Ale in a Day’s Work: Officer Credits Guard Experience for Brewery’s Success

Major (MAJ) Steven Gagner, Infantry Officer in the Vermont Army National Guard, has built an accomplished, fulfilling life from the skills he’s gained, the lessons he’s learned, and the experiences he’s had while serving in the military. Those fundamentals gave him the tools he needed to succeed, and now he’s living his ultimate dream.

In 2010, while deployed in Afghanistan, he and a fellow Vermont Army National Guard Soldier came up with the idea to open a brewery back in Vermont. They wrote up plans in the back of a notebook, and when they arrived home, they took out a loan – that’s when 14th Star Brewing Company was born.

They received their license in May 2012 and brewed 60 gallons that month. Now, seven years later, they’re brewing 6,000 gallons a week, have 24 employees, and distribute to seven states: Vermont, Connecticut, New Hampshire, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island, with additional limited distribution in the United Kingdom.

Major (MAJ) Steven Gagner of the Vermont Army National Guard is co-founder of 14th Star Brewing Co., and Danger Close Craft Distilling.

After the success of 14th Star, MAJ Gagner and two fellow Soldiers opened a whiskey distillery called Danger Close Craft Distilling, with one goal in mind: to make a big impact on veterans. Future sales of Danger Close’s bourbon and whiskey raise money for non-profits and brings veterans to Vermont, at no cost, to teach them all about business, and how their skills from the military can translate directly to their civilian lives.

“We were leaning so heavily on the things we learned in the service about building a team, establishing goals, leading people, getting results, working hard – all of those things we had learned in the past couple of decades in the service transitioned beautifully to business ownership.”

Because of these feats, MAJ Gagner was named Small Business Person of the Year for the State of Vermont this past June and the Military Times’ inaugural Entrepreneur of the Year in 2017.

Along with running two successful businesses, MAJ Gagner is now the battalion commander of the Army Mountain Warfare School in Vermont, which teaches Soldiers survivability, lethality, and mobility in extreme climatic environments. Training 1,000 Soldiers a year in the rain, snow, and mountains, the school focuses on basic and advanced mountaineering, advanced medical evacuations, and high-angle shooting.

MAJ Gagner’s decision to join the military stems from growing up in a patriotic family with a father who served in the military for 36 years, and his desire to serve his country. He enlisted in the Army National Guard in 1996 while attending Norwich University, and has been serving ever since.

“It just seemed like a hand-in-glove fit,” he recalls.

MAJ Gagner’s military journey spans decades and has led him down many different career paths within the National Guard.

“I have the weirdest career ever,” he jokes.

MAJ Steven Gagner is an Infantry Officer in the Vermont Army National Guard.

For the first eight years of his service, he worked in aviation, both in the Guard and active duty, serving in Korea and Alabama. Once he was off active duty, he went back to college. After graduation was when his career touched many facets of the Guard, including Armor, Quartermaster, Logistics, and Infantry. Fifteen years and four branches later, he is now a decorated Infantry officer in the Vermont Army National Guard.

“I love Vermont Guardsmen,” he says. “There’s just something about the Vermont Guard. The Soldiers are really terrific, professional, and we’re a family. It’s pretty cool to be in such a close-knit, patriotic state.”

Using his Guard benefits, MAJ Gagner purchased a house using the VA Home Loan, used tuition assistance while attending college, and was able to transfer his Post-9/11 education benefits to his two children, taking the burden of college debt off their shoulders.

“I’ve had such amazing experiences,” he says.

MAJ Gagner has dedicated so much of his time to helping others, not only with his businesses, but through his service as well. While deployed in Iraq, he was involved in a handful of public works projects. During his second deployment in Afghanistan, he was part of a patrol team that kept the civilians of Bagram safe from rockets. In 2011, he toured Vermont with his fellow guardsmen and helped victims of Hurricane Irene.

“It was so wonderful and fulfilling to do things that other people needed.”

MAJ Gagner is a firm believer in going for what you want and never asking, “what if?” Joining the military ultimately led him to becoming a businessman, and he couldn’t be anymore grateful.

