From Parkour to Hard-Core Athlete: Indiana Guard Soldier Competes on ‘American Ninja Warrior’

SGT Michael Bougher of the Indiana Army National Guard took sixth place in the “American Ninja Warrior” Indianapolis City Finals this summer, earning him a shot at winning $1 million in the National Finals in Las Vegas. (Photo courtesy of “American Ninja Warrior.”)

SGT Michael Bougher of the Indiana Army National Guard took sixth place in the “American Ninja Warrior” Indianapolis City Finals this summer, earning him a shot at winning $1 million in the National Finals in Las Vegas. (Photo courtesy of “American Ninja Warrior.”)

Michael Bougher didn’t exactly set out to conquer grueling obstacle courses on national television when he walked into a local gym three years ago.

The Indiana Army National Guard Sergeant was just looking for a way to stay in shape and have fun at the same time. This led him to a parkour class at the gym – only the class had been cancelled. Instead, he was invited to try out the first obstacle for the gym’s new Ninja Warrior class based on the popular NBC reality competition show, “American Ninja Warrior.”

“I’d always watched the show as a kid. I never thought I’d be a part of it,” he says. “I was really excited to give it a try, and actually ended up making it up the 14-foot warped wall on my very first try.”

That’s all it took to get SGT Bougher hooked. He started helping the gym build more obstacles, which eventually led to testing obstacles for the actual TV show when it built a course in nearby Indianapolis.

Chosen to compete on the show for the first time in 2017, SGT Bougher came back stronger in 2018. He found himself hitting the buzzer with the best time in the “American Ninja Warrior” Indianapolis Qualifiers, earning a spot in the City Finals. There, he finished sixth overall, claiming a spot in the National Finals in Las Vegas, which aired in September – without showing SGT Bougher’s run.

His bid to win the $1 million prize ended with a 15-foot fall into the water from the Double Dipper obstacle. There were various factors at play, but bottom line: “My head wasn’t in it.”

SGT Bougher can be spotted wearing his signature orange T-shirt on “American Ninja Warrior.” He’s hoping to compete on the show again in 2019. (Photo courtesy of “American Ninja Warrior.”)

SGT Bougher can be spotted wearing his signature orange T-shirt on “American Ninja Warrior.” He’s hoping to compete on the show again in 2019. (Photo courtesy of “American Ninja Warrior.”)

“There’s always next year,” says the 23-year-old. “I’ve just got to remember to keep my head a little bit better.”

If he’s invited back for season 11, you can spot him wearing his signature, self-designed orange T-shirt that gives a shout out “to pretty much everything that I do,” which besides the Ninja aspect, includes working as an EMT, playing on a rugby team, and serving as a 35F Intelligence Analyst for the Indiana National Guard, which he joined as a junior in high school.

Looking back at enlisting in the Guard at age 17, “it was one of the best decisions I ever made in my life.”

Because Guard service is a part-time commitment, SGT Bougher has the flexibility to work full-time as an EMT, attend college full-time at Purdue University Fort Wayne, where he majors in criminal justice with a minor in psychology, volunteer at his local fire department, and teach a kids’ Ninja class, where one of his students is competing on “American Ninja Warrior Junior” on the Universal Kids Network.

“I have my life, and I have a family life,” he says. “I can still be a Soldier when I need to be, and that is great.”

Plus, the Guard “comes with a ton of benefits. They pay for my college 100 percent. I get the GI Bill, which helps to pay for books, and I can get as much additional training as I want to. I’ve been to some 400 hours of additional training for my MOS (military occupational specialty) specifically.”

As an Intelligence Analyst, his job is to take information from fellow analysts, infantry, or scouts who are gathering signals, human, or geospatial intelligence, and bring it all together.

“Essentially, I need to know everything that’s going on, be able to make sense of that information, understand why it is happening, and be able to brief it all to the Commander, as well as what we need to do about it.”

SGT Bougher got the chance to use his skills for a seven-month-long, real-life mission in Kosovo without having to leave Indiana.

“I’ve done a bunch of training, but it was really cool to see my work going toward something that’s actually happening.”

