Gaining Strength Through the Power of Music

INDIANAPOLIS – A quiet 17-year-old from the band halls of R. Nelson Snider High School discovered a lot about herself when she decided to join the military to pursue her love of music.

“I was a passive and quiet band geek that lived and breathed band hall,” says Staff Sergeant (SSG) LeeAnn Boaz. “First period was band and orchestra, second period was choir, third period was music theory, and fourth period would be either math or English.”

During her senior year in high school, SSG Boaz began taking college courses to continue her education in music. Later, she received her bachelor’s degree in psychology, as it was the closest field to music therapy that Indiana University-Purdue University offered.

SSG Boaz recalled taking a personality test at the university called the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test. It was no surprise to SSG Boaz that her results were introversion, intuition, feeling, and perception, or INFP. Even though her results did not align with the Myers-Briggs military personality type, it did not discourage her from pursuing the military.

SSG LeeAnn Boaz plays the bassoon for the 38th Infantry Division Band. She’s also the lead vocalist for the Indiana Army National Guard. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Ashley Westfall).

SSG LeeAnn Boaz plays the bassoon for the 38th Infantry Division Band. She’s also the lead vocalist for the Indiana Army National Guard. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Ashley Westfall).

“I knew I wanted to join the military, but I also wanted to be a professional musician. So, I began reaching out to recruiters in search of a military band.”

After meeting with local Navy and Air Force recruiters, SSG Boaz says a friend told her about the 38th Infantry Division Band in Indianapolis. Since she was already attending a local college, it felt like the perfect opportunity. In September 2004, SSG Boaz began her journey in the Indiana Army National Guard as a 42R Army Bandperson.

After completing Basic Training, she was assigned to the 38th Infantry Division Band as a bassoon instrumentalist. She recalls dusting off a bassoon that had not been touched in decades, and with all eyes on her, she played her first warm-up tune.

SSG Boaz continued to perform and excel as the primary bassoonist, but eventually her vocal talents resonated with her bandmates. At a young age, she performed with the Indianapolis Children’s Choir, but being a vocalist came second to the bassoon. In 2009, the Defense Department asked her to participate in a pilot program for military vocalists at The School of Music in Norfolk, Va.

“Knowing Boaz, I wholeheartedly believe this attributed to her increased level of self-confidence and elevated her ability to perform in front of an audience,” says Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) Lisa Kopczynski, the officer in charge of Indiana National Guard vocalists.

SSG Boaz now performs with the 38th Infantry Division Band and the ceremonial unit music section. She has become the lead vocalist for the Indiana National Guard, and is often asked to sing at venues like the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Lucas Oil Stadium, and the Indiana War Memorial. All of this strengthened her character as a leader and noncommissioned officer.

“From these experiences, her stage presence and ability to connect to any audience took flight,” says LTC Kopczynski. “She has continued to excel in her performance, guiding her to be the leader she is today.”

By 2013, SSG Boaz was working full-time for the Guard, and was married with a second child on the way. The pregnancy brought new challenges that significantly changed her path as a service member. Her son was delivered through a cesarean section surgery, which led to a very difficult and traumatic recovery. She had worked hard to stay fit and healthy through the pregnancy so she would not struggle through her next annual Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT).

“You don’t realize how much you use your abdomen until it is cut open,” she says. “I vowed to get back up within four weeks so that I could start getting ready for my fitness test.”

SSG Boaz says running was never her strength, and she always struggled to pass APFT. After all, music was her passion, not fitness. She recalled the criticism she received in high school when she tried out for cross country, which broke down her confidence as a runner. She knew it was time to overcome that fear, so she built up the courage to ask co-workers if she could join them during their morning or afternoon runs.

“I had no idea I could enjoy running, but they gave me so much positive feedback and inspiration, that I ran my first 5K on Oct. 13, 2013, just one month after my C-section.”

From that day forward, SSG Boaz completed dozens of races to include two mini marathons. In 2016, she received her first APFT badge, feeling healthier than ever. With her confidence lifted, SSG Boaz knew she was ready for another challenge, so she signed up for the Master Fitness Trainer (MFT) course.

At the MFT course, SSG Boaz felt she was at the bottom of the totem pole, and being one of only two women at the course, the atmosphere was intimidating. SSG Boaz fought through the physical and mental obstacles, and completed the course in April 2017.