“My time in the Army has made me a better business owner,” he says, “and being a business owner has made me a better officer.”

If you’ve got passion, drive, and the desire to be a part of something big, join the Army National Guard. With more than 130 careers in fields like engineering, technology, and intelligence, you’ll be able to serve your community, country, and State while having the time to pursue your passions! Browse open opportunities on the job board today and contact a recruiter to learn more.

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Women Join Ranks of Cavalry Scouts in Nebraska

SGT Danielle Martin tackles an obstacle during the 1-134th Cavalry Squadron’s spur ride during annual training in the Republic of Korea June 17, 2019. (Photo by SGT Anna Pongo)

LINCOLN, Neb. – Every Soldier in the Army National Guard has a story: the reasons why they joined the military, picked their particular military occupational specialty (MOS), or serve in their military Unit of choice.

For two Soldiers serving in the Nebraska Army National Guard’s Troop B, 1-134th Cavalry, their stories are notably different than those around them. That’s because Sergeant (SGT) Nicole Havlovic and SGT Danielle Martin are two of the very few women serving in the Nebraska Cavalry Squadron, and are two of only a few women in the nation who have successfully graduated from the Army’s toughest combat arms MOS school, earning themselves the title of Cavalry Scout.

SGT Havlovic originally joined the Nebraska Army National Guard as a 92W Water Treatment Specialist. However, after serving for six years, she decided to leave the Guard for a year because she wanted to do something different.

It was that desire for something new that drove her to join the Nebraska Army Guard Cavalry Squadron.

“I felt like it would be a perfect fit. I’m pretty outdoorsy and this – being out in the field – doesn’t bother me at all.”

SGT Danielle Martin’s route to becoming a Cavalry scout was not a direct one, either.

“I’ve always wanted to go into combat arms,” she says. “It was a year before joining the military that I knew combat arms was what I wanted to do. However, I was still junior-enlisted, so I really couldn’t do much about it.”

The last restrictions against women serving in combat roles were lifted in 2013. However, Army regulations specified that Units were first required to have two female Cavalry scouts in leadership positions before other female Soldiers would be allowed to join their ranks. This made integrating junior-ranking women into the Units all that much more difficult.

SGT Martin began her career in the Nebraska Army National Guard as a 92A Automated Logistical Specialist before joining a military police Unit. After rising to the rank of Sergeant, she finally saw a way to achieve her combat arms goal.

Both Sergeants attended Cavalry scout reclassification school – an Army school designed to train Soldiers from other MOS’ in the skills needed to become operational Cavalry scouts. SGT Martin attended the November reclassification course in Boise, Id. After completing the course, she reported to the Nebraska-based Troop B this past January.

SGT Martin says the reception she received from her new Unit made her realize they respected her newly-earned skills. She says it wasn’t about changing who anyone was, but rather, having mutual respect between Soldiers.

“They don’t treat me any differently just because I’m female. I’m one of the guys and I think it needs to be that way. I’m not coming in here to change them, I’m coming in here because I know I can physically and mentally handle it, and I want to do the job.”

SGT Havlovic attended the Cavalry Scout Transition Course in Smyrna, Tenn., and reported to Troop B in April 2019. She too says her fellow Soldiers don’t treat her differently than any other member of the Unit.

“I expect them to believe that they can trust me with the mission and what we have to do,” she says. “Everyone has been welcoming to me.”

With the two women completing their transition courses, Nebraska National Guard’s 1-134th Cavalry Squadron became the ninth Army National Guard Unit, fourth Cavalry Troop, and second Infantry Brigade Combat Team Cavalry Troop to be opened for junior enlisted female Cavalry scouts.

First Sergeant (1SG) Andrew Filips, Troop B’s senior enlisted Soldier, has spent 15 years in the Squadron. He says the change of policy wasn’t an issue.

“What it comes down to is that we’re a Combat Arms Unit and there’s only one standard. You either make the cut, or there are other Units for you to go to.”

