Despite Dark Times, New Jersey Guard Recruiter Never Loses Hope

JOINT BASE McGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J. – All eyes are on New Jersey Army National Guard Captain (CPT) Domenico Lazzaro as he walks up to the podium using two canes.

It’s Oct. 18. Seventeen months have passed since CPT Lazzaro’s life changed due to a training accident.

“I never thought I would be in this situation,” he says.

For the next 45 minutes, he tells the story of how he has come to stand in front of the Soldiers, Airmen and civilians at Joint Force Headquarters located at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey. He calls it: “Don’t dis my disability.”

On June 11, 2017, CPT Lazzaro fell while navigating an obstacle course at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst during annual training and fractured his T8 vertebrae in the middle of the spine.

After seven hours of surgery, the doctors had fused five vertebrae from the thoracic to the lumbar regions.

In one day, CPT Lazzaro went from racing motorcycles and being an avid weightlifter to being paraplegic.

For most people, this would have been the start of coming to grips with a new reality, taking into consideration the accommodations they might need or the things they might not be able to do again. Others would simply give up.

CPT Lazzaro didn’t.

Three weeks later, something peculiar happened.

CPT Domenico Lazzaro of the New Jersey Army National Guard shows the audience a slide about different levels of spinal cord injuries during the National Disability Employment Awareness Month observance at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., on Oct. 18, 2018. (Photo by MSG Mark Olsen).

CPT Domenico Lazzaro of the New Jersey Army National Guard shows the audience a slide about different levels of spinal cord injuries during the National Disability Employment Awareness Month observance at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., on Oct. 18, 2018. (Photo by MSG Mark Olsen.)

“After my injury, I had a buzzing sensation in both legs similar to the feeling you get when a leg falls asleep, but I could not move them.”

CPT Lazzaro began to have some feeling in his foot.

“The first evening, I stayed up all night moving my left toes.”

According to his doctors, this was unusual, because recovery occurs from the point of injury down, not the other way around.

“The doctors kept pushing me to move things, so I did,” says CPT Lazzaro.

This was not the first time that he had faced adversity.

In 1991, while a member of the Pennsylvania Army National Guard, he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Hodgkin’s is a cancer in the lymphatic system where cells grow abnormally and can spread to other parts of the body.

For the next two years, CPT Lazzaro underwent radiation treatments. After 20 years, he is cancer-free.

In 2009, he reenlisted in the New Jersey National Guard and received his commission in August 2011. From 2015-2016, CPT Lazzaro deployed to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as the 328th Military Police Company’s executive officer. Upon his return, he accepted a full-time position as a specialty branch recruiter. Then last year’s accident occurred.

Because of his injury, CPT Lazzaro was given the option of medical retirement with disability.

“I want to continue to serve,” he says, refusing to give up.

In order to continue his service, he must be able to pass the Army physical fitness test in two years.

From July to December 2017, CPT Lazzaro was in a wheelchair. Then he used a walker until January 2018.

“I switched to forearm crutches from February to June, and started using canes from June until present,” he says.

During this time CPT Lazzaro was in intensive physical therapy.

“Once I started moving, I began using a glider – a type of upright elliptical that uses your arms to move the legs.”

He also uses an electronic stimulation bike that uses electric pulses to move his legs to pedal a bicycle, an exoskeleton harness that mechanically moves the legs, and locomotor training, while physical therapists move each leg and his hips to simulate walking on a treadmill. This is all combined with basic leg strengthening exercises.

All these devices serve one purpose: helping CPT Lazzaro learn to walk again.

Today, he can move with the aid of one cane.

“The more I progressed, the more I could do on my own,” he explains. “The physical therapists say my progress is staggering.”

CPT Lazzaro is back at work with specialty branch recruiting and serves as the 42nd Regional Support Group’s anti-terrorism officer.

He also spends time working with other paraplegic patients.

“I try to help people get past the idea that they can’t recover,” he says.

Because of his experiences, he brings one thing that is sometimes missing from other people: hope.

“Hope is very important,” CPT Lazzaro says. “Believing things will get better with time can help you progress and adapt to your situation.”

It is hope that drives him.

“I want to go back to my life the way I was,” he says. “I want to be the person I was.”

If you’re passionate about helping and healing others like the medical professionals who helped CPT Lazzaro, visit our job board and explore health care careers in the Army National Guard.

Being a Soldier in the Guard means serving your community and country while making a difference. The Guard provides education assistance, and offers training in more than 150 career fields including engineering, logistics, infantry, and aviation. Reach out to your local recruiter to learn more.

From an original article by MSG Mark Olson, New Jersey Army National Guard, which appeared in the news section of NationalGuard.mil in October.

 

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From Parkour to Hard-Core Athlete: Indiana Guard Soldier Competes on ‘American Ninja Warrior’

SGT Michael Bougher of the Indiana Army National Guard took sixth place in the “American Ninja Warrior” Indianapolis City Finals this summer, earning him a shot at winning $1 million in the National Finals in Las Vegas. (Photo courtesy of “American Ninja Warrior.”)

