Soldier Praises Guard for Benefits and Opportunities

The decision to join the military can be based on a number of factors – for some, the benefits alone seem worth it, while others feel it’s their duty to serve their country. For Specialist (SPC) Sychelle Gonsalves, it was a combination of both that influenced her to join the Army National Guard.

“At the time, I was 20 and I wanted to stay in Alaska,” she recalls. “The recruiter told me that they’d send me to basic training, and I’d only be there for a couple of months. Then I’d come back to Alaska and serve part-time.”

SPC Sychelle Gonsalves is a 31B Military Police Officer in the Alaska Army National Guard, stationed at Fort Greely with the 49th Missile Defense Battalion.

SPC Gonsalves was a bank teller at the time she enlisted. Being able to serve part-time while continuing to work in her civilian career was one of the main benefits that drew her to Guard service – the education benefits were an added bonus. She’s currently utilizing the Guard’s tuition assistance to pursue a degree in logistics.

In 2016, SPC Gonsalves began her Guard career as a 92Y Unit Supply Specialist as part of a Military Police unit in Anchorage. Logistics is her passion, but once she heard about the wealth of opportunities at Fort Greely, she reclassed into a new MOS so she could relocate. Now serving full-time as 31B Military Police, she’s stationed at Fort Greely with the 49th Missile Defense Battalion.

SPC Gonsalves says that enlisting in the Army National Guard has enhanced her interpersonal skills, decision-making abilities, and problem-solving techniques, as well as helped her discover her strengths and weaknesses, so much so that she competed in the 2019 Army National Guard Best Warrior Competition.

When she was approached to compete, she didn’t know anything about the competition and was nervous – but she participated anyway to see how far she could push herself.

“I just wanted to compete,” she says.

SPC Gonsalves first competed in the Battalion Best Warrior Competition, which is the local-level event in July of 2018. She took the title and went on to compete in the State-level competition, taking home the victory for that event as well.

She then went on to represent the State alongside one of her colleagues in the regional competition this past spring. While she didn’t win, her ability to excel against her competitors earned her Soldier of the Year (Battalion and State), Service Person of the Year from the Armed Services YMCA (ASYMCA), and Missile Defender of the Year (Missile Defense Alliance Advocacy).

She was the first female to win Soldier of the Year in the Alaska Army National Guard.

SPC Gonsalves is a proud Guard Soldier who finds gratification in her everyday routine. Whether she’s called to maintain traffic control points, assist with natural disaster relief, or aid other parts of the country, she’s always prepared and ready to fulfill the mission at hand, alongside a team of 300 Soldiers.

“You are part of a team of 300 that protects 300 million,” she says proudly.

SPC Gonsalves has sound advice for those interested in joining the Army National Guard: “Consider what line of job you’d like to do and go for it! Know that there are a lot of opportunities in the Guard, and the Guard will not let you down.”

If you’re looking for your dream job with benefits like education assistance, insurance, and the ability to serve close to home, explore available opportunities in the Army National Guard today. Whether you’re into technology, logistics, or ground forces careers, you’re bound to find the one that’s right for you. Browse the job board and contact a recruiter to learn how you can make a difference in your country and your community.

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The Top 5 Reasons to Join the Army National Guard

On Your Guard sat down with Staff Sergeant (SSG) Mike Schriefer to talk about why people join the Army National Guard. We thought who better to ask than a recruiter, who’s also had a few different jobs in his nearly 14 years of service with the Guard. SSG Schriefer, who also served in the Active Duty Army, breaks down his top 5 reasons to join this branch of the U.S. military where Soldiers serve on a part-time basis. 

1. Education Benefits

SSG Schriefer says comparing the Guard’s education benefits to Active Duty’s education benefits is like comparing apples to oranges.

Active Duty components of the military receive only Federal benefits. Because the Guard’s primary mission is to serve the State and its governor, and its secondary mission is to serve the country, he explains, Soldiers are entitled to both State and Federal education benefits.

“It’s like having two Christmases,” he says.

So in the Pennsylvania Army National Guard, where SSG Schriefer is a member, a Soldier can participate in a full-time degree program and receive either 100% tuition assistance for a state school or $3,619 per semester to other Pennsylvania schools, including private colleges, and technical and trade schools. It’s important to note that each State has its own policies in place.

That State benefit can also be combined with a Federal benefit like Federal tuition assistance to the tune of $4,000 a year for Soldiers who have completed one year of service after their graduation from Advanced Individual Training.

Yet another Federal benefit can pick up the tab for other expenses associated with going to college.