First Sergeant (1SG) Christopher Marcello of Grand Island’s Troop A, 1-134th Cavalry Squadron, is a 22-year veteran of the Squadron. He has also been a member of the Grand Island Police Department for six years. He echoes 1SG Filips’ sentiments.

“I work with women every day as a police officer and that’s a tough job. Combat arms isn’t any different. You have to have the right fit. It doesn’t matter if you’re a man or a woman. You have to be the right kind of person to be a scout.”

The Nebraska Army National Guard’s 1-134th Cavalry Squadron is part of the larger 39th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, which is headquartered in Arkansas. The Brigade is responsible for providing training and readiness oversight of its subordinate Units. According to Command Sergeant Major (CSM) Gregory White, 39th IBCT senior enlisted leader, the Brigade finds the right Soldiers for the job by looking at those who want to do it, instead of looking at who can physically do it.

CSM White also says that women who hold a combat arms MOS are the best representatives to recruit other women into the field. He spoke with SGT Martin during a visit to Troop B’s recent annual training in the Republic of Korea. They both agreed the focus should be on reaching out to women who want the challenge of serving in a combat arms position, and once they do, give them the tools they need to become advocates.

“Having her [SGT Martin] talk to them is going to be so much better than a guy who has been in for 30 years,” he says. “A 50-year-old man talking to these young women will not reach them the same way.”

1SG Filips says the physical demands are not the only aspect of combat arms that new recruits need to consider. The relatively demanding training pace also makes Combat Arms Units different. Troop B regularly trains in the field and spends most drill weekends training throughout the night. That is often one of the more significant reasons why some Soldiers eventually choose to transfer into the squadron.

“If you want to come into the Guard and feel like this is what I want to do; (that) I want to … be awesome and be the baddest dudes and wear the cool hats and do all that, then yes go for it,” says 1SG Filips. “But if you are ‘I want to try this because it would be neat,’ there’s other places to be neat. Come here because this is what you always wanted to do in life. You have to want it.”

1SG Marcello seconds these comments, adding that Troop A is willing to let Soldiers – male or female – try being a Cavalry scout for their drill weekend.

“We’re more than happy to let people come in, try it out and if it doesn’t work for you, we get it,” he says. “It has nothing to do with gender or sex; it has to do with whether or not you can do the job.”

Both SGT Havlovic and SGT Martin say they realize they are now mentors and role models for those around them and encourage other Soldiers to give it a try.

“It’s definitely something I would sit down, explain to them, and educate them on,” says SGT Havlovic, who now works for the State recruiting office.

“It’s not for everybody, it really isn’t. I don’t believe that just because combat arms has been opened up to females means that all females belong here – but if you can do it, then do it.”

If you’ve got what it takes to stand alongside some of the strongest Soldiers, consider joining the Army National Guard. By becoming a Soldier in the Guard, you’ll be able to serve part-time in your home State, and receive top-notch training in the career field of your choice. Browse the job board for opportunities in more than 130 specialties, including ground forces, aviation, and engineering. Contact a recruiter to learn how you can serve today!

From an original article by SSG Herschel Talley, Nebraska National Guard, which appeared in the news section of NationalGuard.mil in September 2019.

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New York Guardsmen Build STEM Learning Center During Training Mission

HALEIWA, Hawaii – While most New York Army National Guard Soldiers spent their 2019 annual training at Fort Drum, Fort Indiantown Gap, or Joint Base Dix-McGuire-Lakehurst, 45 Soldiers from the 204th Engineer Battalion did their training in Hawaii.

Soldiers from 1156th Engineer Company were selected to participate in an Innovative Readiness Training (IRT) rotation at Girl Scout Camp Paumalu in Haleiwa, Hawaii, this summer. IRT is a joint service program that began in 1993, providing real-world training opportunities for service members to prepare them for wartime missions while supporting the needs of America’s underserved communities.

Communities typically provide materials and basic services, while military units contribute personnel and resources. IRT is designed to produce mission-ready forces, civil-military partnerships, and stronger communities.

“The Hawaii Girl Scout Camp IRT is an outstanding program for New York Army National Guard engineers which will benefit the local community while fostering an environment for our Soldiers to grow, develop, and prepare for future missions,” says Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) Wing Yu, commander of the 204th Engineer Battalion.

