New York Guardsmen Build STEM Learning Center During Training Mission

HALEIWA, Hawaii – While most New York Army National Guard Soldiers spent their 2019 annual training at Fort Drum, Fort Indiantown Gap, or Joint Base Dix-McGuire-Lakehurst, 45 Soldiers from the 204th Engineer Battalion did their training in Hawaii.

Soldiers from 1156th Engineer Company were selected to participate in an Innovative Readiness Training (IRT) rotation at Girl Scout Camp Paumalu in Haleiwa, Hawaii, this summer. IRT is a joint service program that began in 1993, providing real-world training opportunities for service members to prepare them for wartime missions while supporting the needs of America’s underserved communities.

Communities typically provide materials and basic services, while military units contribute personnel and resources. IRT is designed to produce mission-ready forces, civil-military partnerships, and stronger communities.

“The Hawaii Girl Scout Camp IRT is an outstanding program for New York Army National Guard engineers which will benefit the local community while fostering an environment for our Soldiers to grow, develop, and prepare for future missions,” says Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) Wing Yu, commander of the 204th Engineer Battalion.

Along with service members from other U.S. military components, New York’s engineers have been working at the camp to help build a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) learning center for the Girl Scouts.

Chief Warrant Officer 2 (CW2) Oliverio Hernandez explains that this was not a volunteer mission. Service members were selected by their chain of command because of their standings in the unit and their military job training.

“We were hand-selected for this rotation because they needed our specific skill sets,” he says.

The 23-year veteran with the Army National Guard has been through myriad training missions and environments across the U.S., but this was the first of its kind for him.

“This IRT is actually a large-scale project that we’re building from the bottom up,” CW2 Hernandez says. “This is more than just equipment familiarization; this is practical application in a real-world environment with a real-world impact.”

The IRT mission took Soldiers out of their normal home stations and forced them to adapt to a new, different, and challenging environment.

Another unique benefit of IRT is that it’s geared toward developing junior and future leaders.

PFC Jesse Velez, a plumber assigned to the 1156th Engineer Company, 204th Engineer Battalion, New York Army National Guard, measures a board before cutting it during an Innovative Readiness Training (IRT) mission at Camp Paumalu, Haleiwa, Hawaii, July 31, 2019. (Photo by SSG Michael Davis).

Lower enlisted service members are not only doing the hands-on training that wouldn’t normally occur in a drill weekend or annual training, they are also given the opportunity to teach and learn from their peers.

Most Soldiers on the roster have the rank of Private First Class (PFC) or Specialist (SPC), which is just below Sergeant (SGT), and will soon become non-commissioned officers (NCOs) with management responsibilities. This mission affords Soldiers the time and opportunity to practice training others, as well as learning the patience it takes to be an effective leader.

“Learning and instructing that happens at the lower levels builds a greater sense of team and unit cohesion, which all adds to the readiness for the force,” CW2 Hernandez says. “They’re getting to manage, teach, and learn during a real mission.”

Two of these future leaders who are an integral part of the mission are PFC Anthony Allen and PFC Jesse Velez. Both are members of the 1156th Engineer Company, and each has a civilian trade that enhances his military job and this mission.

PFC Allen has been in the New York Amy National Guard for two years. He’s a 12W Carpentry and Masonry Specialist for his unit, who was also assigned as the chainsaw trainer and team leader for the IRT mission because of his civilian experience.

He wasn’t sure what to expect when he arrived on the worksite, but he knew it wouldn’t be anything like what he was used to back home.

“We’ve had challenges, but our biggest one so far is definitely the weather,” he says.

Even though he’s only been with the Guard a short time, PFC Allen has the mindset and determination of a seasoned veteran.

“It doesn’t matter what we come across, we’re going to work through it.”

PFC Velez is a 12K Plumber on his very first mission with the Guard.

“This is the perfect place to test what the Army just trained me to do in Basic and Advanced Individual Training,” he says.

While being grateful for the opportunities the National Guard has already afforded him, he’s looking to contribute his skills to the mission and continue learning as much as he can.

“This is the true definition of one-fight, one-team. We’re building community relationships together – showing them they can count on us!”

Once the IRT portion is complete, the Girl Scouts will have only a fraction of the building to be completed before they can begin to teach girls and boys from across all the islands.

Shari Chang, Girl Scouts of Hawaii CEO and a fourth-generation Girl Scout, says she applied for the IRT program knowing she could partner with a skilled labor force that would have the capabilities and expertise to make the project happen.

The estimated completion date is September 2020.

“We are so thankful for the support from the military on this project,” says Chang. “The whole process is now coming to fruition, and it has been an amazing opportunity for both of us.”