SSG Boaz is now working on her license to be a civilian fitness trainer and nutritionist, something she never felt a shy band member would achieve. She now enjoys fitness so much that she plans and executes fitness events for her unit. Those efforts have paid off, too.

“Her leadership and knowledge as the unit Master Fitness Trainer has helped the unit achieve the best pass or fail APFT percentage in several years,” says Sergeant First Class (SFC) Angela Seeley, readiness noncommissioned officer for the band.

“If you had asked me 10 years ago if I would ever be a confident fitness leader for my unit, I would have said you are crazy,” says SSG Boaz.

Curious about how Myers-Briggs would rate her personality type now, Boaz retook the test in March. She now rates as extroversion, intuition, feeling and perception, or the ENFP personality type. She understood her previous personality type, but it did not stop her from taking a chance to become a military musician.

So that’s how one shy band geek transformed into an extrovert and a confident leader in the Indiana 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 administration. Reach out to your local recruiter to learn more.

From an original article by SSG Ashley Westfall, Indiana Army National Guard, which appeared in the Guard News section of NationalGuard.mil in December.

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Guard Drill Sergeant Hands out Hard Truths, but also Motivates Recruits to Prepare them for Basic Training

SFC Shereka Danzy conducts drill exercises at the Recruit Sustainment Program in the New Jersey Army National Guard.

SFC Shereka Danzy conducts drill exercises at the Recruit Sustainment Program in the New Jersey Army National Guard.

If you’re thinking about joining the Army National Guard, there’s something you should know. Your recruiter, that person who kindly answers all your questions and guides you through the enlistment process, might just also turn out to be … your drill sergeant.

As Sergeant First Class (SFC) Shereka Danzy likes to say of her recruits, “I put them in boots, and then I yell at them.”

The New Jersey Army National Guard recruiter also happens to be a drill sergeant for the State’s Recruit Sustainment Program (RSP), a mandatory program designed for Soldiers who’ve enlisted and have not yet gone to Basic Training, or Soldiers who’ve gone to Basic and have yet to go to Advanced Individual Training (AIT) for their military occupational specialty (MOS).

“We’re teaching them how to march, customs and courtesies, military knowledge, acronyms, and getting them ready for Basic Training,” says SFC Danzy. “It’s to make sure they’re Army or Soldier ready. A lot of times the Soldiers from the Guard are better equipped for Basic Training than the Soldiers that come right off the couch.”

SFC Danzy was one of those “off-the-couch” Soldiers, having enlisted in the active duty Army in April of her senior year in high school, and shipping off to Basic in August without any kind of training beforehand.

SFC Danzy joined the Guard in 2002 after her contract with the Army ended, eager to start her college education.

“The decision to leave active duty was based upon the fact that I was given all this money for school, but I had no time for it.”

Because Guard service is part-time, she was able to get a degree in law enforcement and become a parole officer for the State of New Jersey while serving as a traditional Guard Soldier, drilling once a month and attending annual training in the summer.

After becoming a cadre member in Sea Girt, she was asked to become a drill sergeant.

When she realized there was not another female drill sergeant in the ranks, SFC Danzy decided, “Ok, absolutely I must go.”

As the first woman to become a drill sergeant in the New Jersey Army National Guard, “you’re representing women, one, and that’s a big deal, then I’m representing myself and my support team – everyone that was behind me. “

Plus, she was honored that she had been asked by her command.

“They could have chosen anybody, but they saw something in me.”

That something, she believes, is her “passion for soldiering. Grabbing Soldiers under your wing. Teaching them right from wrong, not only teaching them, but showing them what right looks like.”

So here are SFC Danzy’s tips for RSP or Basic.

 1. Have a positive mindset. 

“Positive thoughts yield positive results. Negative thoughts yield negative results, so if you already feel defeated on something then you’re probably not going to be able to do it.”

2. Pay attention to detail.

“When you’re not paying attention to detail, somebody can get hurt. That’s just the business that we’re in.”

3. Stay motivated.

“Your drill sergeants will motivate you. You just have to keep up the momentum.”

And another thing SFC Danzy wants you to know: even if it feels like it sometimes, drill sergeants are not the enemy.

“We’re supposed to train you, and we’re not trying to be likable. We give you the hard truth of what things are.”

 For an example of what that’s like, here’s a video of SFC Danzy in action:

At 37, as SFC Danzy closes in on retiring from the military when she reaches 20 years of service, and turns her focus more toward her civilian career, she plans to get a master’s degree in police graduate studies.