“Every Soldier who enlists gets the GI Bill, Select Reserve, which, while they’re enrolled in school 8-9 months out of the year, they get another $368 a month, tax-free, that goes directly to them that they can use for books, room/board, food, anything that they need,” says SSG Schriefer.

And, Soldiers who’ve already completed some or all of their education can be eligible for the Student Loan Repayment Program, which will pay up to $50,000 of student loan debt.

2. Job Training and Transferable Skills

When you join the Guard, you’ll get job training, too, in what is called your MOS, or Military Occupational Specialty. Your MOS may or may not line up with your educational pursuits or your civilian career. It can also change over time.

SSG Schriefer says these MOSs are always hot for new recruits in his State: 68W Healthcare Specialist, 31B Military Police, 11B Infantryman, and 19D Calvary Scout.

Many MOSs have direct counterparts in the civilian job market. The 68W MOS, for example, lends itself to working as an EMT in the civilian world. One of the questions SSG Schriefer gets is how Soldiers in combat arms MOSs like infantry and field artillery can transfer their skills to the workforce.

“They learn the invaluable skill of teamwork,” he says. “When you have to ensure 100% safety on firing a 155-mm explosive round downrange, you have to have flawless, seamless teamwork.”

SSG Mike Schriefer of the Pennsylvania Army National Guard.

SSG Mike Schriefer of the Pennsylvania Army National Guard.

Other skills: “You will also learn to work under pressure, critical thinking, dedication, and priceless leadership skills that are coveted by employers,” SSG Schriefer says. “Reliability, dependability, integrity – all those things, when you go to apply for a job, are going to make you shine over a regular civilian candidate.”

To help recruits decide on an MOS – there are 150 of them – SSG Schriefer asks them what they want to do and then directs them to NationalGuard.com to research MOS choices and check the qualifications.

Another helpful tool is the ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery) test, which determines which MOSs recruits are eligible for based on their scores.

Changing one’s MOS is also possible, says SSG Schriefer, but not likely during a Soldier’s initial enlistment.

“The best time for them to change their MOS is when they come up for their first contract extension,” he says. “But, it never hurts to ask if you’re a stellar Soldier and you’re doing really good things.”

SSG Schriefer himself has been a 25U Signal Support Systems Specialist, 92Y Unit Supply Specialist, and a 74D Chemical Operations Specialist, all before becoming a recruiter.

3. Adventure: Finding Out You Can Do More Than You Could Have Imagined

SSG Schriefer says he was a tall, skinny kid who had played sports in high school, but, “I didn’t know how far I could physically go until Basic Training. I never knew I could run that fast, or carry a rucksack with 50 pounds in it for 12 miles. Mentally, I thought I’d never be able to make it through the gas chamber.”

At Basic, recruits can expect to do some rappelling. However, jumping out of airplanes at Airborne School and rappelling from helicopters at Air Assault School are reserved for select Soldiers.

“That’s used as an incentive. If you’re the stellar Soldier in the Unit, we’ll put you in for those schools,” says SSG Schriefer.

4. Being Part of Something Bigger Than Yourself

SSG Schriefer likes that his job is about serving the citizens of Pennsylvania.

“Our first responsibility is to take care of the people we live around, so that gives you a sense of pride,” he says. “The ability to give back to the community and share what the Guard has done for me on a daily basis is a great feeling.”

Another great feeling happens every time he arrives at drill weekend once a month. Patriotism, he says, can be seen and felt all around.

“All you have to do is look at the cars in the parking lot with flags, stickers, license plates and you see that these kids love their service, their country and love being in the military.”

This helps develop the sense of camaraderie for the less than 1 percent of the population who serve in the military.

“No one will ever know how we think, feel, act, or process things unless they have been in our shoes. That’s what creates the brotherhood,” he says.

5. Service to your Community, State, and Country (Which No Other Service Can Offer)

The idea of serving a dual mission to State and Nation is unique to the National Guard.

And while SSG Schriefer has served on just one deployment in service to the country – to Kosovo – he’s had many opportunities to help out on State missions, too, like flooding from Hurricane Sandy and delivering meals to motorists stranded by snowstorms.

But he’s found that his most fulfilling mission is in his role as a recruiter, “being able to be on the ground floor, being the first person and the first interaction with the military most people have, and being able to set them on a path of success, it shutters everything else out.”

So, if you’re ready to see how far you can take your career, especially when you don’t have to worry about paying for college, and you want to be part of a team that’s dedicated to protecting the community and the Nation, consider joining the Army National Guard. Explore our job board for information about each MOS, and contact your local recruiter for personalized advice.

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