Guard Snapshot: Denver, Colorado

Volunteering in the kitchen makes for better cooks and a chance to help others.

SGT Robinson and 1LT Merrick prepare beef hamburger patties at the Denver Fisher House. Colorado Army National Guardsmen of the 193rd Military Police Battalion’s food service section prepare dinner for guests of the Fisher House once a month. The volunteer effort is part of an ongoing initiative for the Colorado Guardsmen to further develop their culinary skills while saving money and providing healthful meals.
SGT Robinson and 1LT Merrick prepare beef hamburger patties at the Denver Fisher House. Colorado Army National Guardsmen of the 193rd Military Police Battalion’s food service section prepare dinner for guests of the Fisher House once a month. The volunteer effort is part of an ongoing initiative for the Colorado Guardsmen to further develop their culinary skills while saving money and providing healthful meals.

For some, cooking is a means to an end, but for a select group of Colorado Army National Guard members, it’s a recipe of unqualified love.

“My joy is in watching others eat,” said Sergeant Joel Robinson as he began preparing the kitchen countertop at the Denver Fisher House.

Fisher Houses provide a home-away-from-home for military families, allowing them to remain close to their loved ones during hospitalization for an illness, disease, or injury. And just like home, guests normally prepare their own meals – but not at this Fisher House.

On the menu on a recent summer night: An all-American barbecue, complete with pulled-pork sandwiches, grilled burgers, corn on the cob, pork and beans, and all the fixings.

Sergeant Anthony Patterson began cooking his signature pulled pork at his house the day before arriving here.

“Pork shoulder. Bone in. Just a slow simmer before it falls off the bone,” he said of his process that began 10 hours prior.

“We only get a chance to cook at drill twice a month,” said Captain Mark Tommell while slicing a hearty, crimson tomato. “By doing this, we train more often and get the opportunity to volunteer.”

CPT Tommell, the 193rd Military Police Battalion adjutant, has led multiple efforts to improve both the morale and the cuisine of the Soldiers in his charge. As the commander for Company E, 2-135th General Support Aviation Battalion in 2011, CPT Tommell recruited Chef Ronald Lavallee from Johnson & Wales University in Denver to further develop his cooks’ culinary skills. Not only did the ongoing effort provide decadent and healthful cuisine for all the members of his battalion, it also lowered the cost of contract meals by nearly 70 percent.

In addition to cost savings, CPT Tommell said he encourages creativity when designing meals to be served on drill weekend.

“It’s very common for units to order ‘heat ‘n’ serve’ food or cook bland Army recipes. It’s safe to say that no commander, food service officer, or Army food service specialist would ever prepare an Army recipe at their house,” he said. “We’re continuing this training at Johnson & Wales, cooking at the Fisher House, and preparing creative menus that focus on a variety of cooking methods.”

“I like ’em thick,” said 1LT Mackenzie Merrick as she mashed 2 ½ pounds of ground beef into dense patties for grilling.

SGT Robinson prefers his burgers just a little thinner, and made his assigned portions so, adding green chilies to the raw meat for a savory effect on the grill.

CPT Tommell said his intent is for everyone in the 193rd’s food service section to help prepare a meal at the Fisher House at least twice. With the initiative in full motion, he hopes to engage enough volunteers in the unit to keep the program going after he moves on to his next assignment.

“Captain Tommell has a great passion for supporting our troops, along with rallying other Soldiers to help with this cause,” said Army Lieutenant Colonel Isaac Martinez, the 193rd’s battalion commander.  “I’m very proud I belong to a team of Colorado Guardsmen and veterans who want to give back to their own brethren.”

“Milk in the corn, makes it juicy and brings out the sweetness,” SGT Robinson said as he added a cup of creamy liquid to the pot of vegetables steaming on the stove.

“… Then debone and shred, add some barbecue sauce,” SGT Patterson said as he tore his main dish into bite-sized morsels for the dozen or so Fisher House guests. “Adding some of the original juices back in also helps keep the meat moist and retains its original flavor.”

For the completely self-funded initiative, the 193rd Soldiers also use their own time when it comes to preparing the guests’ meals.

