoe Rifles in Nebraska City. Nebraska Gov. Mark Izard ordered the Rifles to protect Fontanelle, Elkhorn City, and Tekamah after “the Sioux” killed two area settlers. The Indians were nowhere to be found when the militia arrived, so troops spent the summer catching large-channel catfish from the Elkhorn River while “protecting” settlers. This became known as the “Catfish War,” writes Hartman.

When the Civil War broke out in 1861, Nebraska militias became more involved in fighting against tribes, since most of the nation’s federal military was consumed by the war, says Jerry Meyer, historian for the Nebraska National Guard. Additionally, two Nebraska volunteer militia units fought for the Union in the Southeast.

When Nebraska achieved statehood March 1, 1867, it joined a nation in transition. With the war over, potential recruits had little interest in joining formal militia units, which the new state couldn’t afford to equip anyway.

Nebraska relied on loosely organized, independent militias until 1881, when legislation reorganized them into the Nebraska National Guard, increasing its role as a peacekeeper during times of civil unrest, settling conflicts with Native American tribes, and deploying the first Nebraska troops internationally for the Spanish-American War.

The Nebraska Militia of 1854-1867 wrote the opening chapters of an ongoing legacy of service to the nation, state, and communities. The tradition continues with today’s modern Nebraska Army and Air National Guard, says Lt. Col. Kevin Hynes, spokesman for the Guard’s Public Affairs office.

Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, more than 10,000 Nebraska National guardsmen and airmen have supported missions overseas and within the United States. When not on federal active duty, the service members remain in Nebraska, available to local authorities during emergency situations.

The Guard was instrumental in protecting Omaha and other Nebraska communities, for example, during the 2011 Missouri River flood, which threatened Eppley Airfield and OPPD power plants. The summer-long flood closed numerous traffic bridges, making it impossible to cross the river for more than 100 miles between Sioux City and Omaha, and between Omaha and Kansas City. Hynes says guardsmen provided surveillance and bolstered levees, and they also provided security for evacuated homeowners.

Currently, the Nebraska Army National Guard is undergoing its largest force restructuring in 20 years. Affecting about 1,100 Nebraska soldiers–or roughly one in three–the changes are bringing in new military occupational specialties, such as engineering and military police.

The realignment will provide current soldiers and those interested in joining with better opportunities for personal and professional growth, from the time they enlist until the time they retire, without having to travel extensively from their hometown communities.

The Nebraska National Guard Museum, located in Seward, Nebraska, is a prime resource for National Guard history, research, and local entertainment. Visit nengm.org for more information about the museum.

Famous Omaha Guardsmen

Warren Buffett

Long before becoming the “Oracle of Omaha,” he was simply Corporal Buffett, enlisting with the Nebraska Army National Guard in 1951 after graduating from Columbia University. The future Berkshire Hathaway founder served six years as a pay specialist, telling the Prairie Soldier newspaper that his financial background probably had something to do with the assignment. One of about 70 members of the Omaha-based 34th Infantry Division Headquarters Company, Buffett told the newspaper of the Nebraska Army and Air National Guard that his fellow guardsmen were “as good of a group of guys that you could’ve found.”

Andrew Jackson Higgins

Expelled his senior year from Omaha’s Creighton Prep for brawling in the early 1900s, Higgins later was praised by President Dwight Eisenhower as the man who won World War II. He designed and built the “Higgins Boat,” a landing craft that unloaded troops across open beaches instead of at heavily guarded ports. This Allied attack strategy was pivotal to the D-Day invasion of Normandy. Higgins served in the Nebraska Army National Guard, attaining the rank of first lieutenant, and learned about boat building and moving troops over water during militia maneuvers on the Platte River. A historical marker honors him in Columbus, Nebraska.

Visit ne.ng.mil to learn more about the Nebraska National Guard.

This article printed in the May/June 2017 edition of Omaha Magazine.

Castle in the Woods

November 3, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Henry David Thoreau had Walden Pond. Yogi and Boo-Boo had Jellystone Park. Mary and Alex Graeve have Hitchcock Nature Center.

Their backyard is the 1,270-acre preserve located just five miles north of Crescent, Iowa. Mary and Alex are the children of Amy and Chad Graeve. Chad is the park ranger and natural resource specialist for the land situated in the heart of the Loess Hills.

The unique geological formation was created after the last Ice Age when glacial flooding receded along the Missouri River basin. Much of the remaining sediment was swept away by winds and settled in layer upon layer to form the steep, rugged terrain that is known for its sometimes challenging hiking trails. The park is also a Mecca for area birders, especially because of its position along what is called “Hawk Highway,” a major migratory path for birds of prey that will remain particularly active through December.

“I grew up in the country,” says Amy, a substitute teacher in the Lewis Central Community School District, “and this, to me, is the only way to live.”

The park is not only a place of great natural beauty, it’s a place of romance. The couple met when Amy brought her students to Hitchcock on a field trip.

“I had a habit of flirting with all the prettiest teachers,” Chad says with a wry grin.

Chad is also a wild-land firefighter, which means he may be called away with only hours notice to hop a plane at Eppley Airfield. His most recent assignment had him battling a blaze in Montana last August. Amy worries about the perilous work, and the lingering stench of smoke that forever permeates his firefighting gear is a constant reminder of danger.

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The park has not always been the pristine, densely wooded landscape familiar to campers, birders, and hikers today. The campground, for example, was built over a junkyard.