SGT Michael Bougher of the Indiana Army National Guard took sixth place in the “American Ninja Warrior” Indianapolis City Finals this summer, earning him a shot at winning $1 million in the National Finals in Las Vegas. (Photo courtesy of “American Ninja Warrior.”)

Michael Bougher didn’t exactly set out to conquer grueling obstacle courses on national television when he walked into a local gym three years ago.

The Indiana Army National Guard Sergeant was just looking for a way to stay in shape and have fun at the same time. This led him to a parkour class at the gym – only the class had been cancelled. Instead, he was invited to try out the first obstacle for the gym’s new Ninja Warrior class based on the popular NBC reality competition show, “American Ninja Warrior.”

“I’d always watched the show as a kid. I never thought I’d be a part of it,” he says. “I was really excited to give it a try, and actually ended up making it up the 14-foot warped wall on my very first try.”

That’s all it took to get SGT Bougher hooked. He started helping the gym build more obstacles, which eventually led to testing obstacles for the actual TV show when it built a course in nearby Indianapolis.

Chosen to compete on the show for the first time in 2017, SGT Bougher came back stronger in 2018. He found himself hitting the buzzer with the best time in the “American Ninja Warrior” Indianapolis Qualifiers, earning a spot in the City Finals. There, he finished sixth overall, claiming a spot in the National Finals in Las Vegas, which aired in September – without showing SGT Bougher’s run.

His bid to win the $1 million prize ended with a 15-foot fall into the water from the Double Dipper obstacle. There were various factors at play, but bottom line: “My head wasn’t in it.”

SGT Bougher can be spotted wearing his signature orange T-shirt on “American Ninja Warrior.” He’s hoping to compete on the show again in 2019. (Photo courtesy of “American Ninja Warrior.”)

SGT Bougher can be spotted wearing his signature orange T-shirt on “American Ninja Warrior.” He’s hoping to compete on the show again in 2019. (Photo courtesy of “American Ninja Warrior.”)

“There’s always next year,” says the 23-year-old. “I’ve just got to remember to keep my head a little bit better.”

If he’s invited back for season 11, you can spot him wearing his signature, self-designed orange T-shirt that gives a shout out “to pretty much everything that I do,” which besides the Ninja aspect, includes working as an EMT, playing on a rugby team, and serving as a 35F Intelligence Analyst for the Indiana National Guard, which he joined as a junior in high school.

Looking back at enlisting in the Guard at age 17, “it was one of the best decisions I ever made in my life.”

Because Guard service is a part-time commitment, SGT Bougher has the flexibility to work full-time as an EMT, attend college full-time at Purdue University Fort Wayne, where he majors in criminal justice with a minor in psychology, volunteer at his local fire department, and teach a kids’ Ninja class, where one of his students is competing on “American Ninja Warrior Junior” on the Universal Kids Network.

“I have my life, and I have a family life,” he says. “I can still be a Soldier when I need to be, and that is great.”

Plus, the Guard “comes with a ton of benefits. They pay for my college 100 percent. I get the GI Bill, which helps to pay for books, and I can get as much additional training as I want to. I’ve been to some 400 hours of additional training for my MOS (military occupational specialty) specifically.”

As an Intelligence Analyst, his job is to take information from fellow analysts, infantry, or scouts who are gathering signals, human, or geospatial intelligence, and bring it all together.

“Essentially, I need to know everything that’s going on, be able to make sense of that information, understand why it is happening, and be able to brief it all to the Commander, as well as what we need to do about it.”

SGT Bougher got the chance to use his skills for a seven-month-long, real-life mission in Kosovo without having to leave Indiana.

“I’ve done a bunch of training, but it was really cool to see my work going toward something that’s actually happening.”

There are more military trainings in his future, too. Army Ranger School is on the horizon for next summer, and he’s taking on the Army Master Fitness Trainer course this month.

“I just want to go to every school that they can send me to.”

An Intelligence Analyst with the Guard, SGT Bougher deployed to Japan in late summer as part of the Guard’s Pacific Pathways mission.

An Intelligence Analyst with the Guard, SGT Bougher deployed to Japan in late summer as part of the Guard’s Pacific Pathways mission.

Because of his experience as an analyst, SGT Bougher believes that once he finishes his degree, he has a number of civilian career options, from working for the FBI or another three-letter government agency to working as a contractor overseas. But his end goal is to work in local police, fire, and EMS.

“I like helping the community around me, and I feel good about doing those jobs,” he says.

The desire to help his community is right in line with his service in the Guard, where a Soldier’s primary base of operation is in his or her own State.

SGT Bougher’s advice for anyone considering joining the Guard is to talk to a recruiter who will hopefully talk about the good aspects of service, but not shy away from anything negative.

“You’re going to miss birthdays, you’re going to miss holidays because you’re going to be at a training for this and that, but it’s all for the better of the country and the State. You’re going to come out of it a better person.”

