Guard Soldier’s Service Inspired by Dad, Destiny, and Girl in a Grocery Store

Not long after immigrating to Indiana from her native Honduras, a young Arely Elrod encountered a “beautiful girl in a uniform” at a grocery store.

It wasn’t a military dress uniform, just your everyday fatigues, but the pre-teen was transfixed. She hadn’t realized that girls could be Soldiers.

Initially, Arely’s mother dismissed her daughter’s interest in the military as a phase. No – her daughter was destined to be an attorney, a doctor, or an engineer. But Arely felt a stronger pull toward a career in discipline that never really let go.

Now 32, Corporal (CPL) Elrod proudly wears a uniform as part of the Indiana Army National Guard.

“When I put that uniform on I feel alive. I feel like I belong somewhere.”

That somewhere can be elbow deep in an engine compartment – she’s a 91L Construction Vehicle Repairer – or singing in front of a crowd of thousands as part of the Indiana National Guard’s ceremonial unit.             

Before joining the Guard, CPL Elrod had enlisted in the Army in 2008 after trying to make it in L.A. in modeling, acting, and music.

“I wanted to get out of my comfort zone. Modeling is easy for me. I wanted to do something that was unexpected. I wanted to explore the world and see what I have to offer this earth, what I have to offer this country.”

CPL Arely Elrod (formerly Rosario) of the Indiana Army National Guard.

CPL Arely Elrod (formerly Rosario) of the Indiana Army National Guard.

Working as a mechanic on heavy machinery like bulldozers was both an unexpected choice for the 5-foot-1, self-described “girly” Soldier, and far outside her comfort zone.

“The only thing I had done to a car before was drive it, and I barely knew how to put gas in it.”

After a tour in Afghanistan, where she lost some friends, CPL Elrod came back to the States, got the therapy she needed to deal with her combat experiences, got married, moved to Florida, left the Army, and had a son.

When her marriage ended, she moved back to Indiana to go to law school, but found out it wasn’t for her. Plus, she missed the camaraderie of being in the military.

She signed on with the Guard on March 7, 2016 – a date she knows by heart.

“It’s the day I decided to take my life into my own hands and into my destiny,” she says. “I wanted to remind myself how strong I was. I picked up what I remembered and joined the National Guard. It has been the ride of a lifetime.”

As part of the Indiana Army National Guard’s ceremonial unit, CPL Elrod, pictured with her husband, John, and her son, Louie, has sung at many high-profile sporting events including an Indianapolis Colts game.

As part of the Indiana Army National Guard’s ceremonial unit, CPL Elrod, pictured with her husband, John, and her son, Louie, has sung at many high-profile sporting events including an Indianapolis Colts game.

CPL Elrod takes satisfaction in knowing that her mechanical expertise keeps her fellow Soldiers safe, but what she really loves is performing in the ceremonial unit. She has sung at events ranging from retirement ceremonies for 30 people to sporting events like the Indianapolis 500, and Indianapolis Colts and Indians games.

“It’s my passion and being able to combine both things – what I love to do with music, and being able to support my State and country – that’s the best combination to me.”

The flexibility of serving part-time with the Guard also gives her time to pursue other interests. CPL Elrod and her husband recently started a maintenance, cleaning, and landscaping business, and on the side, she does makeup and microblading.

CPL Elrod says she felt destined to do something in a field that involves discipline and to be of service, traits instilled in her by her father who had passed away before the family left Honduras.

“My biological father was so loving, so selfless. He did more for others than he did for himself.”

Besides volunteering in Indianapolis to impress upon her son how blessed their family is, she wants to serve her community in a new way by becoming a police officer.

She’ll find out in December if she’s accepted by the academy.

“Because of the skills I’ve learned in the military, I’ve passed everything with flying colors – my physical, my written exams, and my oral exams.”

If it doesn’t work out, she wouldn’t mind exploring a medical career instead and moving up the ranks in the Guard.

“I’m always looking for things I can do,” she says.

So, if you’re looking to leave your comfort zone behind and serve something bigger than yourself, consider joining the Army National Guard, which offers great education benefits and careers in fields like engineering, aviation, armor and field artillery, and transportation. Contact your local recruiter for more information.

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Guard Soldier’s Desire to Do More Leads to Dream Job Training Dogs

They say, “do what you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life.”

For Sergeant (SGT) Giovanna Donofrio, this statement holds true as she moves into the sixth year of her military career. She’s turned her passion into purpose, and found a job that she truly loves waking up for in the morning.

At age 20, SGT Donofrio was attending school, but lacked the feeling that she was making an impact. With the desire to do something different with her life, she decided to join the military.

