Ohio’s First Female Infantry Officer on COVID-19 Front Lines

2LT Colleen O’Callaghan
2LT Colleen O’Callaghan, a platoon leader with the Ohio Army National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 148th Infantry Regiment, oversees her team at Second Harvest Food Bank of Clark, Champaign and Logan Counties in Springfield, Ohio. O’Callaghan is the Ohio National Guard’s first female Army Infantry Officer in its 232-year history. (Photo by SPC Max Elliott.)

COLUMBUS, Ohio – The Ohio Army National Guard’s support during the COVID-19 pandemic has presented many firsts for the organization.

It marks the first time since the Blizzard of 1978 that the Army National Guard has responded to serve the State on such a large scale. The Guard’s overall COVID-19 response, known as Operation Steady Resolve, is the first time Ohio’s Army Guard, Air Guard, Naval Militia, and Military Reserve have been activated under one joint task force.

Among the hundreds of Soldiers, Airmen, and other personnel who have answered the call to serve on the front lines of the COVID-19 response is one who had already achieved an historic first of her own for the organization. Second Lieutenant (2LT) Colleen O’Callaghan is the first woman in the Ohio National Guard’s 232-year history to become an Army Infantry Officer.

With the integration of women into combat arms still in its infancy – the Department of Defense began allowing them to serve in direct combat Units more than five years ago – 2LT O’Callaghan took a leap of faith to start her journey toward becoming an Infantry Officer.

Graduating the Army’s Infantry Basic Officer Leaders Course (IBOLC) was an accomplishment 2LT O’Callaghan says she never envisioned when she began her career in the Ohio Army National Guard. Along with help from her recruitment team, she navigated the obstacles to pave the way for herself and other women to join the Infantry branch.

“I really wanted to take on a big challenge,” 2LT O’Callaghan says. “So, I walked into the Army National Guard recruiting office and told them I want to be an Infantry Officer. I saw it as an opportunity to reinvent myself and serve my country.”

2LT O’Callaghan earned her blue cord – a military decoration worn over the right shoulder on an Army dress uniform by all Infantry-qualified Soldiers – in October after a successful 12 weeks of IBOLC training at Fort Benning, Georgia. The installation is home to the Maneuver Center of Excellence, which also trains armor and cavalry Soldiers, as well as oversees specialty training, including the U.S. Army Ranger and Airborne schools.

After completing Officer Candidate School with a near equal number of men and women, 2LT O’Callaghan was one of only three women in her IBOLC class. Despite being the first woman in the Ohio National Guard to branch into infantry, 2LT O’Callaghan says her experience was the same as any other Soldier’s. She found her peers and cadre supportive of her decision, actively encouraging her throughout the course and treating her professionally.

“The cadre and staff there were really excited and were really understanding of the position I was in. It can be awkward being one of the only females,” says 2LT O’Callaghan. “But I ended up making some great friends and definitely had some memorable experiences.”

Colonel (COL) Matthew Woodruff, commander of the 37th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, attended O’Callaghan’s IBOLC graduation ceremony and met with her family and course cadre.

“This (was) an historic event for the Ohio Army National Guard to have the first female Infantry Officer complete IBOLC,” COL Woodruff says. “It means a lot for the 1-148th (1st Battalion, 148th Infantry Regiment), the 37th IBCT (the major subordinate command over the 1-148th), and the Ohio Army National Guard in paving the way for future female Soldiers, NCOs (noncommissioned officers), and officers to be in combat arms in Ohio.”

2LT O’Callaghan, of Xenia, Ohio, attended her first drill weekend in January as a platoon leader with the Ohio Army National Guard’s Company C, 1-148th, in Tiffin. Shortly thereafter, the coronavirus outbreak hit Ohio, forcing many businesses to close. It also meant a civilian job opportunity for 2LT O’Callaghan was put on hold. So, when the Ohio National Guard created a joint task force in response to Gov. Mike DeWine’s call for the Guard to provide support during the COVID-19 pandemic, it only made sense to 2LT O’Callaghan that she answer the call to volunteer.

“I had just accepted a role at a new job, but they could not start me until after the (governor’s) stay-at-home order was lifted,” 2LT O’Callaghan says. “So, I volunteered to be put on orders and help the State until I could start my new civilian role.”

2LT O’Callaghan was able to serve close to her Southwest Ohio home, at the Second Harvest Food Bank of Clark, Champaign, and Logan Counties in Springfield. As officer-in-charge of the approximately 40 military personnel staffing the food bank, she led a joint team responsible for a variety of mission sets, including drive-thru food distribution and home deliveries across Second Harvest’s rural, tri-county coverage area.

