Natural Disasters Inspire Guard Members to Re-enlist

TOPEKA, Kansas – No one wants bad things to happen, especially in their communities. However, for two Kansas Army National Guard members, the devastation of recent floods was a rejuvenating experience.

Torrential rains and thunderstorms hit Kansas in late May, and flooding became an imminent danger for several communities downstream from levees and dams that were close to overflowing. With the addition of a destructive tornado that hit Douglas and Leavenworth counties, the emergency in Kansas escalated to disastrous proportions.

Members of the Kansas Army National Guard were asked to help. One of them was Staff Sergeant (SSG) Michael Eicher of the 891st Forward Support Company, who had no problem volunteering.

“That’s why I signed up to be in the National Guard,” SSG Eicher says, “to help people.”

Although not a Kansas native, his active duty service led him to the State when he was stationed at Fort Riley in 1993. It was not long after he met his wife that he decided to leave the military to raise a family.

“Then 9/11 happened,” he says. “My wife looked at me one day and said, ‘You miss it, don’t you?’ I said ‘Yeah, big time,’ and she said, ‘You do what you (have) to do.’”

SSG Eicher restarted his military career by enlisting in the Kansas Army National Guard. However, as he closed in on completing 20 years of service, he had it in his mind to finally retire from military life.

To get to his 20 years, SSG Eicher would have to extend his enlistment another year. His fellow Soldiers were trying to convince him to sign up for another six, so he joked with his wife that he would do it. She gave him a response that he wasn’t expecting: “At least you finally made up your mind.”

Later that month, the flooding began, and SSG Eicher was called to State active duty, where he immediately started running missions to deliver supplies to multiple communities in southeast Kansas. The tasks included dropping off pallets of water and other supplies for water rescue.

Finishing those missions, he and his team went back to home base in Iola, where they received their next mission to deliver 18 pallets of water to Coffeyville – a town that was preparing for flooding if the Verdigris River levee should break.

“When we were done with the water, we got the word to go and start helping with the sandbags. We did that well into the night,” he explains.

After finally getting some rest when other Soldiers came to relieve them at around 3 a.m., SSG Eicher and the rest of the Guard members finished helping the community members with the sandbagging late that next afternoon.

MAJ Polen (left), executive officer of the 891st Engineer Battalion, gives the reenlistment oath to SPC O’Neill (right), assigned to 891st Forward Support Company, June 2, atop of pallets of water that are ready to be distributed to communities in Kansas devastated by flooding in May. (Photo by 105th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment.)

The whole experience reminded him of why he joined the Army National Guard in the first place, and he began reconsidering his decision to retire. After completing his final mission to Valley Falls, he told his commander he would re-enlist in the Guard.

“I’d been thinking about it for a while, but just helping others was what made me decide,” SSG Eicher says. “I was there in the fire station in Valley Falls and something clicked in my mind that said, ‘Hey, what are you doing? You love this! Why are you getting out?’”

SSG Eicher wasn’t the only one who felt that way. Lawrence resident Specialist (SPC) Russell O’Neill of the 891st Forward Support Company, also realized it was not quite time to let go.

SPC O’Neill was coming to the end of his first enlistment and had already decided to conclude his service at the end of his contract because he felt like he was doing less and less of the job he signed up to do.

But then disaster struck south of Lawrence when a tornado plowed through on its way toward Kansas City.

SPC O’Neill, who works for a landscaping company in Lawrence, says several of the houses he worked on were damaged. Several of his family and friends who lived in the vicinity of Linwood, Kansas, were affected and had damage to their homes.

That next weekend, SPC O’Neill would get the chance to help. One of the vehicles used to deliver supplies broke down while his unit was drilling. His experience working on those trucks made him the go-to guy to fix it.

While these events were not the only reasons SPC O’Neill decided to stay in, they helped him confirm he needed to continue his service. He also realized the benefits he would get for his three children would outweigh the little time he would be away. The biggest reason, however, was the realization that he didn’t want to let go of the camaraderie he’s found while serving in the Army National Guard.

“I feel that with my fellow Soldiers it is a brotherhood that I haven’t had since high school. The weekend drills, I get to go be around a bunch of guys that I enjoy being around, and I’ve had a lot of them call me throughout my hardships and ask how I’m doing.”

