Soldier Embraces Opportunities to Learn Through Army National Guard Service

PFC Daniel Olson doesn’t know how his Army National Guard journey will play out. And, he’s happy about that.

In addition to tuition and health care benefits, and the ability to serve his community, access to almost unlimited opportunities is one of the things he loves most about the Army National Guard.

PFC Daniel Olson
PFC Daniel Olson

“There are 26 letters of the alphabet. If plan A doesn’t work, there are 25 other plans,” says PFC Olson, who currently works as a Horizontal Construction Engineer (MOS 12N) and a recruiter’s assistant for the New York Army National Guard.

No matter what plan or path he chooses, he knows the Army National Guard will be part of his life for a long time.

Soldier Surrounded, Inspired by Military Service

PFC Olson was surrounded by military service while growing up. His mother served in the Army National Guard, his father and grandfather were in the Navy, and his uncle was in the Marines for 32 years. He enjoyed hearing the stories his uncle shared.

“He always talked to me about the military,” says PFC Olson. “Seeing his awards and listening to his stories opened my eyes and made me realize I want something like that.”

He knew he wanted to serve his country but wasn’t sure which branch would be the best fit. Then, while in high school, he was inspired by a speaker at a leadership conference. She told a story about how her parents’ home was flooded during Hurricane Katrina and Army National Guard Soldiers helped her family.

“She said a National Guard Soldier carried a fridge out of the basement by himself. She said she’ll never forget what they did for her parents. I thought, ‘That’s awesome. I want to help people,’” says Olson.

Not too long after the conference, an Army National Guard recruiter visited his school. A teacher notified students about the visit and said they could go to enjoy pizza being served at the event with no obligation to join the Army National Guard. Olson was not about to turn down pizza, so he went and ended up asking the recruiter several questions. He was intrigued by the benefits offered by the Army National Guard but had no intention to join.

From “I’m just here for the pizza” to Army National Guard Service

After reflecting on his plans for the future, PFC Olson realized he got more than just free pizza out of the recruiting event at his high school. He realized the Army National Guard was the military branch that would best fit his plans: getting a degree and being part of his college’s track team while serving in the military part-time.

He is currently attending the State University of New York at Delhi, pursuing a physical education degree. His studies may evolve into a sports management degree so he can get a personal trainer’s license.

So far, he has paid nothing for his tuition thanks to the Army National Guard’s education benefits. He is using the GI Bill, GI Bill Kicker (a supplementary monthly monetary benefit), and Pell Grants to fund his college education. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs pays him to work at his school’s Veterans Lounge and he received a $20,000 bonus for joining the Army National Guard. He also gets paid for his Army National Guard work.

All of the Army National Guard benefits are icing on the cake – or cheese on the pizza – for PFC Olson.

“I’m able to stay close to home to attend school locally, pursue my career goals, and serve my country,” he says.

The Army National Guard has also taught the kind of life lessons he was hoping for.

“I actually wanted to better myself as an individual,” he says. “I wanted to become more organized and make sure I was on point and focused when I got to college.”

From Plan A to Plan Z

PFC Olson is enjoying his current MOS and learning the ropes as a recruiter’s assistant. He’s looking forward to gaining even more skills when he deploys for the first time. He will be working along the U.S. southern border for 14 months starting this October.

For now, he is embracing whatever opportunities come his way with an open mind for the future.

He may want to pursue a recruiting career. He may want to use his Army National Guard heavy equipment training for a civilian job. He may want to use his personal trainer’s license to open a gym that focuses on getting people physically and mentally ready to join the military.

He plans on working at least 20 years for the Army National Guard. And no matter what else he pursues over the next two decades, he knows he will be prepared with the communication, leadership, and teamwork skills he has learned so far. He also intends to keep following two key strategies:

“Paying attention to detail and being able to listen are so important,” says PFC Olson. “If you can do those two things, everything else will come.”

If you want to serve your community while also accomplishing your personal goals, check out the Army National Guard, where you’ll serve part-time and receive training in one of more than 130 careers in fields like Intelligence, Heavy Weapons, Ground Forces, and Mechanic and Maintenance. 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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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.

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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