Likewise, she encourages her recruits to make the most of the Guard’s education benefits, which are “hands down our best selling point because education is expensive.”

“We don’t cap them on education, so if [Soldiers] want to get two bachelor’s degrees, two master’s degrees, as long as they’re actively drilling, and they’re in good standing, we’ll pay for it.” Benefits vary by State, but under the New Jersey ARNG Tuition Waiver Program, the New Jersey National Guard offers 100 percent free tuition for State schools.

So, if you’re interested in what the Guard has to offer, a great way to get started is to look into the Guard’s job board, which outlines all the careers you can train in, from armor and field artillery to aviation or logistics support, just to name a few. And for personalized advice, contact your local recruiter.

(Video by SFC Wayne Woolley)

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Soldier/Pageant Winner Says You Don’t Have to Give up Being ‘Girly’ to Serve in the Guard

AUSTIN, Texas — The southernmost tip of Texas falls into what is colloquially known as “The Valley.” No one really knows why it’s called this; the actual Rio Grande Valley and the nearest mountains are hundreds of miles away.

The land is flat, tropical, and the home of a predominantly Hispanic population.

It was there, in what she calls the “blink-and-you’ll-miss-it” town of Premont, that Army Staff Sergeant (SSG) San Juanita Escobar, of the Texas Army National Guard, took the first steps that would both change her life and the lives of hundreds of young women in Texas and around the world.

These first steps consisted of beauty pageants in the nearby and even smaller town of Concepcion, where pageant competitions are often the source of longstanding family rivalries, and defending a title is a matter of honor. Back then, few anticipated that this south Texas girl from the Valley would rise to the title of Mrs. Texas Galaxy.

A Family Tradition

“Pageants were always something that my family did,” SSG Escobar says. “We had the crown for years, so it was something you just did when you reached a certain age. After that, I competed in several smaller, regional pageants and county fairs.”

Those pageants led to small, local modeling jobs and eventually to auditions in California. But as much as SSG Escobar dreamed of getting out of the small town she lived in, she decided this was not the path she wanted to follow. Commitments at home made her decline the audition callbacks.

“At the time, I wasn’t going to pick up and move to California,” she says. “I had sports, school, and my friends that were more important to me. I also didn’t want to do that to the rest of my siblings, so I put all that on the back burner.”

SSG San Juanita Escobar, a recruiter with the Texas Army National Guard.

SSG San Juanita Escobar, a Soldier with the Texas Army National Guard. (Photo by SGT Steve Johnson).

Joining the Guard

SSG Escobar stayed in Premont, filling every spare moment of time with studies, volleyball, basketball, cross-country, tennis, and band, until one day during her senior year, a recruiter from the Texas Army Guard approached her.

And in a matter of days, everything changed.

“When the Army National Guard recruiter came and talked to me, and explained the education benefits, I was sold, and it became a matter of, ‘How fast can we do this?’” SSG Escobar recalls. “So, I met my recruiter on Tuesday, and I was enlisted by Friday.”

The abruptness of her decision came as a shock to family and friends. But while joining the military was a leap into unknown territory for SSG Escobar and her family, the lure of education and travel while serving close to home was irresistible to the 17-year-old.

“I never really knew much about the military,” she says. “When they told me I could serve part-time, serve my country, still make a change in the world, better my community, and still get my education, that’s really what made the Army National Guard stand out from the other services.”

Basic Training

In July 2008, SSG Escobar finally left the small town of her childhood for basic training at Fort Jackson, S.C. It was her first time really being away from home and family. Without them, she said, she had to discover and nurture new internal strengths to help her get through some of the tougher moments on her path to becoming a Soldier.

“My strength to continue was knowing that this was something that I truly wanted,” she says. “I knew it was going to change my life for the better, and I knew it would make my family proud.”

Her competitive nature also helped get her through.

“I’m very competitive,” she says. “I always want to win and be the best, so I used that as my driving force.”

After completing basic and then Advanced Individual Training, SSG Escobar returned to Texas, and was assigned to the 368th Engineer Battalion in Corpus Christi. There, she worked in personnel administration, processing paperwork of Soldiers who were deploying. It was also while there that she quickly began to feel like it wasn’t enough.

“I was there for maybe two drills before I started seeing that all my friends were deploying. I really loved the Army National Guard active life, so I volunteered to deploy,” she says.

