Mission of Hope: Guard Soldier Wants to Do Good for Country, Community, and Foster Youth

CDT Christina Meredith is in the Florida Army National Guard’s Simultaneous Membership Program (SMP), which allows college students to serve in a Guard unit and ROTC at the same time.

CDT Christina Meredith is in the Florida Army National Guard’s Simultaneous Membership Program (SMP), which allows college students to serve in a Guard unit and ROTC at the same time.

Christina Meredith believes that anything can be accomplished through hard work and determination.

The Florida Army National Guard Soldier, author, and non-profit founder, who is also on track to achieve her dream of becoming a military officer, isn’t wasting a single opportunity that comes her way.

“You can be offered the world, but if you don’t work, you’ll lose it, or you’ll waste it, and either one is a no-go.”

A survivor of years of abuse at the hands of her own family, CDT Meredith entered the foster care system as a teen, aging out of the system when she turned 18. While still in high school, this junior ROTC member and captain of her high school’s cross country and track and field teams became homeless, living in a car she was able to buy from working two part-time jobs.

It was in that car that she started reading the Bible and making lists of her goals. One of them was to tell her story so that other people would realize that they do not have to succumb to their circumstances. At an even younger age of 10, CDT Meredith vowed to herself after a beating by her mother that she would be nothing like the person who had just left her on the ground crying in pain.

She remembers telling herself, “You will be the antithesis of her. You will love people. You’ll be kind to people, and you will make a difference.”

CDT Meredith recognizes that her mother, too, had been a victim of abuse while she was growing up, and that abuse, without intervention, is often a cycle that can be passed from one generation to the next.

“The cycle of abuse and poverty is a real thing,” she says. “It takes a community of healthy families and organizations to wrap around broken families and children to rehabilitate them into society to the point where they’re giving back and not taking away.”

According to CDT Meredith, there are half a million U.S. children in foster care, 20,000 of whom age out of the system each year, and become homeless just like she did. Eighty percent of foster youth go into the prison system, she says, and many foster youth end up having babies themselves before they become adults.

“When I saw young people like myself giving in to the cycle of poverty, giving in to drugs, giving in to the welfare and prison system, it broke me,” she says.

She is hopeful that her story and her advocacy inspire people and effect change.

“My entire story is about hope, faith, hard work, achieving the dream and the purpose that you have been given in this life, and not allowing things to deter you, because circumstances change. With hard work and a little faith, you can make them change.”

And so when her dream of earning an ROTC scholarship for college didn’t work out, she moved to California and eventually got “discovered” by a pageant recruiter at a Whole Foods. Crowned Miss California United States in 2013, the title gave her a platform to talk about PTSD recovery via trauma therapy and foster care reform in its entirety.

“It really birthed this new chapter in my life where I always wanted to be: to travel, to speak, to share, offer hope and encouragement, and write my book.”

CDT Meredith’s memoir, “CinderGirl, My Journey Out of the Ashes to a Life of Hope,” will be released March 5.

CDT Meredith’s memoir, “CinderGirl, My Journey Out of the Ashes to a Life of Hope,” will be released March 5.

CDT Meredith’s memoir, “CinderGirl: My Journey Out of the Ashes to a Life of Hope,” will be released on March 5. The title is a reflection of how her life has been transformed.

“Growing up with nothing, being homeless with nothing, and then doing a national book tour is almost a Cinderella story.”

On her tour, CDT Meredith will be promoting the book and speaking on the issues that are also the focus of her non-profit organization: The Christina Meredith Foundation, based in Jacksonville, Fla. The foundation’s short-term plan is continued advocacy for foster care reform and mental health. Long-term, CDT Meredith envisions creating a facility where foster youth can live and have access to food, clothing, health care, and learn things like how to balance a checkbook, so long as they have a full-time job or are in school.

In the meantime, CDT Meredith is in school herself, working on a degree in international relations with a minor in psychology. She’s also in ROTC as part of the Guard’s Simultaneous Membership Program. When she earns her commission next December, she plans to become a 25A Signals Officer in the same unit where she currently serves, where her job is to provide secure communications for her fellow Soldiers.

“I love the structure, I love the discipline,” she says of the Guard. “I love the camaraderie. I love that I’m doing good.”

Part of that good comes from knowing she is part of a team that saved lives in her home state when Hurricane Irma swept through Florida in 2017.

CDT Meredith has yet another goal on her list, and that’s to translate her degree and Guard experience into politics. She’s planning to run for office someday.

The flexibility of serving in the Guard part-time is allowing her the time to work on all of her goals.

“I have my civilian job and still have that military experience and leadership, and I can really bring something to my country.”

