STEM Careers in the Guard: A Spotlight on Science

This fall, On Your Guard is taking a look at STEM, or Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, careers offered by the Army National Guard. These are jobs that require problem solving skills and a strong desire to figure out how things work. They are also typically high paying jobs that are in demand in the civilian workforce.

So why is that important? Because Guard service is typically a part-time commitment, many of our Soldiers make the most of their skills training and the Guard’s education benefits to build successful full-time civilian careers.

This week, we’ll take a look at Science careers.

If you’re good at analyzing complex problems and finding ways to solve them, you may be interested in one of the Army National Guard’s science careers. These can range from jobs in medicine to biology, chemistry, physics and environmental science.

First Lieutenant (1LT) Michelle Warner-Hersey, who joined the Guard after college, applied her dual degree in the science-related fields of athletic training and sports management – and a minor in coaching – to become a 74A Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) Officer in the Ohio National Guard.

Chemical Units are trained to defend against weapons of mass destruction that could involve chemical, biological, nuclear, or radiological agents.

1LT Warner-Hersey and her team, the 155th Chemical Battalion, are trained on how to use personal protective gear to enter a contaminated area, and how to use detection equipment that allows them to assess and understand the environment, “knowing whether we’re entering an area that is suitable for life or not suitable for life, whether it can be mitigated by our protection equipment, or we need to get back out and get something at a higher level.” 

1LT Michelle Warner-Hersey of the Ohio National Guard

1LT Michelle Warner-Hersey of the Ohio National Guard

The team’s objectives are contamination avoidance, determining what contaminants they might be dealing with, and conducting decontamination to ensure that the team is not bringing anything hazardous outside, thereby expanding the contamination area.

“The mission, in general, is to save lives, mitigate human suffering and prepare for follow on forces.”

So far, 1LT Warner-Hersey has not had to respond to any disasters.

“We learned a lot from 9/11. Luckily all of our information is kind of in the what-if world, because we haven’t had to deal the hazards of mustard gas or Agent Orange and things that used to be used,” she explains. “Even things like 9/11 when there wasn’t a specific hazard, but everyone was affected by the dust, smoke, and asbestos, those are things we could have responded to and maybe will in the future.”

Or, as she and members of her Unit like to say, “We train really hard to hope to never do our job.” 

To be able to do this kind of job, 1LT Warner-Hersey says Soldiers will have to be able to understand how chemicals, radiological material, and biological agents react. This requires an aptitude for science and math. And while 1LT Warner-Hersey always liked science, she says math was not her strong suit.

Her determination solved that problem. 

“I just studied a lot and got a lot of help, mainly because I was so interested in the science part that I didn’t have a choice but to figure out how to learn the math side.” 

A CBRN Soldier will also have to be able to make quick decisions, says 1LT Warner-Hersey. She notes that protective gear can make communication difficult because it can inhibit motor function, and masks can make it more difficult for speech to be understood.

Those obstacles, too, are overcome in training by acclimatizing the body to the protective gear.

“You really have to figure out how to handle yourself in a really stressful, fast-paced environment when you’re limited on how you function normally.”

That includes things like speaking differently to be understood through a mask and using hand and arm signals.

For more on what the equipment and a training exercise look like, check out this video, which features 1LT Warner-Hersey and her former Unit. 

Training in the CBRN field can also translate to civilian careers, especially in working for HAZMAT teams or providing HAZMAT training. 1LT Warner-Hersey says she knows of Soldiers who’ve applied their skills to work in crime labs, lab testing and drug testing on the civilian side.

So if you have the aptitude for, and an interest in, a career in science, be sure to visit our job board to check out these Military Occupational Specialties (MOSs):

74D Chemical Operations Specialist

12Y Geospatial Engineer 

68A Medical Equipment Repairer

92L Petroleum Laboratory Specialist

94H Test, Measurement and Diagnostic Equipment Maintenance Support Specialist

Guard careers in closely related fields, like Engineering, Math, and Technology might also be of interest to you. One way to narrow down your options is to contact your local recruiter.


