If It’s Experience You Crave, Get It in the Guard

When Specialist (SPC) Freddy Valencia joined the Army National Guard in 2011, he was a little different from most recruits.

SPC Freddy Valencia

SPC Freddy Valencia

“Money for college was a big draw for a lot of guys my age,” SPC Valencia said. “But not for me.”

Why? Paying for college was already taken care of, so the only debt he owed was the one he owed himself.

“I was always interested in joining the military, but I had a choice to make and I went to college instead,” Valencia said.

When he was done with college, Valencia decided he didn’t want to have any regrets in life.

“So I looked into the service, and the Guard offered me the experience I craved while allowing me to continue my civilian career. It’s experience you can’t see online or get in a Google search. There’s a lot about the Guard that you’re not going to learn from your Recruiter. You just have to experience it for yourself.”

It was that experience that Valencia was after.

For example, if not for the Guard, he would not have had the opportunity to participate in the German military’s Fitness Proficiency Test – an intense, but incredibly rewarding fitness challenge.

Here’s how that came about. Valencia’s Company Commander is the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) instructor at Salisbury University. He arranged for a Sergeant Major from Germany to monitor the two-day event in which participants attempt to qualify silver or gold and earn a badge for their uniform. Valencia, about 19 other members of his unit, and Cadets from the Commander’s ROTC unit all participated.

“It’s a great measure of fitness,” Valencia said. “Over two days, you had to do the high jump, shot put, 1000-meter sprint, 3k or 5k timed run, 200-meter swim, 9mm marksmanship, and a 7.5-mile ruck march. I qualified for the gold badge. It was just a new, different, and valuable experience.”

In addition to the discipline it takes to meet the physical fitness requirements of the military, Valencia said he has gained management experience in the Guard that has been invaluable to his civilian career.

“One of the things you hear about all the time is the importance of being motivated,” Valencia said. “I use what I learned in the Guard to keep my employees motivated, keep them proud of their work, and keep them working for each other.”

Having no regrets in life – check. Gaining valuable experience – check. Having fun while you’re at it? Check.

“I don’t feel like I’m going to work,” Valencia said about his weekend duty. “I feel like I’m going on a field trip.”

Get your experience in the Army National Guard in one of more than 200 career fields. Go to the Job Board today to find the best path for you.

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A Soldier with a Master Plan

Can’t see the forest for the trees. Missing the big picture. Needs a bird’s-eye view.

There are plenty of idioms and clichés for people who become so overwhelmed by details that they can’t figure out a master plan. But those phrases will never be used to describe Staff Sergeant (SSG) Andrew Barden.

Staff Sergeant Andrew Barden

Staff Sergeant Andrew Barden

That’s because SSG Barden is a rare and valuable breed: a details guy with 20/20 big-picture vision. It also helps that he has the drive, resilience, and determination it takes to transform his vision – for his career, for his patients, and for emergency situations – from master plan to reality.

Today, SSG Barden is a 68W Health Care Specialist (medic) for the Iowa Army National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 194th Field Artillery Regiment, Fort Dodge. His original Guard training as a 12M Firefighter also prepared him for his current civilian career. He’s a state employee firefighter for the 132nd Fighter Wing Fire Department, serving both the Des Moines International Airport and the Iowa Air National Guard to protect F-16s, passenger aircraft, and all facilities situated on the 2,600-acre airfield. And, in all his spare time, SSG Barden has been working toward – and this month will receive – a bachelor’s degree in Emergency and Disaster Management with an emphasis in Fire Science (plus, he’s already enrolled to begin a master’s program in the same subject this fall).

So, what can we learn from SSG Barden? How does one absorb all the details required to be a Soldier, a medic, a firefighter, and an emergency/disaster management specialist, and then use that knowledge to assess extreme circumstances, determine a master plan, and implement it – often in a matter of minutes?

The answer is training, and, according to SSG Barden, not just any training: “I wouldn’t have my career without the training I’ve received through the National Guard. Plus, as a Guardsman, the State of Iowa provided me with 100 percent tuition assistance.”