With its dual mission to serve the State and the Nation, the Army National Guard is always looking for service-minded people to join its ranks. Besides the satisfaction of knowing that your service is making a difference, the Guard offers training in more than 130 different jobs in fields like military intelligence, aviation, infantry, mechanics and maintenance, and more. Contact your local recruiter to learn more.

 

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Despite Dark Times, New Jersey Guard Recruiter Never Loses Hope

JOINT BASE McGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J. – All eyes are on New Jersey Army National Guard Captain (CPT) Domenico Lazzaro as he walks up to the podium using two canes.

It’s Oct. 18. Seventeen months have passed since CPT Lazzaro’s life changed due to a training accident.

“I never thought I would be in this situation,” he says.

For the next 45 minutes, he tells the story of how he has come to stand in front of the Soldiers, Airmen and civilians at Joint Force Headquarters located at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey. He calls it: “Don’t dis my disability.”

On June 11, 2017, CPT Lazzaro fell while navigating an obstacle course at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst during annual training and fractured his T8 vertebrae in the middle of the spine.

After seven hours of surgery, the doctors had fused five vertebrae from the thoracic to the lumbar regions.

In one day, CPT Lazzaro went from racing motorcycles and being an avid weightlifter to being paraplegic.

For most people, this would have been the start of coming to grips with a new reality, taking into consideration the accommodations they might need or the things they might not be able to do again. Others would simply give up.

CPT Lazzaro didn’t.

Three weeks later, something peculiar happened.

CPT Domenico Lazzaro of the New Jersey Army National Guard shows the audience a slide about different levels of spinal cord injuries during the National Disability Employment Awareness Month observance at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., on Oct. 18, 2018. (Photo by MSG Mark Olsen).

CPT Domenico Lazzaro of the New Jersey Army National Guard shows the audience a slide about different levels of spinal cord injuries during the National Disability Employment Awareness Month observance at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., on Oct. 18, 2018. (Photo by MSG Mark Olsen.)

“After my injury, I had a buzzing sensation in both legs similar to the feeling you get when a leg falls asleep, but I could not move them.”

CPT Lazzaro began to have some feeling in his foot.

“The first evening, I stayed up all night moving my left toes.”

According to his doctors, this was unusual, because recovery occurs from the point of injury down, not the other way around.

“The doctors kept pushing me to move things, so I did,” says CPT Lazzaro.

This was not the first time that he had faced adversity.

In 1991, while a member of the Pennsylvania Army National Guard, he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Hodgkin’s is a cancer in the lymphatic system where cells grow abnormally and can spread to other parts of the body.

For the next two years, CPT Lazzaro underwent radiation treatments. After 20 years, he is cancer-free.

In 2009, he reenlisted in the New Jersey National Guard and received his commission in August 2011. From 2015-2016, CPT Lazzaro deployed to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as the 328th Military Police Company’s executive officer. Upon his return, he accepted a full-time position as a specialty branch recruiter. Then last year’s accident occurred.

Because of his injury, CPT Lazzaro was given the option of medical retirement with disability.

“I want to continue to serve,” he says, refusing to give up.

In order to continue his service, he must be able to pass the Army physical fitness test in two years.

From July to December 2017, CPT Lazzaro was in a wheelchair. Then he used a walker until January 2018.

“I switched to forearm crutches from February to June, and started using canes from June until present,” he says.

During this time CPT Lazzaro was in intensive physical therapy.

“Once I started moving, I began using a glider – a type of upright elliptical that uses your arms to move the legs.”

He also uses an electronic stimulation bike that uses electric pulses to move his legs to pedal a bicycle, an exoskeleton harness that mechanically moves the legs, and locomotor training, while physical therapists move each leg and his hips to simulate walking on a treadmill. This is all combined with basic leg strengthening exercises.

All these devices serve one purpose: helping CPT Lazzaro learn to walk again.

Today, he can move with the aid of one cane.

“The more I progressed, the more I could do on my own,” he explains. “The physical therapists say my progress is staggering.”

CPT Lazzaro is back at work with specialty branch recruiting and serves as the 42nd Regional Support Group’s anti-terrorism officer.

He also spends time working with other paraplegic patients.

“I try to help people get past the idea that they can’t recover,” he says.

Because of his experiences, he brings one thing that is sometimes missing from other people: hope.

“Hope is very important,” CPT Lazzaro says. “Believing things will get better with time can help you progress and adapt to your situation.”

It is hope that drives him.

“I want to go back to my life the way I was,” he says. “I want to be the person I was.”

If you’re passionate about helping and healing others like the medical professionals who helped CPT Lazzaro, visit our job board and explore health care careers in the Army National Guard.

Being a Soldier in the Guard means serving your community and country while making a difference. The Guard provides education assistance, and offers training in more than 150 career fields including engineering, logistics, infantry, and aviation. Reach out to your local recruiter to learn more.

