It’s Not About Your Hair. It’s About Your Heart.

Guard Soldier Uses Part-time Modeling Career to Help Others with Alopecia

SPC Imani Gayle of the New Jersey Army National Guard poses for a portrait in Irvington, N.J., her hometown. (Photo by MSG Matt Hecht.)

SPC Imani Gayle of the New Jersey Army National Guard poses for a portrait in Irvington, N.J., her hometown. (Photo by MSG Matt Hecht.)

IRVINGTON, N.J. – At just 22 years old, Specialist (SPC) Imani Gayle balances college, serving in the Army National Guard, a fashion career, and charitable work assisting girls with alopecia: a condition that causes hair loss.

A native of Irvington, SPC Gayle also has alopecia, and has marketed her signature look through working with various clothing and jewelry designers in the New York City area.

Her passion for helping people with alopecia goes beyond charitable work. She’s also getting a degree in biology pre-med, with the hope of one day becoming a dermatologist.

“My reason for joining the Army National Guard was to help me pay for school,” says SPC Gayle, an 88M Motor Transport Operator with New Jersey’s 2-113th Infantry Regiment.

SPC Gayle has put school on hold as she prepares to deploy with the New Jersey National Guard supporting Operation Enduring Freedom – Horn of Africa.

Ever since she was a child, she had worn some type of hat to cover up her alopecia.

“Growing up with alopecia was very hard. I went to a Catholic school, and I used to wear a uniform. My grandma made special hats to match my uniform,” she says. “My eyebrows would fall out, so I would wear my hats low, and kids would question it. It was difficult. I had to ignore them. It really affected me. Kids used to pull my hats off.”

When SPC Gayle went to Basic Training, she wore a hairpiece. The heat and time limitations made wearing it difficult and time-consuming. Finally, she decided to take it off.

“I was a little shy, but it was so hot, I took my hair off. I had this crazy tan line, a lot of people stared, and a lot of drill sergeants were curious.”

She attracted the negative attention of one female drill sergeant.

“I had a drill sergeant yelling in my face, ‘You think you’re cute, you got a weave on, you think you’re cute, I think she wants to be cute.’ I didn’t break down at that moment, but as soon as the shark attack was done, I just broke down crying. My male drill sergeant pulled me aside, and said, ‘She didn’t know.’ I think she felt really bad, and later she apologized to me.”

SPC Gayle’s drill sergeant wasn’t the only one who came to her defense. Her fellow Soldiers also embraced who she was.

“Initially, I always wore my wigs. So, when I got back, it was just, hmm, if these strangers who don’t know me and never met me could come to my defense and do everything that I felt people at home could do, then why couldn’t people at home do it?” she says.

“So, once I came home I stopped wearing my wigs, and I got a lot of attention. I got a lot of offers from people locally who do fashion shows, who make clothes, who make jewelry, different makeup artists, different hair stylists. I’ve done hair photo shoots and everything. It kind of helped me build a platform for young girls in New Jersey with alopecia.”

The money she gets from her modeling shoots goes to her Alopecia Awareness Foundation, and so far, she has given out three college scholarships to girls in Nevada, Texas, and New Jersey.

“They’re so overwhelmed with joy. When you’re young it’s hard to find someone you can relate to. I think I give them a lot of comfort, and I still talk to them. It makes me feel so good.”

Thinking back to her school days, SPC Gayle realized her hats were cute, but she always preferred to “have her head out there.”

“It’s not about your hair, it’s about your heart. Embrace your alopecia and be accepting of yourself. It’s important that you accept yourself for who you are, and not what people see you as.”

The Army National Guard gives you the flexibility to serve part-time while making a difference in your community. If you’re passionate about helping others and want to pursue your dreams, explore more than 130 career options on our job board and answer the call that speaks to you. Contact a local recruiter today to learn more!

From an original article by MSG Matt Hecht, New Jersey National Guard, which appeared in the news section of NationalGuard.mil in February 2019.

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Guard Offering $20k for Certain Jobs, but Benefits of Service Go Beyond the Bonus, Says Recruiter

Kyle Deleon, left, is one of the newest members of the North Carolina Army National Guard. Recruited by SSG Phillip Wongsing, right, Kyle received a $20,000 bonus for enlisting as a 13M Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) Crewmember in January.Kyle Deleon, left, is one of the newest members of the North Carolina Army National Guard. Recruited by SSG Phillip Wongsing, right, Kyle received a $20,000 bonus for enlisting as a 13M Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) Crewmember in January.