“That’s where we go to find stuff,” says Mary. A raised eyebrow and questioning look is all it takes for Alex to chime in. “You know…stuff…a wagon wheel, an old high chair,” he says. “The best, coolest stuff.” The Graeve kids are natural-born archeologists when it comes to excavating the flotsam and jetsam of what to them are relics on an ancient civilization.

“We call it treasure,” Mary says. “The highchair is our throne, and we have a castle in the woods,” she says in describing a primitive shelter they erected near another of their hidden get-aways, a double-super-secret treehouse.

Imaginations in Hitchcock park, it would appear, run as wild as the surroundings.

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Living in the woods may seem a barrier to socialization for the kids, but Amy believes they have struck a nice balance. Mary and Alex make instant—if temporary—friends with the children of families staying in the nearby campground. They have robust school, extracurricular, and sports lives. And the children frequently host fireside sleepovers.

“We instill in our kids that, first and foremost, they should be the best of friends because they do spend so much time together,” Amy says. “This is our little place—our family place—and the way we live ensures that family comes first.”

If family comes first with the Graeves, a deep respect for nature isn’t far behind.

“My role is to be a steward of the land—to take care of it, to help it heal,” Chad explains. “Introducing people to that concept of stewardship and helping them to connect with nature,” he says, is one of the most rewarding parts of his job.

“Hitchcock is a very special place,” he continues, “and I have the special privilege of doing my part to keep it that way.”

Visit pottcoconservation.com to learn more.

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Nicole 
Carrillo

April 9, 2015 by
Photography by Keith Binder

Originally published in March 2015 HerFamily.

Nicole Carrillo says she can make friends anywhere. Even at the airport.

Case in point: On a chilly night in November, Nicole stood with her fellow Thrive Club members at Eppley Airfield holding colorful signs. Nicole’s read “WELCOME TO OMAHA!” with the O’s shaped like hearts. Moments later, wild applause, laughter, and some tears erupted from the relatives, students, and coaches gathered for this moment.

Nicole’s soon-to-be-new friends were a refugee family just arriving from Burma. Marisol, Nicole’s mother and one of the sponsors of Thrive, was overwhelmed as tears flooded her eyes. “It was life- changing,” Marisol recalls.

Members of the Thrive Club, along with Lutheran Family Services, provided a cozy home environment for the immigrant family in an apartment volunteer’s chocked full of groceries, clothes, and furniture.

Nicole, a junior at Northwest High School, had filled out a grant to present to her principal, Thomas Lee, to do something for a family that would be lost in a foreign world.

Emigrating is hard, scary, often emotionally draining. Nicole’s empathy stems from hearing the story of her parents. Marisol, a native of Mexico, left for the United States in her teens to pursue a cosmetics license. It was difficult, she says, but she argues she had it easier than her husband Joel, who she would later meet in English classes.

Joel started his first job in the “worst town you can think of”—Aguascalientes, Mexico. He loaded heavy bricks into trucks and, along with 15 or so other boys, sold them house-to-house. He was five at the time. Joel came to the United States when he was 15. Later, he worked 60 to 70 hours a week while attending college classes at night, sometimes even taking a course during his lunch hour.

Nicole sees what her parents had to go through—all their hard work. So she strives to be the best. As a 4.0 student, Nicole is currently right behind her best friend for the top spot on the GPA ladder. “It has been a long steady fight,” she says, “but it’s all in good fun.” However, like most high achievers, Nicole gets upset if she receives a B on a test or paper, but her parents do not.

“My parents are like ‘you are doing the best you can,’” Nicole says resting her hand on her cheek during a recent interview.. “Love them.”

Nicole says attending Northwest was one the best decisions she has ever made. “She is one of the best ambassadors for the school,” Lee says. Nicole is active in all aspects of the school, including student council, National Honor Society, and choir. She has won numerous community service awards and was one of five in the nation to be selected for the National Youth Advisory Council.

Nicole is now eager to show the Burmese family all the “simple things we take for granted” around Omaha—“like the mall and zoo,” she says.

“Nicole has the heart to help…to make a better world,” her mother says proudly.

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Cindy Meister Diaz

March 19, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Cindy Meister Diaz has one heck of a commute. As the general manager of American Airlines in Omaha who lives part-time in Dallas, she frequently commutes from Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) to Omaha’s Eppley Airfield.

Diaz, originally from Scottsbluff, Neb., has been with American Airlines for 24 years. She worked her way through the ranks until she ended up at DFW as the general manager, doing everything from reception to managing the union guys on the ramps.

“I was working in Dallas for about a year and a half or so when the general manager in Omaha got a job in Orange County,” Diaz says. “It was right as we were getting ready to merge with US Airways, so they were looking for an interim to come up here as a commuter.”

It was Omaha itself and a push from her now-husband that led Diaz to apply for the promotion, which was originally supposed to be a six-week stint. After naming a few people she thought would be good for the opportunity, Diaz threw her own name into the discussion and now commutes about every other week back to Dallas.

“My favorite commute is on Friday afternoon when the last flight is going out to Dallas, and I hop on it to spend the weekend with my family. Then I come back Sunday night,” Diaz says.

The flight that is “one hour and 23 minutes at an altitude of 33,000 feet” hasn’t quite become routine for Diaz yet.

“I still love it. I still love the way it feels when you take off, I love a little bit of a bumpy landing,” she says. “And I’m an obsessive crocheter when I fly. I bring my own in-flight entertainment!”

But she’s not alone. American Airlines has more than 25 employees that have crazy commutes. She says her favorite thing is asking a fellow employee where she’s headed and hearing, “Oh, I’m working Rome tonight, I’ll see you Thursday.”

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