“One of the missions of the Colorado National Guard is to serve our community and help our neighbors when they’re in need, and by cooking dinner for our fellow veterans and their family members while they’re staying at the Fisher House, we’re doing just that,” CPT Tommell said.

If you enjoy serving your community in its time of need, a career in the Army National Guard might be the right choice for you. Visit our jobs board and contact a recruiter today.

Original story and photo by 2LT Cheresa D. Theiral, Colorado National Guard Public Affairs, appeared in the news section of co.ng.mil/.

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Drive + Determination = Serving Above and Beyond

SSG Danielle GorieSSG Danielle Gorie

At 8 years old, Danielle Gorie watched with wide eyes as Army National Guard Soldiers rolled into her Hurricane Andrew-ravaged town near Miami. They were there to hand out food and supplies, as well as protect the community from looting.

“It left an imprint on me,” she says about those difficult days in ’92.

Fast-forward three years and we arrive at the next important event to shape the decisions young Gorie would make for her own future. Her Naval pilot brother, Dominic, who was 20+ years her senior, got a call from NASA informing him that he was selected to be an astronaut candidate. Throughout middle school and high school, she looked on as her brother piloted several Space Shuttle missions.

By the end of her junior year, Gorie knew exactly what she wanted to do.

“I had this superstar older brother, and I wanted to make my dad proud, too,” she says. “I enlisted in the National Guard on July 31, 2001. I just had to wait until I turned 18 to do my training.”

Of course, while she was waiting, four hijacked airliners crashed into the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, and a field in Shanksville, Pa.

“I watched the Twin Towers on television and just thought, ‘Wow.’”

Yet the events unfolding around her did not derail Gorie’s drive and determination: She was going to make her own mark by serving her community and her country in the Guard.

And that’s exactly what she’s done throughout her 12-year military career. Only when you’re motivated by such drive and determination, the word “serving” needs to be followed by “above and beyond.”

On Deployment

After Basic Combat Training, she completed Advanced Individual Training (AIT) as a 42A Human Resource Specialist and deployed to Afghanistan in 2004 with a Military Police unit out of Florida. But just a few days after their arrival, they lost several Soldiers in a vehicle accident. So Gorie volunteered for regular shifts driving one of the MP Humvees that patrolled Kabul. She also volunteered a couple of times each week to cover the night shift in one of the compound’s guard towers.

“I just felt like I was serving more of a purpose that way.”

Back in the States

Eight years later, Gorie – now Staff Sergeant Gorie – is still volunteering.

After returning to the States, she sought full-time Guard employment, first as a Recruiter Assistant and later as a Recruiter. Her outstanding work earned her a promotion in 2011 to become the Advertising and Marketing Non-Commissioned Officer (MNCO) for the Recruiting and Retention Battalion for the State of Florida.

MNCO duties can be exhaustive, from coordinating events to managing ad campaigns and budgets to running social media properties and more. But when SSG Gorie’s battalion commander sent out a special request via email this past spring, she was the only one who answered the call.

First Ever in Florida

The National Guard was first authorized drill instructor specialties back in 2008, yet no female Soldiers in Florida had ever accepted the grueling challenge of becoming a Drill Sergeant. Until now, that is.

SSG Gorie packed her bags in April and headed to 9 weeks of drill instructor training at Fort Jackson, S.C., with 88 other candidates from across the Nation.

“It was like Basic Training all over again. You get treated like a private, despite your current rank. It teaches you how to be a Drill Sergeant.”

She arrived on a Wednesday, and at 3 a.m. on Thursday reported for an Army Physical Fitness Test – the first of many training activities that would narrow the field down to a final graduating class of 60.

“Many couldn’t pass and went home on the first day.”

After that, SSG Gorie was up at 4:15 every morning and down at formation at 5 a.m. for 90 minutes of physical training, followed by a shower and breakfast. Either classroom or field training filled the rest of the day’s official learning activities until dinner chow, but the day was in no way over.

