General’s visit turns impromptu reunion


News staff writer

February 14, 2007

Army Brigadier General Charles Yriate’s visit to the Hood River National Guard Armory on Friday became somewhat of a class reunion — as well as a community event.

Yriate, who commands 47 of Oregon’s Guard units, had originally planned to just meet with Hood River County Commission Chair Ron Rivers. He had heard that Rivers, a former second lieutenant in the Guard, wanted to learn more about the role of today’s citizen soldiers.

But Rivers felt that, since a general doesn’t come to town everyday, the invitation should extend to other government leaders.

So, he gained agreement from Yriate (“Wy-ART-ee”) to arrange a Feb. 9 tour that included: Rep. Patti Smith, whose House District 52 encompasses Hood River County; City Council President Paul Cummings, a Navy veteran; Sheriff Joe Wampler; Sheriff Capt. Jim Tomson, an Army veteran; Bob Francis, city manager and Army veteran; Dave Meriwether, county administrator; and Mike Benedict, county planning director and Navy veteran.

“I thought this would be a good opportunity to let Gen. Yriate know how very proud we are of these young people at the Armory and the services that they provide for us,” said Rivers.

Yriate told the visiting dignitaries that he was on a mission to build a strong working relationship with their respective agencies. He said that partnership would make any response to a disaster more efficient and effective.

He said the Guard was able to mobilize quickly whenever necessary. For that reason, Yriate said the Legislature was looking at turning the Office of Emergency Management over to the military arm of the state.

“We are here to be a resource provider to the citizens of this county,” he said. “We can get the manpower and equipment that they need to the front lines in any crisis,” he said.

For example, Yriate gained ready agreement from Wampler that the Guard had recently provided him with invaluable help. The sheriff was able to call on both ground and air support from soldiers during the December search for three missing climbers on Mount Hood.

In addition, Yriate said reservists from the Hood River Armory had deployed to both Afghanistan and Iraq, assisted Gulf Coast citizens in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and patrolled the Mexican-American border to stop illegal immigration.

“Our soldiers provide support in all areas of the globe. They sacrifice time with their families and time away from their jobs — so this really becomes a community effort,” said Yriate.

During the visit he was flanked by Lt. Colonel Robert Mouw and a contingent of soldiers who oversee operations at the Armory. These individuals included: 1st Lt. Paul Yocum, who supervises drill weekends; Staff Sgt. Benjamin Hall, charged with daily administration and training; Staff Sgt. Genaro Chacon, who provides logistical support for the unit; and, David Arnold, a state worker who keeps track of building rental and maintenance.

For a short time during the afternoon, Rivers and Yriate fell behind the group to scan a yearbook from 1971. Rivers had brought his copy of the Officer Candidate School graduating class to show Yriate.

Rivers had intended to find out whether the general had kept up on the military careers of some of these individuals. Not only did Yriate know some of the same people, Rivers was delighted to learn that he had graduated from OCS in Clackamas County during the same year.

By the end of the afternoon Rivers and Yriate had established a congenial connection. And the general promised to make other trips to the Gorge in the near futur

“I really enjoyed that visit very much. I think, like most people, I take of all these freedoms that we enjoy for granted. But, when I saw that these soldiers were standing tall in their uniforms and truly believed in what they were doing — I felt that sense of national pride again,” said Rivers.

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