Out of the approximately 130 jobs you can do in the Army National Guard, there’s a list of a dozen or so of these jobs in every State that is offering new enlistees a $20,000 bonus right now.

Staff Sergeant (SSG) Phillip Wongsing, a recruiter for the North Carolina Army National Guard, is quick to clear up any misconceptions that the military occupational specialties (MOSs) that make the list are jobs that no one wants to do.

“You get everything from plumbing to aviation to infantry to armor,” he says. “These are really good jobs – a variety of jobs in different career fields.”

The list varies from State to State and changes on a quarterly basis.

“It’s based on what the State needs at the moment to fill in positions, so we don’t have critical vulnerabilities within our organization,” says SSG Wongsing.

For example, as of this month in North Carolina, bonuses are available for 17 jobs this quarter. Here are just a few examples to demonstrate the variety:

The bonus is tied to a score of at least 50 on the ASVAB and to a 6-year enlistment in the Army National Guard, says SSG Wongsing. And, by the way, that’s six years of part-time service – as little as one weekend a month for drill and two weeks in the summer for annual training.

Here’s how the bonus works: Soldiers receive half the money when they successfully complete Basic Training and Advanced Individual Training. On their third-year anniversary they receive another quarter of the bonus. The final quarter arrives for their fifth anniversary.

But even if the MOS you want doesn’t come with a bonus, there are other financial incentives to think about. One is money for college. Because Army National Guard Soldiers have a dual mission to serve the State and the Nation, Soldiers can take advantage of both State and federal tuition assistance. SSG Wongsing says the North Carolina Army National Guard offers:

  • $4,500 a year for in-State college tuition reimbursement
  • $4,000 a year for federal tuition assistance
  • $384 a month for the GI Bill (paid directly to the Soldier for expenses)
  • $350 a month for the GI Bill Kicker (with a minimum ASVAB score of 50)

Affordable health insurance offered through the Guard is another way to save money. At $42 a month for medical and about $11 a month for dental, SSG Wongsing estimates that single North Carolina Guard Soldiers are paying about a quarter of what their civilian counterparts do.

Of course, money isn’t everything. Doing a job you like has its own rewards.

One of SSG Wongsing’s recent recruits may not have gotten a $20,000 bonus for enlisting as an 15Q Air Traffic Control Operator, but by the time he graduates college, he’ll have five years of paid training and experience in his field, which applies directly to a civilian career.

There are other motivations to serve in the Guard, too.

“If you have a heart for humanitarian work and adventure, then the National Guard is the place to be,” says SSG Wongsing, who helped distribute supplies to residents displaced by two hurricanes that hit North Carolina in 2018. The Guard also helped with evacuations, water rescues and storm clean up.

“You directly have a hand in the rehabilitation of your community and helping people in a time of stress,” he says.

If you’re into travel, there are opportunities to attend trainings in other States or countries. The North Carolina Guard, for example, is partnered with Botswana and Moldova through the State Partnership Program.

There’s also some friendly competition among the ranks. SSG Wongsing’s former armor company for example, won the Sullivan Cup in 2016, competing against the Marines and other Army units for the best tank crew, and then went on to finish third in an international competition. Last year, the New York Army National Guard sent athletes to the Winter Olympics, and then, there’s the annual Best Warrior Competition, a test of a Soldier’s knowledge and physical endurance.

And while most Soldiers serve part-time and have civilian jobs or go to school, there are also full-time jobs available in the Guard.

“The Guard is what you make of it,” says SSG Wongsing. “If you want to go to school full-time, and you still want to serve your community, have self-sovereignty in your life, and serve something bigger than yourself, the National Guard is a great opportunity to have two different lifestyles – the civilian and military that supplement each other.”

So, if you’re interested in what the Guard has to offer, our job board is a great place to start. You can search by keyword, State, or career field, such as logisticsadministrationengineeringintelligence, and more. For information about enlistment bonuses and benefits available in your State, contact your local recruiter.

