Citizen-Warrior: Guard Soldier Melds Military, Gridiron Experience

2LT Devin King, with the Ohio Army National Guard’s Battery C, 1st Battalion, 134th Field Artillery Regiment, also serves as the long snapper on the Ohio University football team.  (Photo by Abigail Dean, Ohio Athletics)

ATHENS, Ohio – Army National Guard Second Lieutenant (2LT) Devin King puts on his uniform when on duty with the Ohio Army National Guard’s Battery C, 1st Battalion, 134th Field Artillery Regiment. He wears a different uniform on weekends during college football season, as the long snapper on Ohio University’s team.

2LT King, like many other Ohio National Guard Soldiers, is also a college student.

He enlisted in May 2014 while still a senior at Sheridan High School in Thornville, Ohio, because he planned to go to Ohio University in Athens to wrestle. Without a scholarship, King needed a way to pay the tuition. Enlisting enabled him to do so.

Citizen-Soldiers earn benefits to help pay for education and expenses while serving their country and their community.

“My father recommended looking into the Guard to help pay for school, and I took that opportunity,” says 2LT King. “I also viewed it as a great way to serve my community and country.”

Once at Ohio, he joined the university’s Army ROTC program and was recently commissioned as a Second Lieutenant.

In early 2018, his roommate talked him into trying out for the football team — not much of a stretch since 2LT King played football in high school. His skills impressed the coaches, and he made the team as a walk-on. When an injury sidelined the starting long snapper during the first game of the season, he stepped into the position.

This year, he has the starting job and a full scholarship.

“I remember the week before the first game (last season) thinking, ‘Wow, I’m really playing (NCAA) Division I football,’” he says. “Stepping into that starting role full-time really meant a lot to me. I put in a lot of practice time during the summer, and it really paid off.”

2LT King graduated with a bachelor’s degree in health service administration in December 2018, and he’s on target to earn his master’s in coaching education. Next on his list of goals is to attend the Field Artillery Basic Officer Leader Course and play in the NFL.

Meanwhile, 2LT King continues to balance life as a Soldier and student-athlete, to be the best warrior-athlete he can be for both of his teams.

“I think there are a lot of great lessons and values the military can give you to help prepare you to be a student-athlete,” he says. “Working together as a cohesive team in the military to accomplish a task or mission can be directly carried over to sports, to help lead and bring teammates together to work toward the common goal we have of being conference champions and successful on the national scale.”

2LT King also credits his military experience for giving him the tools to handle time management and prioritize tasks.

His experience may have influenced his younger brother, Chance, who also enlisted. His brother, a Private First Class, earned recognition as a distinguished honor grad after completing basic training. He’s now at Advanced Individual Training to learn skills for his job as a 14G Air Defense Battle Management System Operator.

“Chance thinks very highly of me, as I do of him, and he has the same drive to go above and beyond expectations that are set for him,” says 2LT King. “I couldn’t be more proud of him and the success he has had early in his career.”

2LT King has set an example for his brother as he finds success on the football field, in the classroom, and in the Ohio Army National Guard.

The Army National Guard gives you the opportunity to pursue an education or civilian career while serving part-time in your home State. With positions in more than 130 career fields, ranging from Intelligence to Police and Protection to Munitions, you can find your perfect fit. Check out the job board for more information on available careers, and contact a local recruiter to learn more.  From an original article by Stephanie Beougher, Ohio National Guard, which appeared in the news section of NationalGuard.mil on Jan. 1, 2020.

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Guard Recruiter Knows Price of Freedom

As a boy, Othello Smith fled Liberia with his father and some family members – on foot – to escape civil war in 1996. They took refuge in Sierra Leone, only to have civil war break out there, too, forcing the family to flee yet again – this time to Guinea.

Fortunately, Smith and his family were granted asylum as war refugees in the U.S. and settled in Rhode Island in 1998. He still hasn’t seen his mother, who’s in Liberia, since 1994. They’re hoping to connect with each other via Facebook when the technology becomes available to her.

Smith has seen what it’s like to live in a country with too much freedom – as in freedom to do anything you want without repercussions. In his experience in Liberia, “freedom is handing a gun to a 14-year-old kid, and he can do whatever he wants with that weapon. A young kid could see his uncle die in front of him because that is the freedom that is afforded in that county. There was nothing there to prevent that civil war.”

Smith is grateful that his new homeland has protections in place to prevent the kind of chaos he’s lived through, but still, freedom comes with a price that some Americans take for granted.

SPC Smith
SPC Othello Smith, Rhode Island Army National Guard recruiter.

That’s one of the reasons he joined the Rhode Island Army National Guard three years ago at age 28. The Guard also offered Specialist (SPC) Smith an expedited path to citizenship and education benefits to help him earn a degree in nursing and perhaps, later, pharmacy. As a first-generation American, he wants to set a good example for his two children that anything can be accomplished through hard work.

SPC Smith thought about going Active Duty but, “the National Guard just seemed to be the best fit, as far as accomplishing your goals, and still staying in the State, serving your country, and making a difference at the same time.”

His decision to join the military was met with some resistance from his father.

“Because of so many traumatizing things that we witnessed – I literally lived through two civil wars – my father, at the time, was totally against any military activity. I decided if I were ever to bear arms and get deployed, I will change the way soldiers behave toward citizens.”