There are more military trainings in his future, too. Army Ranger School is on the horizon for next summer, and he’s taking on the Army Master Fitness Trainer course this month.

“I just want to go to every school that they can send me to.”

An Intelligence Analyst with the Guard, SGT Bougher deployed to Japan in late summer as part of the Guard’s Pacific Pathways mission.

An Intelligence Analyst with the Guard, SGT Bougher deployed to Japan in late summer as part of the Guard’s Pacific Pathways mission.

Because of his experience as an analyst, SGT Bougher believes that once he finishes his degree, he has a number of civilian career options, from working for the FBI or another three-letter government agency to working as a contractor overseas. But his end goal is to work in local police, fire, and EMS.

“I like helping the community around me, and I feel good about doing those jobs,” he says.

The desire to help his community is right in line with his service in the Guard, where a Soldier’s primary base of operation is in his or her own State.

SGT Bougher’s advice for anyone considering joining the Guard is to talk to a recruiter who will hopefully talk about the good aspects of service, but not shy away from anything negative.

“You’re going to miss birthdays, you’re going to miss holidays because you’re going to be at a training for this and that, but it’s all for the better of the country and the State. You’re going to come out of it a better person.”

So, if you are interested in a part-time job where you can serve your community and your country, and still have time to pursue a civilian career or other interests, our job board is a great place to start doing some research. Career fields include intelligence, engineering, mechanics and maintenance, military police, infantry, and more. Then, contact your local recruiter to learn more.

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Kansas Guard Provides Humanitarian Support During Golden Coyote

RED SHIRT, S.D. – Soldiers from the Kansas Army National Guard and Army Reserve units worked with Task Force 38, Canadian Army, to provide humanitarian support to Native American reservations throughout South Dakota during the Golden Coyote training exercise last month.

The annual timber haul operation provides an opportunity for military forces to use their training and experience while supporting local Native American communities.

“This mission is really important because it builds relationships between the Native American communities and the National Guard units that support the mission,” says Sergeant (SGT) Shaun Phillips, an 88M Truck Driver with the 137th Transportation Company, Kansas National Guard.

The 137th coordinated with the other units to load timber at a site near Custer, S.D. The timber was then delivered to multiple sites on the Pine Ridge and Rosebud reservations.

“It’s great to help other communities, and this kind of mission is very similar to the missions we could be tasked with overseas,” says Specialist William Curtin, 137th truck driver.

Soldiers from the 137th Transportation Company, Kansas Army National Guard, loosen straps on a load of timber at Red Shirt, S.D., during the annual timber haul operation as part of the Golden Coyote training exercise. (Photo by Sgt. Kristin Lichius.)

Soldiers from the 137th Transportation Company, Kansas Army National Guard, loosen straps on a load of timber at Red Shirt, S.D., during the annual timber haul operation as part of the Golden Coyote training exercise. (Photo by Sgt. Kristin Lichius.)

The humanitarian support benefits the community members and provides new training experiences for Soldiers.

“There are narrow, winding roads and various terrain conditions here that provide experience for our drivers and prepares us for different environments,” says SGT Phillips. “We’re able to practice improvising different kinds of loads safely, using our equipment and operating as a team.”

Throughout the Golden Coyote training exercise, about 200 loads of timber were scheduled to be delivered to the local communities.

“It’s a good thing, it helps this community and other surrounding communities that need this wood,” says Peter Bissonette, a resident from Red Shirt.

The wood is often used for construction, heating, cooking, and ceremonies throughout the year.

“This is the unit’s third year participating in this mission, and it’s rewarding to give back to the communities,” says SGT Phillips.

If you are interested in joining the Army National Guard to serve your community and Nation part-time, there are many career options available. The Guard offers more than 150 careers, including those in infantry, transportation, and engineering. You can check out the full roster of opportunities on our job board. Make sure you have a look at the Guard’s benefits, including money for college.

From an original story by SGT Kristin Lichius,129th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, which originally appeared in the news section of NationalGuard.mil in June 2018.

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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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