Busy Mom and Soldier is on a Mission to do it Right

PFC Elahni Ocean
PFC Elahni Ocean

Private First Class (PFC) Elahni Ocean is a woman on a mission – to utilize every opportunity she earns serving in the Army National Guard to further herself and her family.

Her unusual first name, which, coincidentally, is “inhale” spelled backwards, seems to reflect her outlook toward her service in the New York Army National Guard – to take everything in.

In her civilian life, PFC Ocean is a busy mom and social worker who is dedicated to helping homeless families. She has been living and working in Brooklyn since 2016 and joined the Army National Guard in July 2019.

“Service is definitely part of me. I like being part of that 1 percent – part of the community that is smaller but powerful.”

Military service runs in her family: PFC Ocean entered the Army National Guard at age 28 – the same age her mother was when she joined the Guard. Her father served in the Marines, her sister is in the Army, and many other extended family members also serve.

“My mother served in the Army National Guard, but she wasn’t afforded the same amount of information on the benefits she would have been able to receive, so she didn’t explore all her options,” says PFC Ocean, “But I plan to explore every single option for myself and my family and I am determined to do it right.”

By “doing it right,” PFC Ocean explains, she plans to take advantage of every opportunity her service in the Army National Guard provides – education, housing, and even help with starting her own business.

Her civilian career as a social worker provided experience to help her succeed in her Army National Guard position in Human Resources.

“We ensure that the Soldier and their family are well maintained,” she explains. “We make sure the Soldier’s story is complete in life and on paper.” That includes ensuring their emergency information is up to date, their insurance is in order, their awards and promotions are on track, and checking qualifications for various trainings/schools.

PFC Ocean says she didn’t realize just how much her civilian career and military career were alike until she finished her training in the Army National Guard. Both require paying close attention to detail and a serious amount of discipline.

“As a woman working in both fields, these are really important,” she explains. “In civilian life, the standard you set forth is the standard your family will follow. In the Army National Guard, the standard you set forth is the standard they respect you at.”

In her civilian work with the homeless, there are sometimes six or more people in the family, and she must make certain she follows through to ensure every family member’s needs are met. The same holds true when working with Soldiers’ families.

“There are set rules that you need to abide by,” she explains. “If you don’t, serious things can happen.”

Both involve a tremendous amount of customer service. “I have to make sure their needs are met to get them to their goal.”

After completion of Advanced Individual Training, PFC Ocean earned the Army Achievement Medal, and the Distinguished Leadership Award. She also received a Certificate of Achievement for her outstanding performance as the Student First Sergeant during her training, which led her to being meritoriously promoted to the rank of Private First Class.

She also completed Weapons Qualification Training, which she says, in times of frustration, actually was a great stress reliever.

“It allows you to get to know your body because you have to move as one to hit your target, and you have to learn to control your body and breathing,” she says.

PFC Ocean has not been deployed yet but says the thoughts of it are both a blessing and a curse. While she would welcome the opportunity to travel, she is dedicated to serving in her community at home – she knows it inside and out and is confident in her ability to keep her community safe and well. “No one can do it any better.”

Her service in the Army National Guard has helped her to grow. “Personally, I think it makes me stronger as a woman and as a mom.”

Moving forward, her goals are to earn the rank of Lieutenant, to travel with the Army National Guard, and leverage every available opportunity for her family’s benefit. She already has done college-level studies, but wants to move forward studying business psychology, and eventually start her own business. She plans to pursue the Helmets to Hardhats program, which helps aspiring entrepreneurs to establish and open their own business. She also wants to contribute her experience to programs that provide help to homeless veterans.

“I like the support I receive in the Army National Guard,” she explains. “You feel that you are part of a community. I know that if I ever fall, I will be completely supported because I made the sacrifice for my country.”

The Army National Guard gives you the opportunity to pursue a civilian career while serving part-time in your home State, so your family is always close by. With positions in more than 130 career fields, 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. 

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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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Father, Son Work Together During Pandemic

From an original article by SGT 1st Class Matthew Keeler, Pennsylvania National Guard, which appeared in the news section of NationalGuard.mil on June 1, 2020.

STROUDSBURG, Pa. – Joseph Sapienza, director of maintenance/life safety for Pleasant Valley Manor nursing home, recently received word that someone very familiar to him would be coming to work at the home.

His son, SGT Alec Sapienza, a combat medic with the 108th Medical Area Support Company, 213th Regional Support Group, was part of a Pennsylvania Army National Guard team that would be providing support at Pleasant Valley Manor.