“I needed to do something that made me feel like I was helping people more,” she says. “When I joined, I was pretty excited to feel like I was actually contributing.”

Upon leaving active duty six years later, she knew she wanted to continue her service. She transitioned to the Connecticut Army National Guard, so she could serve close to home and work in the Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) she wanted.

“When I was getting out of active duty, I [kind of] didn’t want to because I was going to miss it so much. But now that I’m in the National Guard, I’m still able to do everything I love.”

SGT Donofrio started her military career as a 91B Light-Wheel Vehicle Mechanic, and two years later, re-classed as a 31K Military Working Dog Handler – an MOS she felt passionate about.

SGT Donofrio and Schurkje pose in front of the flag at the Newtown Military Working Dog Kennels in Connecticut.

Connecticut, home to the only National Guard kennel in the U.S., is the perfect fit for SGT Donofrio. She gets to do what she loves by working with dogs, and she’s a wife and mother of three children, so being able to spend time with her family is a priority. Serving in the Army National Guard gives her the flexibility to do both.

“It’s been very beneficial for me. I love what I do, and I love being able to wear the uniform,” she says. “I love my job and being able to go home every day and see my family.”

SGT Donofrio currently works full time alongside her furry partner, Schurkje (pronounced Shur-key), a 6-year-old Belgian Malinois, specializing in drug detection.

“You’re assigned a military working dog, and depending on what kind of dog it is, whether it’s a drug dog or explosive dog, you train with this dog, and you become a team,” she explains. “Then you go out on missions to either find explosives or drugs.”

To become a dog handler, Guard members must attend Military Police training at Fort Leonard Wood for 7 weeks, followed by K9 training at Lackland Airforce Base for 11 weeks, where they learn how to handle a dog. Once complete, they’re assigned a military working dog, and go through a certification process before being able to deploy. SGT Donofrio and Schurkje are currently working toward their certification.

To get certified, Soldiers and their K9s must go through 3 to 5 days of what’s called a Detection Lane – an exercise that tests a dog’s ability to sniff out a hidden training aid, either narcotics or explosives, depending on the type of dog. The handler watches for any change in behavior, indicating the dog has detected the items.

Then they have patrol, which includes controlled aggression, a scout, and a building search, followed by obedience training in an obstacle course, and an exercise featuring gunfire to ensure the K9 won’t act aggressively or shy away if it comes under fire.

SGT Giovanna Donofrio watches as Schurkje hurdles over an obstacle in the obedience course at the Newtown Military Working Dog Kennels in Connecticut.

“As far as Schurkje goes, he is great with gunfire, and just sits there next to me perfectly fine,” boasts SGT Donofrio.

Even though they can’t run missions just yet, SGT Donofrio and Schurkje are given opportunities elsewhere. This past March, in honor of K9 Veterans Day, the pair, alongside other members of the Connecticut Army National Guard’s 928th Military Working Dog Detachment, were presented with an official citation from the General Assembly at the State Capitol, recognizing them for their service. This, she says, has been one of her most fulfilling moments in the Guard thus far.

Not only does she love her job, she also enjoys all the benefits the Guard has to offer. With the Guard’s tuition assistance, she attends school full time, working toward her bachelor’s degree in accounting, and recently, she was able to purchase a new home using the VA loan benefit.

When she’s off the clock, SGT Donofrio enjoys hanging out with her Pomsky (half Pomeranian/half Husky), spending time with her family, painting, going to Zumba, horseback riding, and coaching cheerleading.

The Army National Guard offers the flexibility you need to live a well-balanced life. With more than 130 career options in fields like military police, medicine, and infantry, you, too, can find a job that you love, with benefits that help support you, your lifestyle, and your family. Contact a local recruiter to learn more today.

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Kentucky Guard Member Lets Strength and Courage Define Her

Newly appointed Warrant Officer Natalie Wamsley salutes her husband, Chief Warrant Officer Ronald Wamsley, during a commissioning ceremony in Frankfort, Ky., March 19, 2019. Wamsley completed Warrant Officer Candidate School while battling cancer. (Photo by SFC Scott Raymond).

Newly appointed Warrant Officer Natalie Wamsley salutes her husband, Chief Warrant Officer Ronald Wamsley, during a commissioning ceremony in Frankfort, Ky., March 19, 2019. Wamsley completed Warrant Officer Candidate School while battling cancer. (Photo by SFC Scott Raymond).

FRANKFORT, Ky. – In late March of 2018, Natalie Wamsley was finishing up Warrant Officer Candidate School (WOCS), maxing her last Army Physical Fitness Test, and taking another successful step in her 16-year military career. On April 6th, she found out she had cancer.

