Meet the Army National Guard’s Fearless Female Leaders

In honor of Women’s History Month, On Your Guard recognizes some female leaders we’ve had the pleasure of interviewing over the last few years:

Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) Elizabeth Evans, Commander, 53rd Brigade Special Troops Battalion, Florida Army National Guard

LTC Evans graduated from West Point looking forward to an engineering career in the Army. Unfortunately, she found out many of the engineering battalions were restricted to men, with women allowed to serve only in support roles.

Her best chance to achieve her goal of commanding a combat or construction Unit was in the Army reserve components, which offered construction formations that were 100% open to women.

She joined the Florida Army National Guard, inspired by its dual mission of serving the Nation and responding to local emergencies, like extreme weather events. Within 6 months, she was asked to command a Horizontal Construction Company.

By 2017, she had led 300 missions in a combat zone in Iraq and served as a task force commander for a counter-narcotics mission, training military components in three Central American countries.

“I think I’m extremely fortunate to be a female in the Army National Guard because of the opportunities I have to be a role model to others, both male and female,” she says. “I have the ability to show younger Soldiers coming in that anything is possible regardless of your gender.”

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Sergeant First Class (SFC) Shereka Danzy, Drill Sergeant and Recruiter, New Jersey Army National Guard

As the first woman to become a drill sergeant in the New Jersey Army National Guard, SFC Shereka Danzy knows her position embodies more than just the average job.

“You’re representing women, one, and that’s a big deal, then I’m representing myself and my support team – everyone that was behind me,” she says.

The Army veteran teaches Soldiers at the Recruit Sustainment Program how to march and about military customs, courtesies, and acronyms to get them ready for basic training.

SFC Danzy, who’s also a Guard recruiter, felt honored to be asked to become a drill sergeant by her command.

“They could have chosen anybody, but they saw something in me.”

That something, she believes, is her “passion for soldiering. Grabbing Soldiers under your wing. Teaching them right from wrong, not only teaching them, but showing them what right looks like.”

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Cadet (CDT) Christina Meredith, Florida Army National Guard 

CDT Christina Meredith is living her best life as a Florida Army National Guard Soldier, author, and non-profit founder.

After years of abuse as a child, she entered the foster care system and then became homeless. Eventually, she was “discovered” by a pageant recruiter and crowned Miss California United States in 2013. She finally had a platform to accomplish one of her goals: to share her story so others would realize they could overcome their circumstances.

Since then, CDT Meredith has written a memoir, “CinderGirl: My Journey Out of the Ashes to a Life of Hope,” and started The Christina Meredith Foundation, a non-profit organization that advocates for foster care reform and mental health.

The flexibility of serving in the Guard part-time allows her enough time for everything important in her life.

“I have my civilian job and still have that military experience and leadership, and I can really bring something to my country,” says CDT Meredith.

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If you’re interested in joining these leaders, find out more about what the Guard has to offer, including great education benefits and training in careers ranging from police and protection to intelligence to transportation. Visit our job board for details and contact a recruiter for more information.

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Guard Recruiter Knows Price of Freedom

As a 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.

Fortunately, 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.

Smith 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.”

Smith 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.

SPC Smith
SPC Othello Smith, Rhode Island Army National Guard recruiter.

That’s one of the reasons he joined the Rhode Island Army National Guard three years ago at age 28. The Guard also offered Specialist (SPC) Smith an expedited path to citizenship and education benefits 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.

SPC Smith thought about going Active Duty but, “the National Guard just seemed to be the best fit, as far as accomplishing your goals, and still staying in the State, serving your country, and making a difference at the same time.”

His 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.

He was 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.

“There’s more 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.

“The military 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 way.”

SPC Smith says he often gets a text or an email from his recruits thanking him for his support.

“The 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 the military.”

If you’re up for a life-changing experience, you’ll find it in the Army National Guard, where you’ll serve part-time and receive training in one of more than 130 careers in fields like Supply and Logistics, Technology and Networking, Ground Forces, and Engineering. For details on any MOS, search our job board, and contact your local recruiter for more information.

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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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