So, if you are interested in a part-time job where you can serve your community and your country, and still have time to pursue a civilian career or other interests, our job board is a great place to start doing some research. Career fields include intelligence, engineering, mechanics and maintenance, military police, infantry, and more. Then, contact your local recruiter to learn more.

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California Officer Balances Guard Service with Teaching the Next Generation of Medicine

KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan – To the Soldiers assigned to Train, Advise and Assist Command-South (TAAC-South), Major (MAJ) Nathan Wall, with the California Army National Guard’s 40th Infantry Division, is simply the deputy logistics and medical operations officer for the unit.

However, back home in Loma Linda, Calif., he goes by Dr. Wall, especially with the students of Loma Linda University School of Medicine, where he is a professor.

“I teach molecular genetics and biochemistry to first- and second-year medical students,” MAJ Wall says. “I am also the program director for the Ph.D. programs in biochemistry and in cancer biology for the Ph.D. students.”

MAJ Wall also leads a research group within the university that studies the biochemical and genetic issues associated with cancer.

“We focus on the understanding of how cells undergo a process called apoptosis, or programmed cell death, in hopes that by understanding this process we can design experimental therapeutics that will induce this phenomenon in cancer cells,” he explains.

Balancing Civilian/Military Roles

With a very active role in the university, MAJ Wall manages to balance life as a professor and a California Army Guard Soldier.

“MAJ Wall is a caring and thorough officer,” says Army MAJ Erik Underwood, logistics officer for TAAC-South. “He truly embodies what we call a Citizen-Soldier®; he is exactly the type of leader and Soldier the [Army] National Guard looks for.”

MAJ Wall says he was motivated to enlist after watching the fall of the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York on 9/11.

“It was heart wrenching, and I knew then that I wanted to join Army.”

At the time, he was at Yale University completing a post-doctoral fellowship, and chose to complete his original plans before joining the Army.

Following Yale, he moved with his family to Massachusetts to complete his second post-doctoral training at Harvard Medical School. Only after moving to California to work at Loma Linda University was he able to commission with the California Guard.

“I have been in the Army for 10 years now, and I can say I have never had a bad day in uniform.”

During his time with the Guard, MAJ Wall has served in medical, logistics, and operations specialties. While each required a different focus, the officer has been able to make transitions easily.

“[He] has transitioned from the medical side to logistics very well, and has been able to tie in both branches,” says MAJ Underwood, a native of Yorba Linda, Calif. “His desire to learn, as you can see from his educational background, I believe, has made him successful in his transition.”

MAJ Wall gives credit to his wife and kids for his successes as both a professor and Soldier.

“I would have never joined [the Army] if my wife wouldn’t have joined with me,” he says. “Even though I am serving [in Afghanistan] now, they are serving back in the States in my absence.”

Though he and his family have to deal with separation during deployments and training as part of military life, it’s something the family has experience with from MAJ Wall’s time in graduate school.

MAJ Nathan Wall, of the California Army National Guard’s 40th Infantry Division and the deputy logistics officer for Train, Advise and Assist Command-South in Afghanistan, works in his office in Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan. (Photo by Army SSG Neysa Canfield, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division.)

MAJ Nathan Wall, of the California Army National Guard’s 40th Infantry Division and the deputy logistics officer for Train, Advise and Assist Command-South in Afghanistan, works in his office in Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan. (Photo by Army SSG Neysa Canfield, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division.)

Serving in uniform and educating others in the classroom complement each other, he says, adding that he doesn’t consider himself only a professor or only a Soldier – he’s both.

“For me, one makes the other better. As a Soldier, the skills that I am able to develop affect who I am as a professor, as a father, son, and spouse, and vice versa.”

Nearing End of Deployment

As his nine-month deployment at TAAC-South nears the end, MAJ Wall says he is excited to see his family and his students back at Loma Linda.

“Whenever I get an opportunity, I take some time to put some of my lessons together in preparation for my return to the school,” he says. “I am very thankful for the university and their patience and their ability to let me be a Soldier.”

MAJ Underwood says he feels grateful to have had the opportunity to have MAJ Wall as part of his team during the deployment.

“I think our unit made a great decision in picking MAJ Wall for this deployment,” MAJ Underwood says. “He has done a lot of good for Afghanistan and TAAC-South. The fact that he has a very successful career in his civilian life shows how patriotic he is and how much he wants to serve his country.”

So, if you are interested in having a civilian career and serving your country and community, both of these things can be done simultaneously when you join the Army National Guard.

Guard service is part-time, which gives Soldiers the flexibility to pursue a career outside of the military. Plus, with the Guard’s education benefits, paying for college or a trade school is easier than you might think. Guard Soldiers also receive training in a career in fields like engineering, aviation, infantry, transportation, and more. Check out all of the options on our job board, and contact your local recruiter to learn more.

From an original article by Army SSG Neysa Canfield, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, which appeared in the news section of NationalGuard.mil in August.

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