Guard Officer Finds Purpose in Military Service and Helping Veterans

2LT Bryan Abell recently commissioned as an Infantry Officer in the Michigan Army National Guard through ROTC at Michigan State.

Second Lieutenant (2LT) Bryan Abell says he’s made a few decisions that he doesn’t have a solid explanation for – one of them was joining the military without knowing much about it, other than what he’d seen in the movies. Another was his successful attempt to break a Guinness World Record for doing the most chest-to-ground burpees in a 12-hour period. The inspiration was a YouTube video he just happened to catch about someone who’d broken a record for most burpees in an hour.

These days, the recent college graduate is finding more meaning and more purpose in the things he does, and he gives most of the credit for that to his experiences serving in the Michigan Army National Guard. The 24-year-old just commissioned as an Officer in the Guard in December through his participation in ROTC at Michigan State University.

Between finishing up his finance degree and serving as an 11B Infantryman in the Michigan Army National Guard’s 1/126th Infantry Battalion as part of the Guard’s Simultaneous Membership Program, he also found time during his senior year to start a non-profit organization, the Stronger Warrior Foundation, with his sister, Katelyn.

“We wanted it to be a military-based organization; it’s an amazing community that doesn’t get thanked enough for what they do,” says 2LT Abell. “It’s one thing to say, ‘Thank you for your service.’ We wanted to have an impact that wasn’t just surface level.”

Stronger Warrior Foundation creates care packages for deployed Soldiers. Items are contained in hand-built wooden crates that can be decorated by a sponsor, who can also send written or video messages to the recipients.

The Stronger Warrior Foundation creates care packages for deployed Soldiers.

2LT Abell is also putting his pursuit of another world’s record – this time for most burpees in an hour – toward raising money for his charity. You can catch the action live on Stronger Warrior’s website at 4 p.m. Eastern, Saturday, March 21.

Part of the inspiration to do something that helps veterans came from 2LT Abell’s experience as an ROTC Cadet training in Honduras, where he rucked alongside the Honduran military through villages with mud huts and no running water.

“It was a humbling experience to see how lucky we [Americans] are and how lucky our military is.”

ROTC also gave him the opportunity to participate in Air Assault School and compete against seven other international ROTC teams at the Ranger Challenge, held at The U.S. Military Academy.

Besides opportunities that have molded him into an Officer, his military service also came with some great financial benefits: the GI Bill®, the GI Bill® Kicker, State tuition assistance (about $6,000 a year in Michigan), federal tuition assistance (about $4,000 a year), a monthly stipend through ROTC, and a scholarship that paid for the cost of living on campus.

“I didn’t have to pay for any room and board expenses while at Michigan State. I didn’t have to pay for much of anything,” he says.

Army ROTC allows Cadets to choose between Active Duty or National Guard assignments once they commission. 2LT Abell is staying in the Guard, though he had considered switching from Infantry Officer to Financial Manager Officer. His training at Fort Benning, Ga., home of the infantry, cemented that decision.

“I absolutely just fell in love with everything about the Infantry. The history, the ancestry of the Infantry, the lineage that you’re following after – it’s something very special.”

Staying in the Guard also means he can serve part-time and close to home in his new Unit.

“I plan on being very involved in the military, but I also want to be close to my family, run this non-profit organization, and work a civilian job, too.”

Rather than pursuing a corporate career, 2LT Abell is going to be working as a financial advisor to help people with their finances so they have “a better quality of life.” He’s planning to pursue a master’s degree and eventually work in the government so his work can have a positive impact on the lives of others.

“There’s got to be some kind of purpose and meaning behind it or I don’t feel like I’m fulfilling myself.”

Joining the Guard, he says, “has been the best experience of my life. I definitely wouldn’t have started that non-profit if I wasn’t in the National Guard. I don’t think I would have broken that world record if I wasn’t in the National Guard. I don’t think I’d be a lot of things if I didn’t join the National Guard.”

If you’re between 17 and 35 years old, you, too, can join the Army National Guard, and you don’t have to join ROTC to take advantage of great benefits like money for college. The Guard also offers free career training in fields like Transportation, Aviation, Mechanics and Maintenance, and Heavy Weapons. Our job board has all the details. Contact your local recruiter to learn more.

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Meet the First Enlisted Female Guard Soldiers to Graduate Army Ranger School

FORT BENNING, Ga. – Two Soldiers from the South Carolina and Pennsylvania Army National Guard are the first enlisted National Guard females to graduate from U.S. Army Ranger School.

Staff Sergeant (SSG) Jessica Smiley, a South Carolina Army National Guard military police non-commissioned officer serving with the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, and Sergeant (SGT) Danielle Farber, Pennsylvania Army National Guard 166th Regional Training Institute Medical Battalion Training Site instructor, completed the mentally and physically challenging school at Fort Benning on Dec. 13. The school prepares Soldiers to be better trained, more capable and more resilient leaders.

“My mindset going into this was to leave 100 percent on the table and never have a regret or look back and say, ‘I should have pushed harder, or I should have done something different,’” says SSG Smiley. “My mindset today is that I did just that. I gave 100 percent. I did everything that I could, and now here I am.”


SGT Danielle Farber of the Pennsylvania Army National Guard and SSG Jessica Smiley of the South Carolina Army National Guard became the first enlisted National Guard female Soldiers to graduate U.S. Army Ranger School. (Photo by SGT Brian Calhoun.)