Army National Guard Soldiers are dedicated to serving their communities, and an IRT is just one of the many opportunities to do so. If you’re passionate about making an impact, consider joining the Guard. Explore more than 130 exciting careers in fields like logistics, technology, and transportation on our job board, and contact a recruiter to learn how you can serve today!

From an original article by SSG Michael Davis, New York National Guard, which appeared in the news section of NationalGuard.mil in August 2019.

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Sisters Inspire Each Other to Serve in the Military

The five Puro sisters of Utah took different paths to military careers. Left to right: Tiara, Air Force; Tambra, Army National Guard; Tayva, Air Guard; Ty’lene, Army National Guard; Taryn, Navy. (Photo by Steve Puro.)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Tiara Puro was 17 when her father handed her a recruiting brochure for the Army National Guard. She remembers a feeling of excitement as she flipped through the pamphlet, especially when she read about the education benefits. She had been trying to figure out a way to pay for college, and the Utah Army National Guard was offering the equivalent of a full-ride scholarship for six years of service.

“When I enlisted, it was peacetime,” Tiara says. “There was nothing going on, and it was actually why I felt so comfortable agreeing to enlist. What’s six years of an enlistment during peacetime, especially if I get a college degree out of it?”

Tiara enlisted in 1999 as a 27D paralegal specialist. Once a month, she drove to the armory in Vernal to train until she finished high school. A week after graduating, she shipped to Basic Combat Training at Fort Jackson, S.C.

Tiara is the oldest of five sisters. Her four younger sisters are Tambra, Tayva, and twins, Taryn and Ty’lene. They all grew up in Roosevelt and graduated from Union High School. Their parents had met on the University of Utah ballroom dance team. All five sisters grew up singing and dancing. Four of the five sisters have placed in the Miss Duchesne County and Miss Uintah Basin pageants.

While large, musically inclined families are not uncommon in Utah, the Puro sisters are unique in that they are all currently serving in the military, with decorated careers spanning the Army, Air Force, and Navy.

“I don’t think any one of us thought that we would serve in the military,” says Tiara.

Tambra was 14 years old and a freshman in high school when Tiara left for basic. “It was a little scary, a little nerve-racking to think about her going off and doing all those things,” Tambra recalls. “But I just thought, ‘wow, that’s pretty awesome.’”

A few months later, Tiara returned home – the experience had changed her.

“I came home super excited about being in the military and what that meant,” she says.

As Tiara described the experience to her family, Tambra thought, “That will never happen in my life. It’s not something I’m interested in. Who wants to be yelled at by drill sergeants and do push-ups? I can’t even do a push-up, let alone pass a PT test. So, no thank you. I’ll do something else.”

Even at 12 years old, Tambra knew she wanted to do something important with her life.

“At the time, I was really interested in being a nurse, so I went and asked the hospital if I could volunteer.”

Tambra was the youngest volunteer the hospital had ever seen. She formed a group of young hospital volunteers called the Junior Pink Ladies. As a sophomore in high school, she started working on her Associate of Science degree in Pre-Health Sciences.

“Caring for others is a common thread in my life,” Tambra says. “That’s really what I’m passionate about.”

On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, Tiara was at the University of Utah, when her father called her and said, “You need to turn on your TV.”

When she heard his unsettled tone, she went into the living room of her college apartment and switched on the TV. She watched the second plane collide with the South Tower of the World Trade Center.

“I knew in that moment my life would never be the same,” she recalls.

Tiara told her dad she loved him, but she needed to go. She hung up and immediately called her unit to find out what she could do to help.

The 2002 Winter Olympics came only a few short months after 9/11. Approximately 2,400 athletes from more than 80 countries, and even more spectators, were headed to Utah. Under the looming shadow of terrorism, the burden of law enforcement augmentation fell to the Utah Army National Guard. More than 4,500 Guard members were called up to provide security for the games, and Tiara was among them.

Tambra was a high school senior on the first anniversary of 9/11. She listened to a speech by President Bush as she was getting ready for school and thought to herself, “Where am I going in life? How will I pay for things? What’s my next step?”

“For members of our military,” President Bush said, “it’s been a year of sacrifice and service far from home.”

Tambra immediately reflected on her own sister’s sacrifice and service, and said to herself, “That’s what I want to do. Tiara did it, I think I can do it. I’m not very aggressive, I don’t do those physical things, but I can try.”

The same recruiter who worked with Tiara three years earlier happened to see Tambra at school that day and asked, “Have you given it any thought?”

Tambra replied “Yes,” and two weeks later, she enlisted in the Army National Guard to be an administrative specialist, assigned to the same unit as her sister.