But let’s not forget about those underlying personal qualities: drive, resilience, and determination. They’re pretty important, too. To see why, we have to rewind 10 years and start SSG Barden’s story from the beginning.


Chapter one (year one) starts with “drive.”

“I was going to be a computer draftsman, and then I volunteered at a local fire department. I thought, ‘This is what I want to do.’ So, I talked to my chief who happened to also be a firefighter in the Guard. I realized at 18 years old that I could join the military and pursue my dream of being a firefighter, all on one ticket.”

At first, the National Guard Recruiter told SSG Barden that he couldn’t guarantee an opening to train for the firefighter military occupation specialty (MOS). “So I said, ‘Call back when you can.’”

He did, pretty quickly actually, and after Basic Training, SSG Barden headed to Advanced Individual Training (AIT) where he earned five certifications – First Responder, Firefighter 1 and 2, Hazmat Operations, and Airport Fire – in a matter of four months.

“In the civilian world, that would have cost me, or my fire department, thousands of dollars and would normally take years to do.”


Chapter two of SSG Barden’s story spans six years and is all about “resilience.” His dream civilian job as a paid firefighter was not materializing, and his Iowa Guard firefighting unit, the 767th Engineer Team, was traded to another State. He needed to pick another MOS after all. Of course, SSG Barden’s big-picture thinking was at work when he selected Health Care Specialist and then headed to four more months of AIT, where he earned a another slew of certifications.

A year later, SSG Barden deployed to Taji, Iraq, in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, where he was in charge of a team of medics responsible for the care of 1,200 detainees in accordance with Geneva Convention and International Red Cross regulations. While there, his ability to carry out a master plan translated into exceptional, humanitarian care that included routine visits, immunizations, flu shots, hygiene education, and more.

“We were required to see 10 percent of the population daily, but we organized it so we actually saw 20 percent daily.”


The past three years and the most recent chapter in SSG Barden’s story is all about “determination” – to finally get that dream firefighting job and to continue laying the foundation needed for a future (read: master plan) in emergency and disaster management.

After returning from Iraq, he applied to his present position with the 132nd not once, but twice, to get his foot in the door. His six-month probationary period consisted of – yes, you guessed it – more training, and lots of it. After all, they don’t let just anybody operate aircraft rescue fire trucks that can dump 1,500 gallons of water in a little over a minute; or a high-tech rapid intervention vehicle that delivers water droplets to absorb heat and suppress fire; or a technical rescue truck with tons of equipment for rope rescue, trench rescue, vehicle extraction and stabilization; or a special operations trailer that carries search-and-rescue equipment, as well as hazmat equipment for gas detection, monitoring, and decontamination.

So, what’s SSG Barden’s master plan for chapter four?

“I’m happy where I am right now. But someday I want to be in charge of overall response to large-scale emergencies, perhaps with FEMA. And as for the Guard, I’ll stay a medic forever, but I’m open to State response or operations-level opportunities.”

If you have a master plan like SSG Barden, the National Guard can transform your vision into reality. Check out the National Guard jobs board and contact your Army National Guard Recruiter today.

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Gear Spotlight: Take a Whirl in the Guard’s Whirly Birds

Imagine for a minute that you are in a movie. A disaster movie. A disaster movie where Mother Nature has lashed out across the region. There are fires and floods, high winds and rain, downed power lines throwing sparks into the air, and a young mother clutching her toddler on her roof trying to get away from the rising water, her tears mixing with the spray of water from the sky.

You are, of course, the hero of this movie because you are part of a National Guard helicopter flight crew preparing to go rescue that woman and her child. And you know in your heart that you will not let her down.

The Blackhawk does it all, from battlefield support to domestic rescue operations.

The Blackhawk does it all, from battlefield support to domestic rescue operations.

Now here’s the question: As the scene unfolds, which Soldier are you?