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Guard Soldier’s Father Forges Tokens of Appreciation for the Nation’s Heroes

Since the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, Randy Dack has made more than 4,000 “lucky” horseshoes for military service members worldwide. Randy made his first “Soldier’s shoe” for his son, Adam, prior to his first deployment in 2002 with the Nebraska Army National Guard’s 1-134th Cavalry. (Photo by SGT Jessica Villwok.)

GRAND ISLAND, Neb. – Randy Dack still remembers every detail from Sept. 11, 2001.

Randy, the blacksmith at Grand Island’s Stuhr Museum, vividly remembers hearing, “they just hit the World Trade Center.”

As terrible as the attacks were, Randy admits that his most immediate thoughts went to his son who had recently joined the Nebraska Army National Guard.

“Adam had been in boot camp about two weeks on that day,” he says.

Adam made it back home to Nebraska from Basic Training, but he didn’t stay there for long. Shortly after his return in 2002, Adam, who now serves as a Sergeant First Class in Hastings’ Troop A, 1-134th Cavalry, began preparing for a peacekeeping mission to Bosnia-Herzegovina.

After hearing the news that his son was heading overseas as part of a major mobilization of National Guard Soldiers, Randy, who began his career as a farrier, remembered the story of Dunstan the Blacksmith, the devil, and how a horseshoe came to be lucky.

In the story, a blacksmith named Dunstan was working in his shop when the devil walked by and became intrigued by the sound of a pounding anvil. When the devil realized the blacksmith was making horseshoes to protect a horse’s hooves, he thought that as a cloven-hoofed animal himself, that he, too, should have horseshoes to protect his feet.

So, the devil made a deal with the blacksmith to make him shoes. The blacksmith, realizing whom he was dealing with, ensured that every shoe he put on to the devil’s foot was still red hot from the fire while driving the nails down deep into the devil’s feet. After all of the shoes were on, the devil paid the blacksmith and left. Knowing it was bad luck to do business with the devil, the blacksmith threw the money into the fire.

Later, as the devil walked down the road, the nails drove deeper into his feet. Finally, unable to take any more pain, the devil stopped alongside a well and tore the shoes off, throwing them down the well.

To this day, it is a blacksmith tradition to ring one’s anvil three times at the end of the day to drive the devil out until the next morning, or, if the devil sees a horseshoe, he turns and runs away from it, remembering all the pain and torture the shoes had caused him.

“That is the reason a horseshoe is supposed to bring you good luck,” Randy says.

With that story in mind, Randy decided to make a miniature horseshoe for his son to carry in his pocket during his deployment. It would soon come to be known as the Soldier’s shoe.

Before leaving for Bosnia, Adam went to visit his dad at the museum one more time. He listened to the story as he looked at the keepsake. “That way you can carry your luck with you on the field,” Randy told Adam after the story.

Randy recalls, “Adam just stood there for a minute and looked up at me and said, ‘Every guy in my troop needs one.’”

“So, I made 65 more to give to every Soldier from his troop to take with them to Bosnia.”

All 65 Soldiers and horseshoes made it home safely, but they didn’t stay home for long.

Soon, the unit was notified of another deployment to Iraq, and a few years later, they were off to Afghanistan. Before the Afghanistan deployment, Randy once again made horseshoes for the entire unit, but this time at the request of Major General (MG) Judd Lyons, Nebraska adjutant general at the time. After MG Lyons learned about the keepsakes from Adam’s commander, he wanted to make sure all Soldiers could carry their luck with them in the field.

Randy gladly made enough horseshoes for every Soldier.

After that request, Randy began keeping horseshoes with him to give to any service member he came across. He has passed out horseshoes at gas stations, restaurants, and the Stuhr Museum. He also continues to tell recipients the story behind the symbol.

“It has just become a tradition, and working here at the museum, I have seen a lot of Soldiers come through. You can always tell a Soldier.”

He could even see the Soldier in an old friend he hadn’t seen in years. It turns out one of Randy’s high school classmates had chosen the Army as his career path.

Frederick Drummond, who at the time was a Major with the 82nd Airborne Division, came by the Stuhr Museum one day. Randy continued his new tradition of telling the story of Dunstan while he made his old friend a horseshoe to take home.