“I really wanted to be a combat medic,” Tambra says, “But I also really wanted to start college as soon as possible. I chose the shorter occupational school.”

At the time, the Utah National Guard offered an orientation course called Non-Prior Service Support which helped prepare future Soldiers for Basic Combat Training. The course was conducted by a retired Marine drill instructor and designed to be physically grueling. Today, this same program has been expanded into the Recruit Sustainment Program.

“It just about killed me,” recalls Tambra. “I couldn’t sit up on my own for two full weeks.”

Realizing she had a lot of work to do, she started doing push-ups and sit-ups and went running every single day until she graduated high school. She was headed to Fort Jackson in March 2003.

Around that same time, Tiara’s unit received a mobilization order.

“In the Guard we’re always ready. We’re always exercising and training, so we were ready when the call came,” she says.

In April of 2003, Tiara’a unit headed to Iraq while Tambra was in the middle of basic training.

“The training felt very real to me because my sister was already in Iraq,” says Tambra.

Tambra would see newspapers in display cases outside the dining facility where she ate each day, headlining the toppled Saddam Hussein statue. As she donned her gas mask and entered the gas chambers, she imagined Hussein’s chemical attacks on innocent civilians and thought, “Wow. This is why we do what we do.”

When Tambra returned home from basic training, she immediately enrolled in Utah Valley State College using her new military education benefits, and joined the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC). Even before enlistment, she had considered becoming an officer, but wanted the added experience of basic training.

Tambra graduated in the spring of 2005, with a degree in community health and military science. She was assigned to the 144th Area Support Medical Company as a medical services officer. As soon as she finished Officer Basic Course, she was headed to Fort Bliss, Texas, where her unit was preparing to deploy to Iraq.

Meanwhile, Tiara had returned from her own deployment and decided to reenlist, but this time in the Utah Air National Guard as a personnel specialist.

Then in 2010, the twins, Taryn and Ty’lene, graduated high school.

“I wanted to be a veterinarian,” says Ty’lene. “I kind of had it in my mind that I wanted to be an Army veterinarian, but I wanted to wait about a year after graduation to make sure the military was actually something that I wanted to do for myself, not just following in my sisters’ footsteps.”

She went to Weber State University with a music scholarship. One year after graduation, she met with the recruiter on campus and decided to enlist. The officer who administered the Oath of Enlistment was none other than Ty’lene’s older sister, Tambra, who had recently returned from her Iraq deployment.

Ty’lene joined under the Simultaneous Membership Program, planning to return to Weber State’s ROTC program after completing basic training, but plans changed when she had her first taste of the military.

“I fell in love with the Army mindset,” she says.

While still at Advanced Individual Training, Ty’lene applied for several full-time positions in the Utah National Guard. Two weeks later, she was working as an admin assistant in the Guard. Not long after that, she joined the Utah Guard Biathlon team and brought home two second-place medals from her first regional competition. She would go on to take first place in the 2015 Utah Best Warrior Competition, to become the Soldier of the Year.

Today, Tambra and Ty’lene serve in the Army National Guard, Tiara and Tayva serve in the Air Guard, and Taryn serves in the Navy.

“We’re intertwined,” Ty’lene says. “Even though we all have such different military careers, we’re all still connected.”

 “My parents raised us to know our strengths and to always try our hardest, to tell the truth and be brave,” says Tiara. “To do things that scare us. To eat the food that’s put in front of us, whether we like it or not. If you look at the way my mom and dad raised us, those skills are what helped us to adapt to serve in the military.”

When asked about what it’s like having five daughters serving in the military, Steve Puro says, “It’s the scariest thing you’ll ever be proud of. My girls have grown in the military. As a dad, I know they are going to be OK, because they have learned to stand on their own two feet and take charge of their lives.”

If you’re considering a military career, join the Army National Guard where you can serve part-time in your home State, and earn benefits like tuition assistance and affordable healthcare for you and your family. No matter your path, the Army National Guard has more than 130 positions in career fields including aviation, infantry, and maintenance. Explore open opportunities on the job board and contact a recruiter to jumpstart your military career today!

From an original article by SGT Nathaniel Free, Utah National Guard, which appeared in the news section of NationalGuard.mil in July 2019.

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Natural Disasters Inspire Guard Members to Re-enlist

TOPEKA, Kansas – No one wants bad things to happen, especially in their communities. However, for two Kansas Army National Guard members, the devastation of recent floods was a rejuvenating experience.

Torrential rains and thunderstorms hit Kansas in late May, and flooding became an imminent danger for several communities downstream from levees and dams that were close to overflowing. With the addition of a destructive tornado that hit Douglas and Leavenworth counties, the emergency in Kansas escalated to disastrous proportions.