By the end of the June drill, SSG Eicher and SPC O’Neill had reenlisted, standing on pallets of water to be delivered for the flooding.

“When the State active duty stuff comes around and people need your help, that is what we are here for,” says SSG Eicher. “If you are thinking about retiring and you’re thinking about getting out, think about all these things that could happen.”

“Who knew that the flooding was going to take place? Nobody – and that’s why you joined in the first place.”

If you’re passionate about giving back to your community, join the Army National Guard where you can serve part-time in your home State, and be the one your neighbors look to in times of need. With hands-on training in over 130 career fields including ground forces, logistics, and transportation, you can be part of a team that’s prepared to handle anything. Visit the job board to browse open opportunities today.

From an original article by the 105th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, Kansas National Guard, which appeared in the news section of NationalGuard.mil in June 2019.

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GI Jon: Guard Soldier’s Journey to Living His Dreams

Ever since he was a child, SPC Jonathan Mullins wanted to be a GI Joe.

“I always wanted to be just like the Soldiers in the movies.”

But sometimes life takes unexpected turns. At 19, SPC Mullins was sitting in a Marine Corps recruitment office, waiting to sign his enlistment papers when he got a call that his wife was expecting their first child.

He put his dream on the back-burner and jumped into his new role as a father, taking care of his wife and first-born daughter.

SPC Jonathan Mullins is an 11B Infantryman in the Virginia Army National Guard.

It wasn’t until the day that SPC Mullins’ fates aligned that he knew where he belonged. He was working in construction and didn’t have health benefits when he fell off a roof at work. Luckily, he wasn’t hurt badly.

The same day, he blew a tire and found himself sitting in the parking lot of a Virginia Army National Guard Recruiting and Retention office. Ironically, his wife’s cousin was once a colonel in that office. He took this as a sign that it was time to pursue his dream.  He immediately called the colonel and asked her what he needed to do to enlist.

At that point, SPC Mullins was a 30-year-old homeowner and father of three. Joining the Army National Guard rather than an active duty branch of the armed services would allow him to serve in the military without having to move his family away from home.

“I didn’t want to uproot them because we had everything right here; I didn’t want to take them away from that,” he says.

“The best part about being in the Guard is that you still get to come home.”

Now 32, he’s been able to live out his dream as an 11B Infantryman – but that’s not all he wanted to be. After enlisting, he started applying to law enforcement agencies in the area, landing the other job he’d always wanted:  police officer. For SPC Mullins, having the flexibility to serve part-time and have a civilian career at the same time has been one of the most rewarding benefits of joining the Guard.

There are other perks, too. He’s now able to provide health insurance for him and his family. He’s also using the Guard’s education benefits to work toward a degree in ministry, which will help him when he plans on reclassing as a 56M Chaplain Assistant in the future.

“I’ve worked through the ministry for quite some time, since I was 21,” he says, “and I really feel like that’s where I’m being led.”

SPC Mullins with his wife and three children.

For SPC Mullins, it’s all about making his family proud and being able to do the things he loves. His Guard experience has fulfilled him in ways he never thought possible. He dropped out of high school at a young age, went back to get his GED, and thought he would join the workforce, following wherever the dollar led him.

Now he has a new outlook: “Work hard and don’t give up.”

He reminisces about the strongest piece of advice he’d received from a drill sergeant when things seemed tough in the beginning of his Guard journey:

“If you feel like giving up, you’re only giving 40 percent. You’ve still got 60 percent left to give, so you’ve got to dig deep and give that 60 percent.”

SPC Mullins passes that advice on to others with the hopes of inspiring them to live their truths and pursue their passions.

“If it’s your dream, and it’s something you’ve always wanted to do, pursue it and live that dream.”

If you’re looking for a fulfilling career with benefits like tuition assistance, insurance for you and your family, and the ability to serve part-time in your home State, check out the National Guard job board. With more than 130 careers in fields like aviation, engineering, and transportation, there’s something for everyone in all walks of life. Contact a recruiter today to learn more about how you can join the Army National Guard.

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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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