SGT Alec Sapienza, left, combat medic with the 108th Medical Area Support Company, 213th Regional Support Group, Pennsylvania Army National Guard, and his father, Joseph Sapienza, director of maintenance/life safety for Pleasant Valley Manor nursing home in Stroudsburg, PA, May 21, 2020. SGT Sapienza and other members of the Pennsylvania National Guard are helping out at the nursing home. (Photo by SGT 1st Class Matthew Keeler)
SGT Alec Sapienza, left, combat medic with the 108th Medical Area Support Company, 213th Regional Support Group, Pennsylvania Army National Guard, and his father, Joseph Sapienza, director of maintenance/life safety for Pleasant Valley Manor nursing home in Stroudsburg, PA, May 21, 2020. SGT Sapienza and other members of the Pennsylvania National Guard are helping out at the nursing home. (Photo by SGT 1st Class Matthew Keeler)

The younger Sapienza had been hoping to surprise his dad.

“I was trying to surprise him, until my mom told him,” said SGT Sapienza, who was happy that his father was getting support from someone that he knew. “It made him a little more comfortable with the people that he is working with because I knew them as well, personally, most of my military career.”

The Soldiers and Airmen from the Pennsylvania National Guard, in support of Pennsylvania Department of Health and Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, have been working in nursing homes and long-term care facilities to aid staff during the COVID-19 situation. Pleasant Valley Manor is one of several that Soldiers and Airmen from Pennsylvania Task Force North have helped with during this time.

SGT Sapienza, having come off support to Gracedale Nursing Home in Nazareth, volunteered to assist with another mission – before he knew where it was.

“I learned roughly two to three days ago,” SGT Sapienza said about being contacted to support another mission. “I had a grievous [situation] in my family – the death of my grandfather – and I realized that I still wanted to keep helping the best that I can.”

SGT Sapienza found out that next mission was going to be Pleasant Valley in an interesting way.

“Captain Vu told me that he needed help in a location. Once he informed me that he knew a man named Joseph Sapienza, he asked me if we were related. I said, ‘Yeah, I might know him,’” said SGT Sapienza.

To SGT Sapienza, the importance of the Pennsylvania Army National Guard supporting nursing homes and long-term care facilities cannot be understated.

“After working with Gracedale, I had extra incentive to volunteer to help with another nursing home,” he said. “The experience was changing. It was definitely an eye-opening experience, especially being a pandemic like we are in right now, about how important it is that we are doing these types of missions.”

The speed is similar to Gracedale, SGT Sapienza said, as the medical professionals from the Army National Guard and the staff of Pleasant Valley worked to understand each other’s capabilities.

“Communication is always going to be the biggest factor, especially when it comes to a new environment with people who do not know you,” said SGT Sapienza. “So, it was helpful for us all to sit down and have a conversation for about 5 to 10 minutes about what we can and can’t do.”

For Joseph, it was a moment of pride for him to see the kind of professional that his son has become.

“It is a pleasure for me, because it is an honor because he is my son and I’m seeing him do things that he told me that he did in action,” Joseph said. “It is a great feeling. I could not tell you how proud I am of him – of him and the entire military.”

Joseph, who handles the boiler and building maintenance, also works in customer relations to make sure residents are happy. He said they have been enjoying the Army National Guard Soldiers at Pleasant Valley Manor.

“I feel the feedback has been great,” he said. “I had residents tell me, ‘They were so nice, and it is a pleasure having them.’ And it was really nice to see that they really, really appreciated it.”

For SGT Sapienza, who has visited Pleasant Valley Manor in the past as a volunteer, returning in uniform was different.

“I finally felt like I was helping,” he said. “When I first came here, I was just talking to people, seeing what they were like – there are many veterans here as well – so it kind of helped you build up that rapport with those people. But, by finally coming here and being able to do something with some jurisdiction, it was a very heartfelt moment.”

Many of the troops from the Pennsylvania Army National Guard are taking the opportunity to assist with the residents at these locations as reasons to continue their medical education, said SGT Sapienza.

“Most of us have been talking about taking our Medical College Admission Test, or even going to physician assistant school and becoming a doctor,” he said. “Coming from Gracedale, a lot of folks are already in school, nursing school, or trying to get into ‘med’ school.”

The Soldiers are supporting Pleasant Valley Manor for a limited time, but this opportunity will never be lost on Joseph.

“He’s doing a great job and I’m not just saying that because I’m his father – I’m the biggest critic, and he’ll tell you this. If you are not doing it right, then I’m going to tell you, I do not hold back [any] punches,” said Joseph. “I’m just so proud of him.”

If you want to make a difference and serve your community, join the Army National Guard, where you’ll serve part-time, get tuition benefits and receive training in one of more than 130 careers in fields like Supply and LogisticsHeavy WeaponsGround Forces, and Transportation. For details on any MOS, search our job board, and contact your local recruiter for more information.

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