“After dinner is when you studied MOIs (Memorandum of Instruction). Each week you had to memorize several MOIs – some weeks there were eight of them. And then they would draw a card for one MOI and you’d have to pitch it verbatim. If you didn’t make it, you had to do it again at 4 a.m. the next day. If you failed a second time, you went home. It was the biggest disqualifier for the class.”

She had to re-pitch twice, but did so successfully and graduated on her 30th birthday in June.

Gorie now reports one weekend a month as Drill Sergeant for Florida’s Recruit Sustainment Program, which prepares recruits for Basic Combat Training in the months before they are scheduled to go. They learn basic Soldiering skills, physical training, map skills, and more.

“It makes Basic a lot easier and they have an absolute edge. Most get ID’d as squad leaders.”

Another First for the Future?

So, does SSG Gorie’s new role fulfill her drive and determination to make her mark in the Guard?

Yes – and no.

“I want to be Sergeant Major one day. We’ve never had a female Sergeant Major in our battalion, so I’m setting my sights toward that next.”

If you want to make your mark in the Guard like SSG Gorie, visit the Army National Guard jobs board and contact a Recruiter today.

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Taking It to a Higher Level

PFC Ray Birch

PFC Ray Birch

Tipping the scales at nearly 300 pounds in high school, Private First Class (PFC) Ray Birch says military service was the last thing on his mind. His father was a retired Marine, and military service ran in his family, but when he graduated from high school his physical condition was not in his favor.

His attitude was a totally different story.

The young man – who would eventually serve the State of North Carolina as a Military Police Officer in the Army National Guard – became an avid volunteer in his hometown of Havelock, NC. He served the Parks and Recreation Department doing just about anything they asked, which included organizing logistics for events, driving VIPs, and even dressing up as the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus to entertain the kids.

PFC Birch says he was eager to serve in whatever way he could, so the town gladly accepted his volunteer work on two additional boards, which gave him the opportunity to establish greenways and other nature preservation efforts throughout town.

While his love of community service was growing, his health was still at risk. After a frightening visit to the doctor and a reminder of the diabetes that affected some family members, PFC Birch decided enough was enough. The weight was coming off.

Through a disciplined diet and lots of exercise, he shed 120 pounds. It wasn’t easy, but PFC Birch wasn’t going to let any obstacle stand in his way.

“I haven’t had a Big Mac, Whopper or soda in seven years,” he says.

As the weight started to come off, the doors to his future swung wide open.

He attended classes in manufacturing technology and started a career as a machinist. While he had established a way to earn a paycheck, his heart was still tied to serving the community. The National Guard, he says, was as an opportunity to take his commitment to community to an entirely new level.

“It’s an honor and a privilege to serve North Carolina,” he says. “This is where I was born and it’s an honor for me to do what I do.”

When it came time to choose a Military Occupational Specialty (MOS), PFC Birch remembered that his uncle was a retired Army Military Police Officer (MP), and he thought the values embodied by the position would fit his own values perfectly.

As it turned out, he was right. The MP motto is “to assist, protect, and defend.”

“Being the police of the military, I can help other Soldiers live the military values and show them how to do it,” he says. “And I can assist our community and protect fellow citizens when they are in a time of need.  I’m still a volunteer at heart. The MP fits that.”

The police methods and skills he learned through the National Guard led to a position as a security officer at a local hospital, so PFC Birch now keeps things under control on duty and off. Plus, he continues to serve his hometown through volunteer work.

His transformation from overweight high school kid to a fit, strong National Guard Soldier, security officer, and community volunteer has opened his eyes to his own potential and what he can do in the future.

“I believe in the military values: never accept defeat, never quit, and never say you can’t. I lived those [ideals] before I joined the Guard and the Guard has taken them to a higher level.”

Right now he’s thinking about his options, which include making the National Guard a full-time career, or sticking to part-time Guard service with a civilian career. He says he can see himself going back to school to get his bachelor’s degree, moving on to become a State trooper, and possibly even running for State senate.

“I love this State. I put my heart and soul into this State. My ultimate goal is to serve North Carolina, to try to make the world a better place.”

If you’d like to see a whole new perspective on what you can accomplish, visit the Army National Guard jobs board and contact a Recruiter today.

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