While at WOCS, she felt a lump, but disregarded it as muscle soreness from the intense physical fitness. A couple weeks after she returned home and many sleepless nights, she went to her doctor. After an ultrasound and a biopsy, her doctor called her in for an appointment.

“I knew immediately what that meant,” she says. “All they would tell me was I had cancer; not how bad, how big, nothing like that. When you don’t know facts, your mind tends to spin out of control.”

What Natalie did know was how torturous the week was before speaking with a surgeon. She was told she had an aggressive form of cancer that had spread to her lymph nodes and that it had developed three months prior.

“I thought, ‘I am too young for this. I have a lot more life to live. I have a husband and two very small children. I have a lot to live for. But he said I was curable, so I continued to stay positive.’”

Thanks to recent developments in science, doctors said she had a fighting chance. And fight she did.

Natalie enlisted in the Army National Guard while she was still in high school in 2003. She joined because of her grandfather’s military service and her involvement in Junior ROTC. She comes from a long line of veterans but was the first woman in her family to join. She served as a 42A Human Resource Specialist at the company and brigade level, including a deployment to Iraq in 2011.

When she took a job at the State’s personnel office, she was mentored by Chief Warrant Officer Larry Arnett, who told her she would make a great warrant officer. She already knew about warrant officers because her husband, Ronald Wamsley, is one and serves as a network engineer with the State information and technology office.

“She was already looked upon as an expert in her field,” he says. “She has excellent PT scores and shows good leadership skills.”

Natalie says that mentorship and the desire to be a better version of herself drove her to the warrant officer path.

“I hope that I can be a role model for my children one day and show them they can do anything if they work hard and have the right people to guide them.”

That aggressive nature runs through Natalie in all she does. Less than two weeks after learning she had cancer, she started a high dose of chemotherapy. After six rounds, the doctors were not satisfied and began a more intense regimen – eight more rounds, followed by surgery.

“I was told I had a ‘stubborn’ cancer, and the surgery didn’t get it all, so they decided on more rounds of chemo.”

There were good days and bad, many laughs and cries. Mentally she remained strong, but physically, it was a different story. Days when she couldn’t pick her children up broke her heart, but not her determination.

“I was so scared I would lose her,” her husband recalls. “But we focused on one thing at a time. She made things so much easier by being so resilient. She would apologize to me because she was too sick to help with the kids, but I said, ‘Don’t worry about it, I got this.’ When she lost her hair, it didn’t even phase her. She still went to work and didn’t even cover up her hair loss. She always maintained a positive attitude.”

She was then prescribed radiation therapy, which she currently receives five days a week – all while preparing to be commissioned as a warrant officer.

“I was unsure how my appointment would go. I kept telling myself, if it is not my time, it’s not my time. There will be other opportunities. But working out throughout my treatments helped my spirit, along with the strength and love of my husband, children, and my Guard family.”

Natalie came off chemotherapy in January and took her fitness test in order to commission. She passed, impressing herself with her score. She was commissioned in March in front of a large crowd of friends and colleagues, all inspired by the woman standing in front of them.

She was pinned by her husband who said he had never been prouder of Natalie. Together the Wamsleys are the only warrant officer husband-wife pair in the Kentucky Army National Guard. Both remain so grateful for the support they both have received from their Guard family.

When you ask those friends, Guardsmen, and civilians to describe Natalie, you get “hero,” “fighter,” and “inspiration.” Her husband calls her a beast for her consistently solid PT scores. She doesn’t see or think of herself as a hero at all, saying “Everyone has their battles, this is just part of my fight and my story.”

Lieutenant Colonel Travis Carpenter, Deputy Director of Personnel for the Kentucky National Guard, says a hero is someone who you wish to emulate and someone who has attributes you wish you had, like superpowers.

“Everyone has their idea of a hero,” he says. “[Natalie] Wamsley is a personal hero of mine. She not only succeeded in a time of adversity, she excelled in a time that others may not.”

Natalie recalls her mantra during treatment: “Your illness does not define you, your strength and courage does. Everyone has their own fight, it’s how you come out of it. I hope that I am a better person going through this, and I hope through my story I can encourage someone to fight because this life is worth living.”

Natalie’s Guard family has played an important role in helping her overcome defeat. If you’re looking for a strong bond, a lifetime of adventure, and a place to call home, consider joining the Army National Guard. With more than 130 career opportunities in fields like aviation, engineering, and armor and field artillery, you can find your fit and reap the benefits of part-time service close to home. To learn more about how you can make a difference in your community and country, contact a local recruiter today!

From an original article by SFC Scott Raymond, Kentucky National Guard, which appeared in the news section of NationalGuard.mil in April 2019.

 

 

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