As the first female National Guard enlisted Soldiers to graduate from the school, SSG Smiley and SGT Farber join a small group of women who have earned a Ranger tab since the Pentagon lifted the ban on women serving in combat arms positions.

The others are: U.S. Army Captain (CPT) Kristen Griest and U.S. Army First Lieutenant (1LT) Shaye Haver, who, in 2015, became the first women to ever complete the school; 1LT Emily Lilly, who was the first female Army National Guard officer to graduate in 2018; and U.S. Army SSG Amanda Kelley, the first enlisted Soldier to graduate, also in 2018. However, SSG Smiley and SGT Farber do not think Ranger school is an accomplishment only they are capable of achieving.

“I don’t think it’s charting a course for other women because it’s something that we all have in us. We just haven’t been allowed to do it … There’s many women out there who are completely capable of doing it,” says SSG Smiley. “Do it … put in the hard work, put in the dedication to accomplish the goal.”

SSG Smiley and SGT Farber say the accomplishment took years of training and did not come without setbacks. SGT Farber has been working toward this goal since 2016 when she first tried for the Pennsylvania Ranger/Sapper State assessment program and was not selected. She tried again in 2018 and was selected, with approximately 10 other Soldiers. A year later, she left for Ranger school.

“Train hard for it,” says SGT Farber. “Come into it knowing you’re going to be doing things that every other male that comes through here has to do. Don’t come through here and expect any sort of special treatment because it won’t happen.”

Now that they have earned their Ranger tabs, SSG Smiley and SGT Farber hope to use the skills they’ve gained and help the Soldiers they work with and lead.

“This day to me is not the end of the school, but is the beginning of the new chapter in my career, not only for myself but for future Soldiers,” says SSG Smiley.

U.S. Army Command Sergeant Major (CSM) Russ Vickery says he is proud of what SSG Smiley and SGT Farber achieved.

“It is a big deal to be the first enlisted females in the National Guard graduating Ranger School … it’s groundbreaking,” he says. “We always tell [Soldiers] that they can do it. Physical size is not the limitation; it’s the amount of heart and soul that a Soldier brings.”

If you have the heart and soul to serve your State and your nation, the Army National Guard might be the perfect place for you. Most Guard Soldiers serve part-time and take advantage of fantastic education benefits to help pay for school. The Guard also offers training in more than 130 different careers, including fields like technology and networking, aviation, ground forces, and transportation.

Search the job board for details and contact a recruiter for more information.

From an original article by SGT Brian Calhoun, South Carolina National Guard, which appeared in the news section of NationalGuard.mil in December 2019.

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Off-Duty South Carolina Guard Members Help Bahamian Hurricane Victims


2LT William “Cole” Sanford Jr. and 2LT Sam Evans, both from the South Carolina Army National Guard, fly back and forth from Florida to the Bahamas while off duty in September 2019 to deliver supplies to victims of Hurricane Dorian.

COLUMBIA, S.C. – Two South Carolina Army National Guard members volunteered to deliver needed supplies to Bahamian victims of Hurricane Dorian in five flights on a small plane.

South Carolina Army National Guard Second Lieutenant (2LT) Sam Evans, 1-118th Infantry Battalion, Bravo Company platoon leader, and 2LT William “Cole” Sanford Jr., Charlie Company, 1-151st Attack Reconnaissance Battalion platoon leader, found the opportunity to volunteer via an online forum from a group that had organized the collection of supplies but needed pilots and planes to fly them to the Bahamas.

“I reached out to get more details, and asked Sanford if he was interested in making the relief trips with me, to which he said yes,” says 2LT Evans.

Hurricane Dorian inflicted heavy damage on the Bahamas Aug. 24, 2019, killing at least 50 people and leaving about 70,000 people homeless.

2LT Evans, a graduate of Embry Riddle Aeronautical University and ROTC cadet, obtained his private pilot license before commissioning and then returned to South Carolina. 2LT Sanford, a graduate of Wofford College in South Carolina and an ROTC cadet, earned his private pilot license for a single-engine, land, and fixed-wing aircraft while attending school.

The two flew back and forth from South Florida to the Bahamas five times in September on a two-seat single-engine prop 1943 Luscombe Silvaire, delivering more than 500 pounds of toiletries, tents, and Meals Ready to Eat (MREs).

“We were limited on space and weight,” says 2LT Evans, who is pursuing a commercial pilot license. “We could take about 100 pounds of supplies each trip and would pack aid into every space possible.”

“At the end of the day, what we did was small,” says 2LT Sanford. “But it felt good that the toiletries and other things that we brought could be helping someone. It may just have been a pick-me-up for someone who had just lost their house.”

The Army National Guard gives Soldiers like 2LTs Sanford and Evans the opportunity to pursue civilian careers, education, and other training while serving part-time in their home State, so there is time to further your career while staying close to home.

Citizen-Soldiers earn benefits to help pay for education and expenses while serving their country and their community.

With positions in more than 130 career fields including heavy weapons, intelligence, and aviation, you can find your perfect fit. Check out the job board for more information on available careers, and contact a local recruiter to learn more. 

From an original article by SGT David Erskine, South Carolina National Guard, which appeared in the news section of NationalGuard.mil in October 2019.

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