Of all Military Occupational Specialties (MOSs), SPC Smith chose one of the loudest – 13B Cannon Crewmember – a choice that could have easily triggered bad memories from his youth. During one of his first Fourths of July in Rhode Island, he remembers that fireworks sent him under his bed, where his family found him screaming and crying.

SPC Smith says he got used to loud noises on his own and through his faith in God.

He was determined to be trained in “one of the hardest MOSs the military has to offer. I like to get my hands dirty and roll up my sleeves,” he says.

Over the last year, he has transitioned to recruiting for the Rhode Island Guard. One of his goals is to expose fellow Liberian immigrants – his State has one of the largest Liberian populations in the U.S. – to military life.

“There’s more to being in America than just being an employee. You have to be a difference-maker.”

To SPC Smith, “what the Guard stands for is making a change in people’s lives.” He has found both mentors and a family in the Guard.

“The military has wrapped its arms around me and showed me that there are people out there who are willing to help you in your career, help you with a family situation, and give you advice.”

When some of his recruits come in unsure of their physical capabilities, SPC Smith tells them, “an old guy like me went to basic training and did it, and you will be able to do it. You’re not there by yourself. They are people with you every step of the way.”

SPC Smith says he often gets a text or an email from his recruits thanking him for his support.

“The relationship that I build with my recruits is very important to me,” he says. “Changing lives, that’s the most important mission I’ve accomplished so far in the military.”

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 Logistics, Technology and Networking, Ground Forces, and Engineering. For details on any MOS, search our job board, and contact your local recruiter for more information.

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Guard Biathlete Sets Sights on World Cup, 2022 Olympics

SPC Travis Cooper of the Alaska Army National Guard. Photo courtesy Army.mil.

Specialist (SPC) Travis Cooper is a member of the Alaska Army National Guard, but he lives in Vermont, more than 4,000 miles away from his Unit. That kind of distance would probably break the record for longest commute to drill. However, he’s exempt from his monthly duty because he’s part of the Army National Guard’s Biathlon Team.

For 10 1/2 to 11 months of the year, SPC Cooper is on official orders – he’s either in training or competing in biathlons, which combine cross-country skiing with target shooting.

Even when it isn’t snowing, the Alaska native is competing in the summer version of his sport by zipping up and down paved pathways on rollerskis. In fact, SPC Cooper won the 2019 U.S. National Biathlon Rollerski Championship in August. This victory puts him one step closer to earning a starting spot in the World Cup Championships in Europe this winter as a member of his other team – the U.S. Biathlon Men’s National Team.

He’s also hoping to compete in the 2022 Olympics in Beijing – but not stop there.

“The Olympics is probably the highest goal I’d like to achieve, but I’m determined to go two or three Olympic cycles.”

SPC Cooper joined the Guard four years ago at the suggestion of a family friend and member of the Wyoming Army National Guard Biathlon Team. He was put in touch with recruiters in Alaska and, from there, the Guard’s biathlon team coaches in Jericho, Vt.

Growing up, he knew the military could be a career option – as a child he’d dreamed of becoming a Navy Seal or a firefighter, but “the Guard opportunity was too good to pass up.” He likes the challenge of competing in a physically and mentally demanding sport.

SPC Cooper chose 91L Construction Vehicle Repairer for his military occupational specialty (MOS) for strategic reasons. It came with a signing bonus, a relatively short training period, plus “it’s a pretty practical job and skill to learn. I had my sights on doing biathlon, and so anything that could get me through basic training, AIT, and back to Vermont to start biathlon the fastest was my goal.”

A competitive skier since the seventh grade, SPC Cooper, 23, made the National Guard team off the bat, despite having limited biathlon experience – he’d done a couple of camps with a local club back in Alaska. He had the skiing part down pat. It’s the marksmanship part that he finds more challenging.

“In shooting, it can change day-to-day. We have races when it’s calm out or when it’s gale-force 50-mile-an-hour winds, so we need to make sight adjustments for those winds.”

Experience is also a factor.

“There are people who’ve been shooting ten years longer than I have. Their muscle memory when it comes to holding the rifle is just so much better than mine is.”

Competitions have taken him to 13 different countries, and he’s made many friends along the way.

“Especially being a National Guard athlete, I’ve met so many people from across the country. I know Colonels from Utah and Privates from Rhode Island. The National Guard is a very big family. I like the camaraderie of it.”

When he does make it home to Alaska, about twice a year, “I’ll go check in with my Unit, even if it’s not a drill weekend, to try to make up some days and do some extra things for them.”

One of the benefits of serving in the Army National Guard is that it provides money for college. SPC Cooper plans to take advantage of that in the near future, and someday try out for the Guard’s Special Forces. But for now, biathlon “is my military and civilian career wrapped into one.”

His advice for anyone considering joining the Guard is, “Weigh all your options, but I think it’s an incredible opportunity to further yourself in life in general. I think it’s a pretty incredible organization. Determine what you want and go for it.”

And there are plenty of choices in the Army National Guard. With more than 130 MOSs, you can, for instance, be in charge of heavy weapons, provide military intelligence or medical help, keep things running smoothly in supply and logistics, and so much more. You can search our job board for details on any career. While the vast majority of Guard Soldiers serve part-time, there are also full-time opportunities. Contact your local recruiter for more information.

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