Bluegrass Guard hits 40 years of service

In 2020, the Bluegrass Guard magazine is celebrating 40 years of publications under its namesake, with more than 100 issues digitally on file dating back to February 1980. (US Army National Guard graphic by Sgt. Alan Royalty)

Story by Sgt. Nasir Stoner, 133rd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

FRANKFORT, Ky. — The Bluegrass Guard is celebrating 40 years of publications under its namesake, with more than 100 issues digitally on file dating back to February 1980.

Serving the men and women of the Kentucky National Guard, the magazine has chronicled the news and events of the organization, and continually evolved for nearly 100 years.

William Henry Jones, Kentucky’s 32nd adjutant general, founded the first publication dedicated to the Kentucky Guard’s interests. On May 21, 1929, the first monthly publication of “The Kentucky Guardsman” was released. The news bureau, which also owed credit to Jones’ tenure, has since been replaced with the Kentucky National Guard’s Public Affairs Office. 

The news outlet’s name changed to “The Bluegrass Guard” in 1980. 

Retired Col. Philip K. Miller worked with the publication from 1987 until 2009 as the State Public Affairs Officer.

When the publication was put on hold, Maj. Gen. Billy G. Wellman, the Adjutant General of Kentucky from 1977 to 1987, asked Miller to bring the magazine back in 1987. 

“We wanted everyone in the Kentucky Guard and their families to see what the troops were doing and put the Army and Air Guard all in one publication,” Miller said.

One of the Bluegrass Guard’s primary roles was making sure the Soldiers received command information every month.

“We were keeping the troops informed,” Miller said. “Leadership always had a column where Soldiers would read straight from command what they needed to know.”

Retired Staff Sgt. Dave W. Altom worked alongside Miller with The Bluegrass Guard for more than 25 years. He spent 12 years as an editor and made lasting contributions to the magazine.

“The purpose of the magazine is to tell the Kentucky National Guard’s story,” said Altom. “With all the good we do in the Guard, if no one knows about it, the value is diminished.” 

The Bluegrass Guard evolved from a newspaper available at armory newsstands into a magazine delivered to every KYNG Soldier. 

“The magazine was sent out to every Soldier in the guard,” said Altom. “We’ve had people call in saying they didn’t get their copy, and that made us feel good to know people want the magazine.”

Not only was the magazine enjoyed locally, but copies also made their way well outside the borders of the commonwealth. Its reach expanded over the years, winning several Army and National Guard awards, including being named the best publication in all the National Guard in 2014.

“The Bluegrass Guard began life as an Army-centric publication highlighting the accomplishments of the Kentucky Army Guard,” said Lt. Col. Dale Greer, Kentucky Air National Guard Chief of Public Affairs. “But it has grown over the past 20 years to become one of the premier joint-service publications in the entire National Guard.”

Greer said he appreciates that the magazine can include the Air Guard and the Army Guard and thoroughly tell the Kentucky Guard’s story as a whole of two parts.

“The fact this magazine devotes a considerable amount of coverage to the Air Guard side is unique,” he said. “And I look forward to seeing each issue to learn more about my Army brothers and sisters.”

Retired Brig. Gen. Scott Campbell has been featured in the Bluegrass Guard over the years and is a longtime consumer of the magazine. He believes the magazine is a useful retention tool for the Guard since it highlights individual Soldiers’ efforts during missions and training.

“I get a lot of different publications in the mail, and the only one I read from front to back is the Bluegrass Guard,” Campbell said. “It’s nice seeing familiar faces in a publication, and I don’t see that in other magazines.”

Today, the publication is designed and crafted by public affairs specialists of the 133rd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment and overseen by the Kentucky National Guard Public Affairs Office in Frankfort, Ky.

In 2005, after the 133rd MPAD deployed, and Col. Miller was also on an individual deployment, the Kentucky National Guard was left with a lone-wolf: Altom was in the thick of a surge in Iraq, and a KYNG mission to exceed 7,000 Guardsmen at home. With no one to tell the story.

Before the days of social media, The Bluegrass Guard magazine was one of the only ways to keep the Soldiers and Families informed. Altom knew he had to enlist help, or their stories may get lost forever.

Plugging away at administrative duties, a then-Spc. Gina Vaile (currently Sgt. 1st Class Gina Vaile-Nelson) was plucked from the G1 and transferred to PAO to assist Altom with the daily duties of Kentucky’s public affairs. Her reassignment was coordinated between leaders who recognized she had a degree in journalism and background in newspapers. With Altom’s oversight, the two worked as a pair to reboot the magazine after nearly one year without any release.

“The Bluegrass Guard is good for the families to see what we’re doing while we’re away from them,” Vaile-Nelson said. “Before social media was as accessible as it is today, I was able to tell the stories of these people and their family members and have them excited about it coming back.”

Vaile-Nelson said she feels the magazine is a mark in the Guard’s history. It held importance to her, its readers, and the Soldiers and Families highlighted within its pages. 

“The Bluegrass Guard is an awesome and accurate representation of our history,” she said. “You can look back through the years and see that we were exceeding the standard then and how the Kentucky National Guard continues to excel. It’s an evolving piece of history.”

Throughout her years of involvement with the Bluegrass Guard, Vaile-Nelson covered various intriguing stories from different Soldiers and Airmen. One of her favorites, however, was not about a Soldier or Airman.

She once wrote a story on a child whose father deployed. The young girl hand-stitched teddy bears, stuffed them, and then gave them out to all the kids in her father’s deployed unit.

The Guard gave her an award for her support. Then the story was published in the Bluegrass Guard. Vaile-Nelson made lifelong friends with the girl through the process, even to where she spoke at the girl’s college assembly on Veteran’s Day.

“Not only did I get to tell a story, but I made a friend for the rest of my life,” she said. “Every one of us who took a picture or wrote on that story, we can give you a second or third or even fourth story from that story and share something that impacted us. That’s what I cherish most about it.”

In addition to the MPAD’s involvement in storytelling and information gathering for the Bluegrass Guard, the unit developed the Unit Public Affairs Historian Representative (UPAHR) program so Soldiers could tell their own unit’s stories.

The UPAHR program ensured these units’ memories and information did not get lost in history when public affairs specialists are not around.

“We have all these stories to tell of the places we have been and the good work we have done. If we don’t [capture the moment] right away, it might get lost forever,” Vaile-Nelson said.

Sgt. 1st Class Scott Raymond, a public affairs specialist in the 133rd MPAD, contributed his editing skills to the magazine for more than ten years.

“It is said that journalism is the first rough draft of history, so the magazine is an important historical document,” Raymond said. “The magazine’s longevity is significant because we’ve been able to continue to put out printed editions while many states no longer do.”

Raymond covered plenty of stories and captured the experiences of Kentucky Soldiers and Families all around the commonwealth, and even while overseas.

While deployed to Iraq in 2011, Raymond said the magazine published one of his pictures as the cover for the first time.

“A highlight in my career has definitely been playing a role in the success of the magazine. It is a team effort in every issue, and that effort reflects the great work showcased by our Guardsmen in the pages,” he said.

The public affairs office still produces the magazine two to four times each year for mailing to all Kentucky Guardsmen and their families.

The Bluegrass Guard will continue to be an essential part of the Kentucky National Guard’s history and will tell the Guard’s story for years to come.

A digital version of each magazine issued is accessible online here

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