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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Out of the Clinic and into the Cockpit: A Soldier Changes Gears for Her Next 10 Years in the Guard

SSG Odessa Standke is a 68E Dental Specialist in the Minnesota Army National Guard, who’s headed to Warrant Officer Candidate School next month in preparation to become a helicopter pilot.

SSG Odessa Standke is a 68E Dental Specialist in the Minnesota Army National Guard, who’s headed to Warrant Officer Candidate School next month in preparation to become a helicopter pilot.

As of June, Staff Sergeant (SSG) Odessa Standke will have spent 10 years in the Minnesota Army National Guard. This means the 26-year-old, who joined the Guard after her junior year in high school, is approaching the halfway mark to retirement as far as her military service is concerned.

Coming up on this 10-year anniversary got her thinking that she might want to try a different Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) for the second half of her Guard career.

It’s not that she doesn’t enjoy her current job as a 68E Dental Specialist. In fact, SSG Standke likes it so much, she was all set to go to school this semester to earn a bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene so she could work in the dental field as a civilian, too.

“I love dentistry, and I’ve learned so much in the Guard,” she says. “I thought, school’s going to be a breeze.”

But now, those plans are on hold because SSG Standke got accepted for flight school. She’s off to Warrant Officer Candidate School in March, and after that, she’ll learn how to fly helicopters.

During drill weekends, SSG Standke likes the fact that she gets to perform the duties associated with her MOS, like taking X-rays and managing the dental clinic, now that she has grown through the ranks, but her favorite thing to do during annual training is riding on helicopters.

“My unit is close with aviation units that would hook us up with rides on Black Hawks. Sometimes we’d incorporate that into our training. We’d have them drop us out in the middle of a field and then we’d navigate our way back.”

During a deployment to the Sinai Peninsula as part of Multinational Force and Observers, an international organization that oversees the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt, SSG Standke’s job was to clean teeth for soldiers from different countries. But she also had the chance to cruise over northern Egypt and the Red Sea in a Black Hawk, courtesy of another aviation unit.

“I really like the dynamic,” she says of flying. “It’s super different than the medical world, and I like the close-knit teams that work on the aircraft.”

At flight school, SSG Standke is slated to become a pilot for the Chinook helicopter. Powered by tandem rotors, the Chinook is larger than the Black Hawks that she’s used to, “but, I’m open to either. I’ll just be grateful and happy to fly.”

Her advice to anyone considering joining the Guard is: “Just go do it.”

SSG Standke herself wasn’t entirely certain that the Guard was for her when she considered joining as a teenager, but between the education benefits and the fact that being in the Guard sounded like fun, “I thought I’d give it a whirl.”

Since then, SSG Standke has earned an associate’s degree in liberal arts paid for completely by the Guard, she’s gotten additional training in preventive dentistry in order to deploy to Egypt, and now she’s headed to Norway this month to train alongside Norwegian soldiers as part of the Minnesota Guard’s State Partnership Program.

Back when she was 17, SSG Standke reasoned that if she wasn’t happy with her decision to enlist, six years of part-time service was manageable – at the very least, she’d get school benefits and a learning experience out of it.

“But, I ended up loving it.”

She loves the camaraderie and the sense of purpose she gets from serving. And now she’s ready to take everything she’s learned along the way with her in this next chapter in the Guard, where she plans to stay for at least 10 more years.

“I started off as a Dental Specialist as an enlisted private,” she says. “Now I’m moving into a whole different world, but that’s what’s so great about the Guard. There are so many opportunities. Even if you have no experience, the Army will get you where you need to be and help you reach your goals.”

You, too, can get started on achieving your career goals by joining the Army National Guard. The Guard offers training in more than 130 different MOSs in fields ranging from mechanics and maintenance to engineering to infantry to military intelligence and more. Our job board, which can be searched by location, career field, or keyword, is a great place to get started on your research. Contact your local recruiter to learn more.

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