2LT O’Callaghan says her experience as a new Officer was enhanced by support from her senior NCOs. While Infantry Officers don’t typically train to run food bank operations, she was able to use her administrative expertise from previous civilian jobs while capitalizing on the variety of skills her team members had to offer. Together, they were able to efficiently operate at the food bank and serve fellow Ohioans in need.

The public’s response in Springfield has been overwhelmingly positive.

“There were a lot of people who were just very grateful there was help available,” she says. “I would stand toward the front of drive-thru distributions to greet people as they arrived; they were always very positive and thankful we were there to help them when they needed it most.”

2LT O’Callaghan says she felt gratified to serve her friends and neighbors in such a direct way. The Army National Guard is unique in that it allows Soldiers like 2LT O’Callaghan to serve in their communities, which has helped her make the place she calls home even better.

“We genuinely want to be here. We have all volunteered and we are all serving relatively close to our homes whenever possible,” she says. “Everybody wants to help because there are so many people (who are) out of work and need assistance, and we have the ability to do it.”

2LT O’Callaghan says she wants her service as both a female Infantry Officer and a member of the Ohio Army National Guard during Operation Steady Resolve to inspire others to start their own journey and, ultimately, pursue opportunities to serve their Community, State, and Nation.

“I didn’t get here on my own, and at no point was I alone,” she says. “What I hope to do is encourage other women to take on something extremely challenging and take the leap.”

The Army National Guard offers positions in more than 130 career fields, so you can serve your community in a way that’s right for you. Opportunities include supply and logistics, admin and relations, transport, and more. Check out the job board for more information on available careers, and contact a local recruiter to learn more. 

From an original article by 1LT Kevin Livingston, Ohio National Guard, which appeared in the news section of NationalGuard.mil on July 21, 2020.

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Ale in a Day’s Work: Officer Credits Guard Experience for Brewery’s Success

Major (MAJ) Steven Gagner, Infantry Officer in the Vermont Army National Guard, has built an accomplished, fulfilling life from the skills he’s gained, the lessons he’s learned, and the experiences he’s had while serving in the military. Those fundamentals gave him the tools he needed to succeed, and now he’s living his ultimate dream.

In 2010, while deployed in Afghanistan, he and a fellow Vermont Army National Guard Soldier came up with the idea to open a brewery back in Vermont. They wrote up plans in the back of a notebook, and when they arrived home, they took out a loan – that’s when 14th Star Brewing Company was born.

They received their license in May 2012 and brewed 60 gallons that month. Now, seven years later, they’re brewing 6,000 gallons a week, have 24 employees, and distribute to seven states: Vermont, Connecticut, New Hampshire, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island, with additional limited distribution in the United Kingdom.

Major (MAJ) Steven Gagner of the Vermont Army National Guard is co-founder of 14th Star Brewing Co., and Danger Close Craft Distilling.

After the success of 14th Star, MAJ Gagner and two fellow Soldiers opened a whiskey distillery called Danger Close Craft Distilling, with one goal in mind: to make a big impact on veterans. Future sales of Danger Close’s bourbon and whiskey raise money for non-profits and brings veterans to Vermont, at no cost, to teach them all about business, and how their skills from the military can translate directly to their civilian lives.

“We were leaning so heavily on the things we learned in the service about building a team, establishing goals, leading people, getting results, working hard – all of those things we had learned in the past couple of decades in the service transitioned beautifully to business ownership.”

Because of these feats, MAJ Gagner was named Small Business Person of the Year for the State of Vermont this past June and the Military Times’ inaugural Entrepreneur of the Year in 2017.

Along with running two successful businesses, MAJ Gagner is now the battalion commander of the Army Mountain Warfare School in Vermont, which teaches Soldiers survivability, lethality, and mobility in extreme climatic environments. Training 1,000 Soldiers a year in the rain, snow, and mountains, the school focuses on basic and advanced mountaineering, advanced medical evacuations, and high-angle shooting.

MAJ Gagner’s decision to join the military stems from growing up in a patriotic family with a father who served in the military for 36 years, and his desire to serve his country. He enlisted in the Army National Guard in 1996 while attending Norwich University, and has been serving ever since.

“It just seemed like a hand-in-glove fit,” he recalls.

MAJ Gagner’s military journey spans decades and has led him down many different career paths within the National Guard.

“I have the weirdest career ever,” he jokes.

MAJ Steven Gagner is an Infantry Officer in the Vermont Army National Guard.

For the first eight years of his service, he worked in aviation, both in the Guard and active duty, serving in Korea and Alabama. Once he was off active duty, he went back to college. After graduation was when his career touched many facets of the Guard, including Armor, Quartermaster, Logistics, and Infantry. Fifteen years and four branches later, he is now a decorated Infantry officer in the Vermont Army National Guard.