Are you the pilot or co-pilot? Are you the Soldier preparing to swing down in the harness? Are you the crew chief coordinating activities on the ground? Are you a mechanic making last-minute pre-flight checks to make sure the aircraft is mission-ready?

If you don’t like the search and rescue scenario, choose another: fighting forest fires, spotting activity on known drug routes, combat missions against enemies of our country. Take your pick, because the Guard has a helicopter for every eventuality. Here are a few:


After more than 50 years of service, the venerable Chinook is the Army’s unmistakable workhorse with its trademark dual rotors set fore and aft. Since the Vietnam conflict, Chinooks have been picking up, hauling, and air dropping Soldiers, vehicles, ordnance, equipment, relief supplies, and more.

But make no mistake, they may be an older design, but they are by no means obsolete. In fact, the Chinook just keeps getting better with age. Today’s Chinooks are more powerful than ever after several upgrades that essentially make it twice as powerful as the original model.

The roomy fuselage is large enough to carry vehicles like the Humvee (giving new meaning to the term “cargo”), 33 fully-outfitted Soldiers, or in first aid duty, up to 24 litters for injured Soldiers or civilians. But that’s not all, because it also features external hauling capability. Basically, a load that is too large to fit into the bay – like, say, a fighter jet – can be tied to the underside of the helicopter and air lifted to a destination.

One of the most distinctive features of the Chinook is the rear loading ramp and door. Not only does this simplify loading and unloading, but it allows skilled pilots to do the Pinnacle Maneuver, whereby they set down only the rear of the craft to offload Soldiers or vehicles, thus increasing the overall functionality of the Chinook helicopter.


From the largest common-use helicopter in the Guard fleet, we move to the smallest. The Kiowa Warrior is a combat-ready helicopter that is primarily used for armed reconnaissance missions in support of ground troops. It also is used in security, target acquisition and designation, command and control, light attack, and defensive air combat missions in support of combat and contingency operations.

With its Mast Mounted Site and highly advanced navigation and digital imaging system, the Kiowa Warrior very easily becomes the eye in the sky for National Guard operational commands. The Mast Mounted Site and onboard digital communications system makes it possible to send precise target information to other aircraft or artillery units, as well as provide near-real-time battlefield or operational imagery to command and control elements. Also, the Laser Designator provides autonomous designation for the Laser HELLFIRE missile or remote designation for other laser-guided precision weapons.


The Army National Guard designates the Blackhawk as a utility tactical transport helicopter. That means it does a little bit of everything. But in essence, it improves the overall mobility of the Guard’s ground forces.

In theater, it gives command full-spectrum support across the asymmetric battlefield. It can carry a fully equipped 11-man Infantry squadron into hostile territory, place a 105 mm howitzer along with its six-person crew and 30 rounds of ammunition, or provide MEDEVAC airlifts for injured personnel. It’s even armed with two 7.62 mm machine guns so Crew Chiefs can provide suppressing fire in hot landing zones.

Domestically, this is likely the helo that would be used in rescue operations and transporting people and equipment from place to place.


The Apache were among the fiercest and most feared of all the Native American tribal warriors in the 1800s, which makes them the perfect namesake for this impressive machine. Where the other helicopters on this list fulfill multiple purposes, the Apache Longbow was made for only one: complete aerial combat supremacy. And it delivers on its purpose with HELLFIRE missiles and a wicked 30 mm chain gun that puts fear into those who face it.

The Army’s “Fact Files” Web site describes the Apache Longbow’s mission thusly:

“[The Apache] Conducts rear, close, and shaping missions, including deep precision strike. Conducts distributed operations, precision strikes against relocatable targets, and provides armed reconnaissance when required in day, night, obscured battlefield, and adverse weather conditions.”

What that translates to in plain English is: “You really don’t want to mess with the Apache Longbow.”

So back to our movie. How will you be the hero of this thriller? Whether you envisioned yourself piloting these varied aircraft, or as part of the crew, or arming them, or making them airworthy, you can only do it in the National Guard. Go to the Guard’s job board to search for your starring role today.

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