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9/11: Never Forget, Even if You Don’t Remember

We Remember_Army National GuardOn this Patriot Day, On Your Guard salutes every hero who responded and all family members whose lives were changed forever on that tragic day 14 years ago. We especially honor the thousands of National Guard Soldiers who mobilized in New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C., to assist in emergency, recovery, and security operations.

Many reading this blog post were in preschool or kindergarten at the time. You are now in high school or college and considering a career in the Army National Guard. For that, we say thank you. But we also ask that even though you don’t remember much, if anything at all, please never forget. Learn what happened that day and understand that when you join the Guard, you join in our mission to serve and protect the community.

Whether you are young or old, these links offer reflective reading, photos, videos, and more on this day of remembrance:

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Marketing for a Greater Cause

1LT Rachel_Petruska Olson

1LT Rachel_Petruska Olson

Rachel Petruska Olson had a life a lot of people would envy. In the late 1990s, she and her husband, along with their two young sons, decided to trade the drudgery of their native Minnesota winters for the tropics by moving to the Caribbean island of St. Martin and starting their own marketing and advertising company.

The business did well, but the fourth year into their venture, something devastating happened back at home — the terrorist attacks of 9-11, which Petruska Olson says “threw my life into perspective.”

After that life-altering day, she decided for sure that she wanted something more meaningful. “I felt I needed to give more and do more. I knew I needed to bring my job skills into a career that served a greater purpose.”

It was the beginning of a two-year transition in which both Petruska Olson and her husband decided to move back to the States, enlist, and become officers. She decided to reach out online to an Army National Guard recruiter in Minnesota, where they still maintained a house. At age 40, she started basic combat training (the maximum age at the time was 42; today it is 35), followed by Officer Candidate School.

As part of their training, Soldiers choose a military occupational specialty (MOS). For Petruska Olson, it was military intelligence. In fact, she was the first woman to serve on the battalion staff in the 1st Combined Arms Battalion, 194th Armor Regiment in the Minnesota National Guard.

There are many branches to choose from in the U.S. military, but for First Lieutenant (1LT) Petruska Olson, it was “that aspect of being able to help locally in a disaster situation, being able to help your neighbors and your friends and family” that solidified her choice to serve in the National Guard, which has a dual mission of serving the community and the Nation. It was also a good choice for her because she was able to drill and train close to home and family, plus take advantage of the Guard’s “amazing” education benefits.

Thanks to those benefits, 1LT Petruska Olson soon earned a bachelor’s degree in public health, which then led to a civilian job with the American Red Cross as a disaster specialist.

When the Red Cross offered her a job in Texas just last spring, she was able to request an interstate transfer within the Guard. She’s now attached to the Texas National Guard’s Recruiting and Retention office, where she is putting her military intelligence MOS to good use, but in a unique way — by analyzing the effectiveness of the Guard’s outreach throughout the State, which has numerous and sometimes vastly different economic, social, and political demographics.

So instead of enticing tourists to St. Martin’s hotels and resorts, 1LT Petruska Olson now helps to fill the ranks of the Texas Army National Guard with “fabulous Soldiers.” She says she’s falling back on her marketing skills, but now it’s just “marketing for a greater cause.”

Above all, she says the Guard’s best selling points come back to its opportunities for growth.

“I went in thinking, ‘What am I going to give to the military, what am I going to give to the community, what am I going to give to the country?’ And what I found at the end is what it actually gave me. It gave me courage, it gave me strength, it gave me education, and it gave me opportunities I would have never had if I’d never joined.”

As for future opportunities, 1LT Petruska Olson is currently looking into masters’ programs in environmental health focusing on infectious and disease control in her new home state. “There are so many opportunities, so many amazing paths you can take, that I definitely see myself staying within the Guard.”

If you’d like to “give more, do more, and have a more purposeful life and job” like 1LT Petruska Olson, explore all the “amazing paths you can take” by visiting the National Guard jobs board and contacting a recruiter today.

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