Members of the Kansas Army National Guard were asked to help. One of them was Staff Sergeant (SSG) Michael Eicher of the 891st Forward Support Company, who had no problem volunteering.

“That’s why I signed up to be in the National Guard,” SSG Eicher says, “to help people.”

Although not a Kansas native, his active duty service led him to the State when he was stationed at Fort Riley in 1993. It was not long after he met his wife that he decided to leave the military to raise a family.

“Then 9/11 happened,” he says. “My wife looked at me one day and said, ‘You miss it, don’t you?’ I said ‘Yeah, big time,’ and she said, ‘You do what you (have) to do.’”

SSG Eicher restarted his military career by enlisting in the Kansas Army National Guard. However, as he closed in on completing 20 years of service, he had it in his mind to finally retire from military life.

To get to his 20 years, SSG Eicher would have to extend his enlistment another year. His fellow Soldiers were trying to convince him to sign up for another six, so he joked with his wife that he would do it. She gave him a response that he wasn’t expecting: “At least you finally made up your mind.”

Later that month, the flooding began, and SSG Eicher was called to State active duty, where he immediately started running missions to deliver supplies to multiple communities in southeast Kansas. The tasks included dropping off pallets of water and other supplies for water rescue.

Finishing those missions, he and his team went back to home base in Iola, where they received their next mission to deliver 18 pallets of water to Coffeyville – a town that was preparing for flooding if the Verdigris River levee should break.

“When we were done with the water, we got the word to go and start helping with the sandbags. We did that well into the night,” he explains.

After finally getting some rest when other Soldiers came to relieve them at around 3 a.m., SSG Eicher and the rest of the Guard members finished helping the community members with the sandbagging late that next afternoon.

MAJ Polen (left), executive officer of the 891st Engineer Battalion, gives the reenlistment oath to SPC O’Neill (right), assigned to 891st Forward Support Company, June 2, atop of pallets of water that are ready to be distributed to communities in Kansas devastated by flooding in May. (Photo by 105th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment.)

The whole experience reminded him of why he joined the Army National Guard in the first place, and he began reconsidering his decision to retire. After completing his final mission to Valley Falls, he told his commander he would re-enlist in the Guard.

“I’d been thinking about it for a while, but just helping others was what made me decide,” SSG Eicher says. “I was there in the fire station in Valley Falls and something clicked in my mind that said, ‘Hey, what are you doing? You love this! Why are you getting out?’”

SSG Eicher wasn’t the only one who felt that way. Lawrence resident Specialist (SPC) Russell O’Neill of the 891st Forward Support Company, also realized it was not quite time to let go.

SPC O’Neill was coming to the end of his first enlistment and had already decided to conclude his service at the end of his contract because he felt like he was doing less and less of the job he signed up to do.

But then disaster struck south of Lawrence when a tornado plowed through on its way toward Kansas City.

SPC O’Neill, who works for a landscaping company in Lawrence, says several of the houses he worked on were damaged. Several of his family and friends who lived in the vicinity of Linwood, Kansas, were affected and had damage to their homes.

That next weekend, SPC O’Neill would get the chance to help. One of the vehicles used to deliver supplies broke down while his unit was drilling. His experience working on those trucks made him the go-to guy to fix it.

While these events were not the only reasons SPC O’Neill decided to stay in, they helped him confirm he needed to continue his service. He also realized the benefits he would get for his three children would outweigh the little time he would be away. The biggest reason, however, was the realization that he didn’t want to let go of the camaraderie he’s found while serving in the Army National Guard.

“I feel that with my fellow Soldiers it is a brotherhood that I haven’t had since high school. The weekend drills, I get to go be around a bunch of guys that I enjoy being around, and I’ve had a lot of them call me throughout my hardships and ask how I’m doing.”

By the end of the June drill, SSG Eicher and SPC O’Neill had reenlisted, standing on pallets of water to be delivered for the flooding.

“When the State active duty stuff comes around and people need your help, that is what we are here for,” says SSG Eicher. “If you are thinking about retiring and you’re thinking about getting out, think about all these things that could happen.”

“Who knew that the flooding was going to take place? Nobody – and that’s why you joined in the first place.”

If you’re passionate about giving back to your community, join the Army National Guard where you can serve part-time in your home State, and be the one your neighbors look to in times of need. With hands-on training in over 130 career fields including ground forces, logistics, and transportation, you can be part of a team that’s prepared to handle anything. Visit the job board to browse open opportunities today.

From an original article by the 105th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, Kansas National Guard, which appeared in the news section of NationalGuard.mil in June 2019.

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