Operation Waypoint serves as key component in reaching end-strength goal

Virginia Army National Guard Soldiers learn about the many benefits and opportunities available to them during an Operation Waypoint retention event, Nov. 3, 2018, in Blackstone, Virginia. The Operation Waypoint program was created to assist in reaching the Adjutant General’s goal of growing the overall end-strength of the Virginia Army National Guard to 7,500 Soldiers.(U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Marc Heaton)

BLACKSTONE, Va. – More than 100 Soldiers, representing Virginia Army National Guard units from across the Commonwealth, attended an Operation Waypoint event Nov. 3-4, 2018, at the Blackstone Readiness Center in Blackstone, Virginia.

The Operation Waypoint program, which started earlier this year, was created to assist in reaching the Adjutant General’s goal of growing the overall end-strength of the Virginia Army National Guard to 7,500 Soldiers. The intent of the Operation Waypoint events is to make Soldiers aware of the benefits and opportunities continued membership in the Guard makes available to themselves and their families.

Virginia Army National Guard Soldiers learn about the many benefits and opportunities available to them during an Operation Waypoint retention event Nov. 3, 2018, in Blackstone, Virginia. The Operation Waypoint program was created to assist in reaching the Adjutant General’s goal of growing the overall end-strength of the Virginia Army National Guard to 7,500 Soldiers. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Marc Heaton)

“The purpose of this event is to provide you with information about how your benefits change if you stay in longer or if you decide to get out now,” said Sgt. 1st Class Travis Epling, noncommissioned officer in charge for Operation Waypoint, during opening remarks for the event.

While the ultimate goal of Operation Waypoint is to encourage Soldiers to make the choice to remain in the Virginia Army National Guard, according to Epling, it’s not a hard sales pitch.

“Our target audience is Soldiers who are on the fence about extending or reenlisting,” he explained. “But, we also want to make sure that those Soldiers who do make the choice not to stay get information about what the Guard can help them with if they do get out.”

For Spc. Charisse Beczkowski, a food services specialist assigned to the Petersburg-based 276th Engineer Battalion, her mind was made-up before coming to Operation Waypoint.

“My husband is on active duty and we have a baby girl at home, so I’ve decided to get out,” Beczkowski said. “I came to this event to learn more about what education benefits I may have.”

Pfc. James Walz, however, had a different goal when coming to the event.

“I came here hoping to reenlist,” said Walz, an indirect fire infantryman assigned to the Lynchburg-based 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment. “The Guard has given me a lot. Good pay, benefits, it helps my family. I’m hoping to sign-up for another six years.”

During the event, Soldiers received briefings on topics such as education benefits, reenlistment bonuses, and opportunities to attend specialized schools and training courses, as well as retirement benefits.  Each Soldier also had the opportunity to meet one-on-one with specialists in each of these, and other, areas to answer questions, fix outstanding problems, and process any actions that need to be taken.

“The types of actions and opportunities you have today don’t exist back home at your units because of the levels of bureaucracy that usually exist.  We have all the various specialists and decision-makers available to you here, today,” said Maj. Samuel Allen, support services division chief.

“This is a great opportunity for Soldiers to reenlist and do everything all at the same time, in one place,” said Staff Sgt. Dustyn Carpenter, a food services noncommissioned officer with the Petersburg-based 276th Engineer Battalion.  “Normally, you’d have to go to six of seven different places, or offices, to get everything done.  I’ve got 14 years in, and just now extended for six more. So learning about all of the retirement benefits was really great.”