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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A Guard Soldier’s Journey from Truck Driver to Attorney

In his eight years of part-time service with the Illinois Army National Guard, Jacob Smith has gotten some big benefits – leadership skills, a sense of direction in life, and his undergraduate and law degrees, courtesy of the Guard’s education benefits.

And now this former 88M Truck Driver is putting his law degree to work as the newest officer in the Illinois Guard’s Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps, the branch of the Guard that serves as a legal resource for Soldiers, Guard units, and the State Adjutant General.

“It is an interesting contrast,” says First Lieutenant (1LT) Smith of his switch in military occupational specialties (MOSs) from driving large vehicles to now advising his colleagues on legal matters.

“Being a JAG officer is more applicable to my civilian career,” he says. “It will broaden my base of legal experience and knowledge.”

Growing up, 1LT Smith had positive impressions of becoming an attorney, having worked in his family’s law firm, and of military service because his father had served in the active duty Army and later the Illinois Army National Guard.

After starting college, 1LT Smith decided to serve in the military.

“I thought the Guard would be a good way to do both at the same time.”

1LT Jacob Smith has gone from 88M Truck Driver to an officer in the Illinois Army National Guard’s Judge Advocate General Corps.

1LT Jacob Smith has gone from 88M Truck Driver to an officer in the Illinois Army National Guard’s Judge Advocate General Corps.

He chose 88M because Illinois has a lot of transportation units, and the MOS had a relatively short training schedule. His Advanced Individual Training could be squeezed into a summer between semesters, plus he could drill close to school.

And because of his State’s tuition assistance, 1LT Smith estimates he has saved somewhere in the ballpark of $100,000 in tuition for his undergrad and law degrees. On top of that, the GI Bill helped with living expenses while he was in school.

“These are huge benefits on the financial side,” says 1LT Smith, 26, who’s also hoping to take advantage of another Guard benefit in the next few years – VA home loan eligibility – which allows Soldiers to buy a home with little to no down payment.

1LT Smith, who’s been an attorney since 2017, just recently completed his JAG Corps training, a two-part process. First, he attended the 6-week Direct Commission Course at Fort Benning, and then he spent 10 ½ weeks at the Judge Advocate General’s Legal Center and School in Virginia where he received “a crash course in many areas of military law.”

As a judge advocate in his new unit, 1LT Smith expects to do a fair amount of what’s called administrative law. This includes participating in administrative separation boards used to determine whether a Soldier should be discharged from the Guard because of misconduct. In such cases, the Soldier would appear before a board instead of in a courtroom.

“It’s one tool used by commanders to more efficiently deal with certain misconduct, rather than pursuing a court-martial process.”

Judge advocates often deal with cases involving criminal offenses as well, which is a departure from 1LT Smith’s full-time civilian law career, where he focuses on business law, estate planning, and commercial real estate and banking matters.

As a JAG officer, he’ll also be handling cases related to property law. 1LT Smith explains that typically a commander would initiate an investigation if a sensitive and valuable item like a pair of night vision goggles was lost to determine if someone should be held liable. A JAG officer would review the findings to make sure they are legally sufficient.

One of 1LT Smith’s goals for the future is to deploy overseas and work in operational law: “the laws of war, advising commanders in an overseas environment on whether they can legally engage certain targets, spend money on particular projects, and what are the repercussions for taking certain actions in a combat environment,” he says. “It’s an area of law where there’s not really a civilian equivalent.”

Overall, 1LT Smith says his time in the Guard has given him direction in his life, great people to serve with, and an opportunity to give back.

“The opportunity to serve comes with sacrifices, certainly, but I get to carry on a civilian career and work with incredible leaders and friends,” he says. “It adds tremendous value to my life.”

So, if you’re looking for a way to serve your community and your country part-time while you pursue a civilian career, you should speak to an Army National Guard recruiter. Besides outstanding education benefits, the Guard also offers training in more than 130 career fields.

Search our job board for details on careers in engineering, administration, infantry, armor and field artillery, aviation, medicine, military police, intelligence, mechanic and maintenance, transportation, and logistics support.