The next summer, MAJ Drummond came back to the museum while home on leave. He told Randy he thought he had lost his horseshoe which he later found. The close call made MAJ Drummond realize how much the tiny horseshoe meant to him and that he wanted all of his 500 troops in the 82nd to have horseshoes for their deployment.

Randy filled the order and just a month later, he received a phone call requesting more.

“It turns out one of the guys from the 82nd had been talking to someone in the 101st Airborne,” Randy says. “The 101st ordered 500 shoes.”

“We recruited friends to help with that,” laughs Sarah Dack, Randy’s wife.

It’s easy to see the pride Sarah and Randy have, not only in their son, but for all the men and women serving their country.

“Since 2002, my wife and I have given out well over 4,000 horseshoes,” Randy says. “I’ve got horseshoes under the ocean in submarines, in the Air Force, Army, and Marines. All branches.”

Randy and Sarah are all smiles as they talk about the service members and families they’ve touched, and hope they are making a small difference, even for those they’ve never met.

There have also been some tough memories created through their efforts.

“This story is hard to tell,” Randy says, his voice choking up.

One busy summer afternoon as Randy worked in his museum blacksmith shop, he noticed a young man standing in the back of the crowd wearing a Marine Corps shirt, missing part of one leg and standing on crutches. The man waited for the crowd to leave before he approached the blacksmith. “I hate to ask,” Randy recalls saying, “but did that happen overseas?”

The Marine replied yes and began telling his story.

The young man had joined the Marines out of high school. Shortly after finishing training he was deployed to Iraq, and was in country for three weeks when his vehicle was hit by an improvised explosive device. When he woke up, he was at Landstuhl Medical Center in Germany.

A nurse approached the wounded Marine and they began talking. She told the Marine about the vacation she and her husband took before she left for deployment. They had gone to a little museum in Nebraska that had a blacksmith who told the story about the Devil and the horseshoe. The nurse pulled a little horseshoe out of her pocket and handed it to the recovering Marine. She told him to take it because he needed it more than she did.

Then, as he stood in the blacksmith’s shop balancing on his crutches, the young Marine veteran dug into his pocket and pulled out the horseshoe.

“‘This shoe hasn’t left me since that day,’” Randy recalls the Marine saying. “‘I just got out of Bethesda (Naval Hospital) and I wasn’t going to go home to San Francisco without going through Nebraska and finding that museum and that blacksmith to say thank you.’”

After hearing the story, Randy made the Marine another horseshoe and asked him if he knew the nurse’s name and address, to which the Marine replied yes. Randy gave the Marine the second horseshoe and told him to send it back to her.

“That story of the Marine,” Randy says with watery eyes, “I still about lose it every time I tell it. When he left, I had to close the shop in the middle of the afternoon.”

“I cry every time he talks about that,” says his wife.

After discovering a miniature horseshoe similar to the ones Randy makes himself at a gun show in Hastings, Neb., it turns out the gesture has been practiced by blacksmiths for decades. Randy looked at the horseshoe – almost identical in every detail to the ones he makes – and then turned it over. On the back was the date – 1942. In 1942 there was a blacksmith in the Cavalry at Fort Hood, Texas, who made small horseshoes for every Soldier in his troop before they were sent overseas.

Randy now encourages other blacksmiths to do the same for service members.

“I’ve presented at one of the national blacksmithing conventions about doing this and sending these over,” Randy says. “Hopefully there are a lot more blacksmiths who are doing it.”

Randy and Sarah say they know what sacrifices military members and their families make. The horseshoes are just small ways to say thank you, to let them know they are not forgotten, and that they appreciate the fact that service members are missing birthdays, anniversaries, ball games, and family gatherings to serve.

“We just want to say thank you,” Randy said. “When they reach in their pockets and feel the horseshoe, it reminds them that there are people back home thinking of them.”

It takes a special person to promise to defend the American way of life at any cost. The Army National Guard has been defending grateful citizens of the State and the Nation for 382 years, making this branch of the U.S. military older than the country itself. If you want to be part of a proud legacy of serving part-time in your community during a crisis like a natural disaster, or protecting your fellow citizens overseas when your country needs you, contact a local recruiter to learn more.

From an original article by SGT Jessica Villwock, 11th Public Affairs Detachment, Nebraska Army National Guard, which appeared in the news section of NationalGuard.mil in January 2019.

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