Taking It to a Higher Level

PFC Ray Birch

PFC Ray Birch

Tipping the scales at nearly 300 pounds in high school, Private First Class (PFC) Ray Birch says military service was the last thing on his mind. His father was a retired Marine, and military service ran in his family, but when he graduated from high school his physical condition was not in his favor.

His attitude was a totally different story.

The young man – who would eventually serve the State of North Carolina as a Military Police Officer in the Army National Guard – became an avid volunteer in his hometown of Havelock, NC. He served the Parks and Recreation Department doing just about anything they asked, which included organizing logistics for events, driving VIPs, and even dressing up as the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus to entertain the kids.

PFC Birch says he was eager to serve in whatever way he could, so the town gladly accepted his volunteer work on two additional boards, which gave him the opportunity to establish greenways and other nature preservation efforts throughout town.

While his love of community service was growing, his health was still at risk. After a frightening visit to the doctor and a reminder of the diabetes that affected some family members, PFC Birch decided enough was enough. The weight was coming off.

Through a disciplined diet and lots of exercise, he shed 120 pounds. It wasn’t easy, but PFC Birch wasn’t going to let any obstacle stand in his way.

“I haven’t had a Big Mac, Whopper or soda in seven years,” he says.

As the weight started to come off, the doors to his future swung wide open.

He attended classes in manufacturing technology and started a career as a machinist. While he had established a way to earn a paycheck, his heart was still tied to serving the community. The National Guard, he says, was as an opportunity to take his commitment to community to an entirely new level.

“It’s an honor and a privilege to serve North Carolina,” he says. “This is where I was born and it’s an honor for me to do what I do.”

When it came time to choose a Military Occupational Specialty (MOS), PFC Birch remembered that his uncle was a retired Army Military Police Officer (MP), and he thought the values embodied by the position would fit his own values perfectly.

As it turned out, he was right. The MP motto is “to assist, protect, and defend.”

“Being the police of the military, I can help other Soldiers live the military values and show them how to do it,” he says. “And I can assist our community and protect fellow citizens when they are in a time of need.  I’m still a volunteer at heart. The MP fits that.”

The police methods and skills he learned through the National Guard led to a position as a security officer at a local hospital, so PFC Birch now keeps things under control on duty and off. Plus, he continues to serve his hometown through volunteer work.

His transformation from overweight high school kid to a fit, strong National Guard Soldier, security officer, and community volunteer has opened his eyes to his own potential and what he can do in the future.

“I believe in the military values: never accept defeat, never quit, and never say you can’t. I lived those [ideals] before I joined the Guard and the Guard has taken them to a higher level.”

Right now he’s thinking about his options, which include making the National Guard a full-time career, or sticking to part-time Guard service with a civilian career. He says he can see himself going back to school to get his bachelor’s degree, moving on to become a State trooper, and possibly even running for State senate.

“I love this State. I put my heart and soul into this State. My ultimate goal is to serve North Carolina, to try to make the world a better place.”

If you’d like to see a whole new perspective on what you can accomplish, visit the Army National Guard jobs board and contact a Recruiter today.

Share on FacebookShare on Twitter

Helping Others, Here and Abroad

Sergeant Eric McVay

Above, SGT McVay completes Color Guard Duties on the final day of the Wild Canyon Games last summer. He and seven other Soldiers from A-Troop, 1/82 Cavalry Regimen (41st IBCT, Oregon Army National Guard) competed in a Nike-sponsored adventure race that consisted of triathlon, geocaching, and various other high intensity events.

By the time Eric McVay was a senior in high school, the community service section of his resume was a mile long. It already included volunteer work for Portland-area food kitchens, homeless shelters, and Special Olympics events, as well as two service mission trips to Mexico (Tijuana and Vicente Guerrero) and a Hurricane Katrina Relief mission to New Orleans.

“My school did a lot of community service work to help others.”

So after graduation, when he was deciding which branch of the military to join, McVay went with what he knew: helping others, here and abroad.

“The National Guard really was a perfect fit for me. I could serve my country and my fellow citizens, still do global travel, and get my degree all at the same time,” Sergeant McVay recalls. “I’d always known in high school that I wanted to join the military. My whole family is military oriented. And I was in the Civil Air Patrol, U.S. Air Force Auxiliary, in high school, so that gave me a taste of military life.”

Choosing an MOS

Despite his early background and interest in flying, SGT McVay says he also was always interested in “ground pounding,” which is Army slang for ground-based operations.

“I did a lot of research and decided to join the Oregon Army National Guard as a Cavalry Scout, which is literally the eyes and ears for the commander. The long-range reconnaissance and surveillance mission set really fit my ground mentality at the time. You go ahead of the main body and scout out the area. Sometimes you stay ahead and offer cover as the unit moves through. It’s a very important mission. It drew me in.”

So, he headed to Fort Knox in Kentucky to complete four months of Basic and Advanced Individual Training and earn his 19D Calvary Scout military occupation specialty (MOS). His training taught him to gather and report information on terrain, weather, and enemy disposition and equipment; collect data to classify routes, tunnels, and bridges; perform navigation during combat; prepare ammunition and operate weapons; and employ principles of concealment and camouflage.

Continuing to Rebuild for the Greater Good

In the six years that have passed since first joining the Guard, SGT McVay has continued to grow, both personally as a citizen and professionally as a Soldier in the Guard.

He spent a year in Iraq at the end of Operation Iraqi Freedom helping to rebuild the country through training operations.

“Combat was drawing down. We were truly handing everything over to our Iraqi counterparts. We did a lot of work teaching them what we know. It was a very unique experience.”

A year later, he and his wife traveled to Port-au-Prince, Haiti, with a friend on an earthquake relief mission to help rebuild an orphanage for disabled and dying children.

And from 2010-2012, SGT McVay was decorated with three Army Achievement Medals and two Army Commendation Medals for his National Guard service.

Pursuing the Next Chapter

Last year, SGT McVay decided it was time to finish training for the next chapter in his Citizen-Soldier® career.

“My goal is to be an officer and ultimately fly helicopters for the Guard. The Apache and the Blackhawk aircrafts are particularly interesting to me. In the civilian world, I’m training to be an aerospace engineer. I look to specialize in designing and optimizing space systems, like satellites, space vehicles, and rockets.”

The opportunity arrived after his wife finished her master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling and found a job near Tuscaloosa, Ala. He put in for an interstate transfer to the Alabama National Guard and was awarded an Army Guard ROTC scholarship at the University of Alabama.

Today, SGT McVay is pursuing a double major in aerospace engineering and physics with a minor in mechanical engineering. He expects to finish by 2015 and has been wildly successful in his studies thus far. He holds a 3.82 GPA in his major, is a member of the Sigma Gamma Tau National Aerospace Engineering Honor Society, and was awarded the University of Alabama Outstanding Transfer Student Award earlier this year.

“Personally, the Guard has been a strong, defining experience for me in terms of shaping who I am. Coming out of high school, I don’t think I would have had the confidence [to pursue a double major in aerospace engineering and physics] without having had the accomplishments I’ve had in the military.”

If you have a passion for serving your community and would like to know how the Guard can help you define your future, visit the Army National Guard jobs board and contact a Recruiter today.

Share on FacebookShare on Twitter

Citizen-Soldiers® Give Their Reasons for Going Guard

Why Go Guard? These Soldiers say they love being able to balance school and work with military service. Watch the video to hear why else they chose part-time service in the National Guard.

If being a Citizen-Soldier sounds like a great combination to you, too, visit the National Guard jobs board and contact your Army National Guard Recruiter today.

Share on FacebookShare on Twitter