From an original article by MSG Mark Olson, New Jersey Army National Guard, which appeared in the news section of NationalGuard.mil in October.

 

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California Officer Balances Guard Service with Teaching the Next Generation of Medicine

KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan – To the Soldiers assigned to Train, Advise and Assist Command-South (TAAC-South), Major (MAJ) Nathan Wall, with the California Army National Guard’s 40th Infantry Division, is simply the deputy logistics and medical operations officer for the unit.

However, back home in Loma Linda, Calif., he goes by Dr. Wall, especially with the students of Loma Linda University School of Medicine, where he is a professor.

“I teach molecular genetics and biochemistry to first- and second-year medical students,” MAJ Wall says. “I am also the program director for the Ph.D. programs in biochemistry and in cancer biology for the Ph.D. students.”

MAJ Wall also leads a research group within the university that studies the biochemical and genetic issues associated with cancer.

“We focus on the understanding of how cells undergo a process called apoptosis, or programmed cell death, in hopes that by understanding this process we can design experimental therapeutics that will induce this phenomenon in cancer cells,” he explains.

Balancing Civilian/Military Roles

With a very active role in the university, MAJ Wall manages to balance life as a professor and a California Army Guard Soldier.

“MAJ Wall is a caring and thorough officer,” says Army MAJ Erik Underwood, logistics officer for TAAC-South. “He truly embodies what we call a Citizen-Soldier®; he is exactly the type of leader and Soldier the [Army] National Guard looks for.”

MAJ Wall says he was motivated to enlist after watching the fall of the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York on 9/11.

“It was heart wrenching, and I knew then that I wanted to join Army.”

At the time, he was at Yale University completing a post-doctoral fellowship, and chose to complete his original plans before joining the Army.

Following Yale, he moved with his family to Massachusetts to complete his second post-doctoral training at Harvard Medical School. Only after moving to California to work at Loma Linda University was he able to commission with the California Guard.

“I have been in the Army for 10 years now, and I can say I have never had a bad day in uniform.”

During his time with the Guard, MAJ Wall has served in medical, logistics, and operations specialties. While each required a different focus, the officer has been able to make transitions easily.

“[He] has transitioned from the medical side to logistics very well, and has been able to tie in both branches,” says MAJ Underwood, a native of Yorba Linda, Calif. “His desire to learn, as you can see from his educational background, I believe, has made him successful in his transition.”

MAJ Wall gives credit to his wife and kids for his successes as both a professor and Soldier.

“I would have never joined [the Army] if my wife wouldn’t have joined with me,” he says. “Even though I am serving [in Afghanistan] now, they are serving back in the States in my absence.”

Though he and his family have to deal with separation during deployments and training as part of military life, it’s something the family has experience with from MAJ Wall’s time in graduate school.

MAJ Nathan Wall, of the California Army National Guard’s 40th Infantry Division and the deputy logistics officer for Train, Advise and Assist Command-South in Afghanistan, works in his office in Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan. (Photo by Army SSG Neysa Canfield, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division.)

MAJ Nathan Wall, of the California Army National Guard’s 40th Infantry Division and the deputy logistics officer for Train, Advise and Assist Command-South in Afghanistan, works in his office in Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan. (Photo by Army SSG Neysa Canfield, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division.)

Serving in uniform and educating others in the classroom complement each other, he says, adding that he doesn’t consider himself only a professor or only a Soldier – he’s both.

“For me, one makes the other better. As a Soldier, the skills that I am able to develop affect who I am as a professor, as a father, son, and spouse, and vice versa.”

Nearing End of Deployment

As his nine-month deployment at TAAC-South nears the end, MAJ Wall says he is excited to see his family and his students back at Loma Linda.

“Whenever I get an opportunity, I take some time to put some of my lessons together in preparation for my return to the school,” he says. “I am very thankful for the university and their patience and their ability to let me be a Soldier.”

MAJ Underwood says he feels grateful to have had the opportunity to have MAJ Wall as part of his team during the deployment.

“I think our unit made a great decision in picking MAJ Wall for this deployment,” MAJ Underwood says. “He has done a lot of good for Afghanistan and TAAC-South. The fact that he has a very successful career in his civilian life shows how patriotic he is and how much he wants to serve his country.”

So, if you are interested in having a civilian career and serving your country and community, both of these things can be done simultaneously when you join the Army National Guard.

Guard service is part-time, which gives Soldiers the flexibility to pursue a career outside of the military. Plus, with the Guard’s education benefits, paying for college or a trade school is easier than you might think. Guard Soldiers also receive training in a career in fields like engineering, aviation, infantry, transportation, and more. Check out all of the options on our job board, and contact your local recruiter to learn more.

From an original article by Army SSG Neysa Canfield, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, which appeared in the news section of NationalGuard.mil in August.

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