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Guard Offering $20k for Certain Jobs, but Benefits of Service Go Beyond the Bonus, Says Recruiter

Kyle Deleon, left, is one of the newest members of the North Carolina Army National Guard. Recruited by SSG Phillip Wongsing, right, Kyle received a $20,000 bonus for enlisting as a 13M Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) Crewmember in January.

Out of the approximately 130 jobs you can do in the Army National Guard, there’s a list of a dozen or so of these jobs in every State that is offering new enlistees a $20,000 bonus right now.

Staff Sergeant (SSG) Phillip Wongsing, a recruiter for the North Carolina Army National Guard, is quick to clear up any misconceptions that the military occupational specialties (MOSs) that make the list are jobs that no one wants to do.

“You get everything from plumbing to aviation to infantry to armor,” he says. “These are really good jobs – a variety of jobs in different career fields.”

The list varies from State to State and changes on a quarterly basis.

“It’s based on what the State needs at the moment to fill in positions, so we don’t have critical vulnerabilities within our organization,” says SSG Wongsing.

For example, as of this month in North Carolina, bonuses are available for 17 jobs this quarter. Here are just a few examples to demonstrate the variety:

The bonus is tied to a score of at least 50 on the ASVAB and to a 6-year enlistment in the Army National Guard, says SSG Wongsing. And, by the way, that’s six years of part-time service – as little as one weekend a month for drill and two weeks in the summer for annual training.

Here’s how the bonus works: Soldiers receive half the money when they successfully complete Basic Training and Advanced Individual Training. On their third-year anniversary they receive another quarter of the bonus. The final quarter arrives for their fifth anniversary.

But even if the MOS you want doesn’t come with a bonus, there are other financial incentives to think about. One is money for college. Because Army National Guard Soldiers have a dual mission to serve the State and the Nation, Soldiers can take advantage of both State and federal tuition assistance. SSG Wongsing says the North Carolina Army National Guard offers:

  • $4,500 a year for in-State college tuition reimbursement
  • $4,000 a year for federal tuition assistance
  • $384 a month for the GI Bill (paid directly to the Soldier for expenses)
  • $350 a month for the GI Bill Kicker (with a minimum ASVAB score of 50)

Affordable health insurance offered through the Guard is another way to save money. At $42 a month for medical and about $11 a month for dental, SSG Wongsing estimates that single North Carolina Guard Soldiers are paying about a quarter of what their civilian counterparts do.

Of course, money isn’t everything. Doing a job you like has its own rewards.

One of SSG Wongsing’s recent recruits may not have gotten a $20,000 bonus for enlisting as an 15Q Air Traffic Control Operator, but by the time he graduates college, he’ll have five years of paid training and experience in his field, which applies directly to a civilian career.

There are other motivations to serve in the Guard, too.

“If you have a heart for humanitarian work and adventure, then the National Guard is the place to be,” says SSG Wongsing, who helped distribute supplies to residents displaced by two hurricanes that hit North Carolina in 2018. The Guard also helped with evacuations, water rescues and storm clean up.

“You directly have a hand in the rehabilitation of your community and helping people in a time of stress,” he says.

If you’re into travel, there are opportunities to attend trainings in other States or countries. The North Carolina Guard, for example, is partnered with Botswana and Moldova through the State Partnership Program.

There’s also some friendly competition among the ranks. SSG Wongsing’s former armor company for example, won the Sullivan Cup in 2016, competing against the Marines and other Army units for the best tank crew, and then went on to finish third in an international competition. Last year, the New York Army National Guard sent athletes to the Winter Olympics, and then, there’s the annual Best Warrior Competition, a test of a Soldier’s knowledge and physical endurance.

And while most Soldiers serve part-time and have civilian jobs or go to school, there are also full-time jobs available in the Guard.

“The Guard is what you make of it,” says SSG Wongsing. “If you want to go to school full-time, and you still want to serve your community, have self-sovereignty in your life, and serve something bigger than yourself, the National Guard is a great opportunity to have two different lifestyles – the civilian and military that supplement each other.”

So, if you’re interested in what the Guard has to offer, our job board is a great place to start. You can search by keyword, State, or career field, such as logisticsadministrationengineeringintelligence, and more. For information about enlistment bonuses and benefits available in your State, contact your local recruiter.

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