Soon enough, SSG Escobar headed to the African nation of Djibouti with the Texas Army Guard’s 3rd Squadron, 124th Cavalry Regiment as a member of the security forces element for a civil affairs team.

Helping Other Women

While in Africa, the future Mrs. Texas Galaxy saw a problem, and in a move that would come to be a hallmark of her military career, she decided to help solve it.

“While I was assigned to the civil affairs team, I helped create the Women’s Initiative Program in Ethiopia,” SSG Escobar says. “Because of how high the school dropout rate is for young women, we developed special groups to go to different villages and orphanages to educate and empower them to speak to their political figures, and to also inform other women about different political and medical issues.”

In many parts of Africa, women are routinely subjected to discrimination and violence by virtue of tradition or customs, SSG Escobar says. Her team addressed these issues head-on through a combination of education and strength.

“The women always felt alone, like it was them against everyone,” says SSG Escobar. “So, we brought groups together for school, and we would teach them that if males don’t want to help them, they can help each other.”

That effort fostered an environment of empowerment, she says, adding that it “let them know that their internal strength could be used to benefit each other.”

At first, the groups were made up of young women between the ages of 18 to 23, but eventually would reach out to thousands of girls and women of all ages.

The Women’s Initiative Program also worked closely with other programs designed to improve education and raise awareness of HIV and AIDS to expand its reach even further. With a push from then-Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, it led to an outreach in 13 different countries that focused on teaching women to advocate for themselves.

When that mission was over, SSG Escobar returned home and became a recruiter for the Texas Army National Guard so she could continue to change young people’s lives the way her own life was changed.

“My motivation was that I knew where I started, and I know where I’m at now,” she says. “I just want to tell people that there’s going to be light if that’s what they choose, if they choose to turn their challenges into a positive.”

Serving as a recruiter, in some ways, also brought her right back to old family traditions.

“When I would talk to students, the females would always say, ‘Oh, I’m too girly to serve in the military,’ or they would worry they weren’t going to be able to ‘be girly.’”

Those comments, in part, led her to return to pageants like the ones of her youth.

Texas Army National Guard Soldier and Mrs. Texas Galaxy, SSG San Juanita Escobar, poses for photos with her husband, Luis Escobar, after winning the Mrs. Texas Galaxy Pageant, in March 2018.

Texas Army National Guard Soldier and Mrs. Texas Galaxy, SSG San Juanita Escobar, poses for photos with her husband, Luis Escobar, after winning the Mrs. Texas Galaxy Pageant, in March 2018. (Photo courtesy of Mrs. Texas Galaxy Pageant).

Return to Beauty Pageants

“I started doing beauty pageants again,” SSG Escobar says. “I would go into schools and show them a pageant picture, but I would be there in uniform, and I would say, ‘You can’t tell me you can’t do this.’ It was after that I started seeing more of an ‘I can do this’ attitude.”

Going back to the pageant world after serving as a Soldier gave SSG Escobar a unique perspective. She says she drew on those experiences and prepared as rigorously as she would for a military mission, using the training and confidence she gained while serving to make her an even tougher and more determined competitor.

After three years, SSG Escobar left the recruiting world to dedicate more time to school but she was still competing in pageants.

In March, she was crowned Mrs. Texas Galaxy, and is moving on to an international competition this month, where she represents Texas against dozens of competitors from all over the world. Despite this potential for international celebrity, her primary focus remains serving those in need.

As Mrs. Texas Galaxy, SSG Escobar focuses on highlighting suicide prevention for veterans and spreading suicide awareness. And, as a member of the Texas Army National Guard, she focuses on helping others, both around the world and at home in Texas.

“As a member of the National Guard I have been able to go to multiple countries, but I have also been able to serve stateside,” SSG Escobar says. “I saw the impact of what it meant when our Soldiers went in to help during Hurricane Harvey, and how much our citizens appreciated that. To me that’s important because these are our friends and family. Who is going to take care of them better than us, ourselves?”

If you have an interest in joining the Army National Guard to serve your country and community, there are plenty of options available, all while serving part-time. The Guard offers more than 150 careers, including infantry and engineering. You can check out the full roster of possibilities on our job board. Be sure to take a look at the Guard’s outstanding benefits, including money for college.

From an original story by Army SGT Steve Johnson, 100th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, which originally appeared in the news section of NationalGuard.mil in June 2018.

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