“I love Vermont Guardsmen,” he says. “There’s just something about the Vermont Guard. The Soldiers are really terrific, professional, and we’re a family. It’s pretty cool to be in such a close-knit, patriotic state.”

Using his Guard benefits, MAJ Gagner purchased a house using the VA Home Loan, used tuition assistance while attending college, and was able to transfer his Post-9/11 education benefits to his two children, taking the burden of college debt off their shoulders.

“I’ve had such amazing experiences,” he says.

MAJ Gagner has dedicated so much of his time to helping others, not only with his businesses, but through his service as well. While deployed in Iraq, he was involved in a handful of public works projects. During his second deployment in Afghanistan, he was part of a patrol team that kept the civilians of Bagram safe from rockets. In 2011, he toured Vermont with his fellow guardsmen and helped victims of Hurricane Irene.

“It was so wonderful and fulfilling to do things that other people needed.”

MAJ Gagner is a firm believer in going for what you want and never asking, “what if?” Joining the military ultimately led him to becoming a businessman, and he couldn’t be anymore grateful.

“My time in the Army has made me a better business owner,” he says, “and being a business owner has made me a better officer.”

If you’ve got passion, drive, and the desire to be a part of something big, join the Army National Guard. With more than 130 careers in fields like engineering, technology, and intelligence, you’ll be able to serve your community, country, and State while having the time to pursue your passions! Browse open opportunities on the job board today and contact a recruiter to learn more.

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Planning Pays off for Colorado Army Guard’s First Female Infantry Officer

Second Lieutenant (2LT) Wednesday Nelson is big on having a plan.

In fact, her advice for anyone who’s joining the Army National Guard like she did is to plan ahead, because it can be challenging to finish Guard training, line up a civilian job, and be able to take time off from that job for annual training.

So far, her ability to strategize is paying off.

2LT Nelson joined the Guard in 2014, finishing out her junior and senior years at Arizona State University in the Reserve Officers’ Training Program (ROTC), where she drilled with a National Guard unit and ROTC at the same time in the Simultaneous Membership Program. ROTC is a college elective that allows students to earn a commission as a second lieutenant in the National Guard straight out of college.

2LT Nelson had considered joining active duty components of the military, but the criminal justice major also knew she wanted to pursue a career in law enforcement. Joining the Guard, where military service is a part-time commitment, was a way to do both.

“Not only would I get amazing training out of being in the Guard, but also, it would teach me time management, teamwork, and a lot of things I don’t think I could have gotten with just being a college student.”

There was also a financial benefit. 2LT Nelson earned a full-time Guard scholarship that paid for her last two years of college in exchange for her service.

By the time she was getting ready to receive her commission, the restrictions barring women from combat roles had been lifted, and 2LT Nelson commissioned as the first female 11A Infantry Officer in Colorado.

2LT Wednesday Nelson at her commissioning ceremony.

2LT Wednesday Nelson at her commissioning ceremony.

That part hadn’t been planned in advance, but it was lucky timing, she says. As the first woman in her State to serve as an infantry officer, “It was important to me to set a good standard for people to follow. I wanted to do the best that I could, and show that it wasn’t a mistake to have integration in the combat arm branches, infantry and armor.”

She chose infantry because of the challenge.

Of the four others in her class who chose to commission infantry, “all of the guys were studs, they were all pretty much the top of the class, very motivated and very dedicated, and they gave me an idea of what the branch was going to be like. I wanted to be competing with the best.”

Although 2LT Nelson was offered a position as an infantry officer in Arizona, she chose to join the Colorado Army National Guard and relocate there because it’s geographically halfway between where each of her parents lives, plus the Denver Police Department was her No. 1 choice for an employer. After she decided to move, she was accepted to the Denver Police Academy, where she starts next month.

In the meantime, as an infantry officer, her job is to train Soldiers who serve as the main land combat force in the military. She also hopes to be a role model for other women.

Her advice for women going into combat-related jobs, because integration is still new, also goes back to having a plan.

“You have to carry your own weight, plus more. You have to go into this prepared,” she says. “There are people who don’t want you there. There are people who do want you there. But regardless, you have to be consistent. You have to train up for it.”

So if you’re interested in training up to be part of the Army National Guard, one of the decisions you’ll make as you plan your future is what to choose for your Military Occupation Specialty (MOS). The Guard offers more than 150 options in fields like mechanics and maintenance, administration, intelligence, transportation and infantry or another combat specialty.

Explore careers on our job board, and for personalized assistance, contact a recruiter today, who can also explain benefits like tuition assistance and the GI Bill.

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