Soldier Embraces Opportunities to Learn Through Army National Guard Service

PFC Daniel Olson doesn’t know how his Army National Guard journey will play out. And, he’s happy about that.

In addition to tuition and health care benefits, and the ability to serve his community, access to almost unlimited opportunities is one of the things he loves most about the Army National Guard.

PFC Daniel Olson
PFC Daniel Olson

“There are 26 letters of the alphabet. If plan A doesn’t work, there are 25 other plans,” says PFC Olson, who currently works as a Horizontal Construction Engineer (MOS 12N) and a recruiter’s assistant for the New York Army National Guard.

No matter what plan or path he chooses, he knows the Army National Guard will be part of his life for a long time.

Soldier Surrounded, Inspired by Military Service

PFC Olson was surrounded by military service while growing up. His mother served in the Army National Guard, his father and grandfather were in the Navy, and his uncle was in the Marines for 32 years. He enjoyed hearing the stories his uncle shared.

“He always talked to me about the military,” says PFC Olson. “Seeing his awards and listening to his stories opened my eyes and made me realize I want something like that.”

He knew he wanted to serve his country but wasn’t sure which branch would be the best fit. Then, while in high school, he was inspired by a speaker at a leadership conference. She told a story about how her parents’ home was flooded during Hurricane Katrina and Army National Guard Soldiers helped her family.

“She said a National Guard Soldier carried a fridge out of the basement by himself. She said she’ll never forget what they did for her parents. I thought, ‘That’s awesome. I want to help people,’” says Olson.

Not too long after the conference, an Army National Guard recruiter visited his school. A teacher notified students about the visit and said they could go to enjoy pizza being served at the event with no obligation to join the Army National Guard. Olson was not about to turn down pizza, so he went and ended up asking the recruiter several questions. He was intrigued by the benefits offered by the Army National Guard but had no intention to join.

From “I’m just here for the pizza” to Army National Guard Service

After reflecting on his plans for the future, PFC Olson realized he got more than just free pizza out of the recruiting event at his high school. He realized the Army National Guard was the military branch that would best fit his plans: getting a degree and being part of his college’s track team while serving in the military part-time.

He is currently attending the State University of New York at Delhi, pursuing a physical education degree. His studies may evolve into a sports management degree so he can get a personal trainer’s license.

So far, he has paid nothing for his tuition thanks to the Army National Guard’s education benefits. He is using the GI Bill, GI Bill Kicker (a supplementary monthly monetary benefit), and Pell Grants to fund his college education. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs pays him to work at his school’s Veterans Lounge and he received a $20,000 bonus for joining the Army National Guard. He also gets paid for his Army National Guard work.

All of the Army National Guard benefits are icing on the cake – or cheese on the pizza – for PFC Olson.

“I’m able to stay close to home to attend school locally, pursue my career goals, and serve my country,” he says.

The Army National Guard has also taught the kind of life lessons he was hoping for.

“I actually wanted to better myself as an individual,” he says. “I wanted to become more organized and make sure I was on point and focused when I got to college.”

From Plan A to Plan Z

PFC Olson is enjoying his current MOS and learning the ropes as a recruiter’s assistant. He’s looking forward to gaining even more skills when he deploys for the first time. He will be working along the U.S. southern border for 14 months starting this October.

For now, he is embracing whatever opportunities come his way with an open mind for the future.

He may want to pursue a recruiting career. He may want to use his Army National Guard heavy equipment training for a civilian job. He may want to use his personal trainer’s license to open a gym that focuses on getting people physically and mentally ready to join the military.

He plans on working at least 20 years for the Army National Guard. And no matter what else he pursues over the next two decades, he knows he will be prepared with the communication, leadership, and teamwork skills he has learned so far. He also intends to keep following two key strategies:

“Paying attention to detail and being able to listen are so important,” says PFC Olson. “If you can do those two things, everything else will come.”

If you want to serve your community while also accomplishing your personal goals, check out the Army National Guard, where you’ll serve part-time and receive training in one of more than 130 careers in fields like Intelligence, Heavy Weapons, Ground Forces, and Mechanic and Maintenance. For details on any MOS, search our job board, and contact your local recruiter for more information.

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Guard Specialist Happy Behind the Wheel or Behind the Mask

SPC Amia Adkins
SPC Amia Adkins of the West Virginia Army National Guard, a 68E Dental Specialist, learned how to operate heavy machinery in order to deploy to Kuwait.

As a civilian, when Specialist (SPC) Amia Adkins drives, she hops into her Prius and takes off. When she drives in the West Virginia Army National Guard, she needs to strap on goggles, pull on gloves, and don a helmet before she even starts the engine.