Along with service members from other U.S. military components, New York’s engineers have been working at the camp to help build a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) learning center for the Girl Scouts.

Chief Warrant Officer 2 (CW2) Oliverio Hernandez explains that this was not a volunteer mission. Service members were selected by their chain of command because of their standings in the unit and their military job training.

“We were hand-selected for this rotation because they needed our specific skill sets,” he says.

The 23-year veteran with the Army National Guard has been through myriad training missions and environments across the U.S., but this was the first of its kind for him.

“This IRT is actually a large-scale project that we’re building from the bottom up,” CW2 Hernandez says. “This is more than just equipment familiarization; this is practical application in a real-world environment with a real-world impact.”

The IRT mission took Soldiers out of their normal home stations and forced them to adapt to a new, different, and challenging environment.

Another unique benefit of IRT is that it’s geared toward developing junior and future leaders.

PFC Jesse Velez, a plumber assigned to the 1156th Engineer Company, 204th Engineer Battalion, New York Army National Guard, measures a board before cutting it during an Innovative Readiness Training (IRT) mission at Camp Paumalu, Haleiwa, Hawaii, July 31, 2019. (Photo by SSG Michael Davis).

Lower enlisted service members are not only doing the hands-on training that wouldn’t normally occur in a drill weekend or annual training, they are also given the opportunity to teach and learn from their peers.

Most Soldiers on the roster have the rank of Private First Class (PFC) or Specialist (SPC), which is just below Sergeant (SGT), and will soon become non-commissioned officers (NCOs) with management responsibilities. This mission affords Soldiers the time and opportunity to practice training others, as well as learning the patience it takes to be an effective leader.

“Learning and instructing that happens at the lower levels builds a greater sense of team and unit cohesion, which all adds to the readiness for the force,” CW2 Hernandez says. “They’re getting to manage, teach, and learn during a real mission.”

Two of these future leaders who are an integral part of the mission are PFC Anthony Allen and PFC Jesse Velez. Both are members of the 1156th Engineer Company, and each has a civilian trade that enhances his military job and this mission.

PFC Allen has been in the New York Amy National Guard for two years. He’s a 12W Carpentry and Masonry Specialist for his unit, who was also assigned as the chainsaw trainer and team leader for the IRT mission because of his civilian experience.

He wasn’t sure what to expect when he arrived on the worksite, but he knew it wouldn’t be anything like what he was used to back home.

“We’ve had challenges, but our biggest one so far is definitely the weather,” he says.

Even though he’s only been with the Guard a short time, PFC Allen has the mindset and determination of a seasoned veteran.

“It doesn’t matter what we come across, we’re going to work through it.”

PFC Velez is a 12K Plumber on his very first mission with the Guard.

“This is the perfect place to test what the Army just trained me to do in Basic and Advanced Individual Training,” he says.

While being grateful for the opportunities the National Guard has already afforded him, he’s looking to contribute his skills to the mission and continue learning as much as he can.

“This is the true definition of one-fight, one-team. We’re building community relationships together – showing them they can count on us!”

Once the IRT portion is complete, the Girl Scouts will have only a fraction of the building to be completed before they can begin to teach girls and boys from across all the islands.

Shari Chang, Girl Scouts of Hawaii CEO and a fourth-generation Girl Scout, says she applied for the IRT program knowing she could partner with a skilled labor force that would have the capabilities and expertise to make the project happen.

The estimated completion date is September 2020.

“We are so thankful for the support from the military on this project,” says Chang. “The whole process is now coming to fruition, and it has been an amazing opportunity for both of us.”

Army National Guard Soldiers are dedicated to serving their communities, and an IRT is just one of the many opportunities to do so. If you’re passionate about making an impact, consider joining the Guard. Explore more than 130 exciting careers in fields like logistics, technology, and transportation on our job board, and contact a recruiter to learn how you can serve today!

From an original article by SSG Michael Davis, New York National Guard, which appeared in the news section of NationalGuard.mil in August 2019.

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