boy, Othello Smith fled Liberia with his father and some family members – on
foot – to escape civil war in 1996. They took refuge in Sierra Leone, only to
have civil war break out there, too, forcing the family to flee yet again –
this time to Guinea.
Smith and his family were granted asylum as war refugees in the U.S. and
settled in Rhode Island in 1998. He still hasn’t seen his mother, who’s in
Liberia, since 1994. They’re hoping to connect with each other via Facebook
when the technology becomes available to her.
has seen what it’s like to live in a country with too much freedom – as in
freedom to do anything you want without repercussions. In his experience in
Liberia, “freedom is handing a gun to a 14-year-old kid, and he can do whatever
he wants with that weapon. A young kid could see his uncle die in front of him
because that is the freedom that is afforded in that county. There was nothing
there to prevent that civil war.”
is grateful that his new homeland has protections in place to prevent the kind
of chaos he’s lived through, but still, freedom comes with a price that some
Americans take for granted.
one of the reasons he joined the Rhode Island Army
three years ago at age 28. The Guard also offered Specialist (SPC) Smith an
expedited path to citizenship and education
to help him earn a degree in nursing and perhaps, later, pharmacy. As a
first-generation American, he wants to set a good example for his two children
that anything can be accomplished through hard work.
decision to join the military was met with some resistance from his father.
“Because of so
many traumatizing things that we witnessed – I literally lived through two
civil wars – my father, at the time, was totally against any military activity.
I decided if I were ever to bear arms and get deployed, I will change the way soldiers
behave toward citizens.”
Of all Military
Occupational Specialties (MOSs), SPC Smith chose one of the loudest – 13B Cannon
Crewmember – a
choice that could have easily triggered bad memories from his youth. During one
of his first Fourths of July in Rhode Island, he remembers that fireworks sent
him under his bed, where his family found him screaming and crying.
SPC Smith says
he got used to loud noises on his own and through his faith in God.
determined to be trained in “one of the hardest MOSs the military has to offer.
I like to get my hands dirty and roll up my sleeves,” he says.
Over the last
year, he has transitioned to recruiting for the Rhode Island Guard. One of his goals is to expose fellow
Liberian immigrants – his State has one of the largest Liberian populations in
the U.S. – to military life.
to being in America than just being an employee. You have to be a difference-maker.”
To SPC Smith,
“what the Guard stands for is making a change in people’s lives.” He has found
both mentors and a family in the Guard.
has wrapped its arms around me and showed me that there are people out there
who are willing to help you in your career, help you with a family situation,
and give you advice.”
When some of
his recruits come in unsure of their physical capabilities, SPC Smith tells
them, “an old guy like me went to basic training and did it, and you will be able to
do it. You’re not there by yourself. They are people with you every step of the
SPC Smith says he
often gets a text or an email from his recruits thanking him for his support.
relationship that I build with my recruits is very important to me,” he says.
“Changing lives, that’s the most important mission I’ve accomplished so far in
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
Another unique benefit of IRT is that
it’s geared toward developing junior and future leaders.
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.
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
“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,
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.
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
“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
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
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,”
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
“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.”