Driving is not the only – or even the starkest – difference between civilian and Guard life for SPC Adkins. As a civilian, she’s a surgical assistant at Mountain State Oral and Facial Surgery in Charleston, W.Va. While on deployment in the Guard last year, she was a 12N Horizontal Construction Engineer, driving and operating a variety of heavy equipment.

For someone who grew up in the small town of Man, W.Va., and joined the Guard “to see everything, do everything, and learn everything,” SPC Adkins is making the most of her service experience.

She joined at age 19, after Guard representatives visited her high school. She didn’t know much about the military and had no military lineage, but she was intrigued by the opportunity to step outside her comfort zone and the chance to gain leadership skills.

“It was for the experience,” she says. “I wanted to build character, become more cultured, and meet more people.”

She now has friends from West Virginia, where she lives and is stationed – to Texas and Alabama, where she mobilized for deployment – to Kuwait, where she deployed for nine months last year.

West Virginia: Home & Headquarters

As she began her work as a 68E Dental Specialist six years ago with the West Virginia Army National Guard’s Medical Detachment, SPC Adkins used Montgomery GI Bill® benefits to enroll at Valley College in Beckley, W.Va., to become a surgical assistant.

Her Guard journey was playing out exactly as she expected. Then, she had a chat with her Master Sergeant who told her about a unit – the 821st Engineer Company – that needed volunteers to deploy. He planted a seed that would change her Guard experience.

Texas & Alabama: Mobilizing for Deployment

“My Master Sergeant said it was a good opportunity to step outside my comfort zone to learn to lead different types of people, not just people in my field, and to learn a new skill,” says SPC Adkins. “I really respect my Master Sergeant, so I took his advice and took deployment.”

She believed she would be continuing her dental work during deployment. When she arrived in Summersville, W.V., to begin mobilization, she was given instructions to go to a training site in Alabama to learn how to drive earthmovers, such as bulldozers, high excavators, dump trucks, and scrapers.

At first, she was surprised by the change of assignment.

“But then I got a little excited because I thought, ‘This is new,’ and I didn’t know anything about it,” says SPC Adkins.

In just over a month, she went from dental specialist to heavy equipment construction operator.

Kuwait: Bone-Jarring & Teeth-Rattling Work

The 821st Engineer Company got enough volunteers to deploy. Along with SPC Adkins, there were two dental specialists, a cook, a surveyor and two MPs who stepped away from their everyday work to learn how to operate construction equipment.

“I wasn’t alone in the learning process, fortunately.”

After finishing mobilization duties in Texas, the unit met up in Kuwait where SPC Adkins and her colleagues worked on projects like building retention dams. Each day brought a new mystery in terms of the tools of her trade.

“We never got to pick our own equipment, so we never knew what we were going to get,” says SPC Adkins.

The constant change was due to environmental conditions. Some of the equipment had no cabs and, therefore, no air conditioning.  

“They didn’t want to put the same person on there every day,” says SPC Adkins.

Her least favorite assignment? The scraper because “it jerked you around.” Her favorite assignment? The high excavator because “I was better at operating it, so I just kind of felt like I was getting more done with it.”

One of her most memorable experiences while deployed was the opportunity to graduate from the Basic Leader Course.

“I learned a lot about what I should and shouldn’t do as a leader. Before that course, I didn’t have a clue.”

Back to the Future

Home since January, she’s had a chance to reflect on her journey and decided to return to her original Military Occupational Specialty (MOS). She can’t help but compare her Guard experiences. And, yes, there are similar skills required for being a dental specialist and being a heavy equipment construction operator.

“Dexterity,” says SPC Adkins. “You have to be precise when you’re operating equipment, and you have to be very coordinated, so I had to use my dexterity.”

When she thinks about the future, she sees herself becoming a dental officer in the active duty Army, but for now, she’s enjoying her time in the Guard.

“I really like the camaraderie, I like wearing the uniform, I’m proud to wear the uniform,” says SPC Adkins. “When people see you out in uniform, they say, ‘Thanks for helping.’ I feel like everyone around us appreciates what we do.”

What advice would she give to somebody considering the Guard?

“Don’t rush. Explore your options,” says SPC Adkins. “I’m a living example you can change your mind and do something else. The possibilities are endless.”

If you’re up for a life-changing experience, you’ll find it in the Army National Guard, where you’ll serve part-time and receive training in one of more than 130 careers in fields like Supply and LogisticsHeavy WeaponsGround Forces, and Munitions. For details on any MOS, search our job board, and contact your local recruiter for more information.

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