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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Soldier Praises Guard for Benefits and Opportunities

The decision to join the military can be based on a number of factors – for some, the benefits alone seem worth it, while others feel it’s their duty to serve their country. For Specialist (SPC) Sychelle Gonsalves, it was a combination of both that influenced her to join the Army National Guard.

“At the time, I was 20 and I wanted to stay in Alaska,” she recalls. “The recruiter told me that they’d send me to basic training, and I’d only be there for a couple of months. Then I’d come back to Alaska and serve part-time.”

SPC Sychelle Gonsalves is a 31B Military Police Officer in the Alaska Army National Guard, stationed at Fort Greely with the 49th Missile Defense Battalion.

SPC Gonsalves was a bank teller at the time she enlisted. Being able to serve part-time while continuing to work in her civilian career was one of the main benefits that drew her to Guard service – the education benefits were an added bonus. She’s currently utilizing the Guard’s tuition assistance to pursue a degree in logistics.

In 2016, SPC Gonsalves began her Guard career as a 92Y Unit Supply Specialist as part of a Military Police unit in Anchorage. Logistics is her passion, but once she heard about the wealth of opportunities at Fort Greely, she reclassed into a new MOS so she could relocate. Now serving full-time as 31B Military Police, she’s stationed at Fort Greely with the 49th Missile Defense Battalion.

SPC Gonsalves says that enlisting in the Army National Guard has enhanced her interpersonal skills, decision-making abilities, and problem-solving techniques, as well as helped her discover her strengths and weaknesses, so much so that she competed in the 2019 Army National Guard Best Warrior Competition.

When she was approached to compete, she didn’t know anything about the competition and was nervous – but she participated anyway to see how far she could push herself.

“I just wanted to compete,” she says.

SPC Gonsalves first competed in the Battalion Best Warrior Competition, which is the local-level event in July of 2018. She took the title and went on to compete in the State-level competition, taking home the victory for that event as well.

She then went on to represent the State alongside one of her colleagues in the regional competition this past spring. While she didn’t win, her ability to excel against her competitors earned her Soldier of the Year (Battalion and State), Service Person of the Year from the Armed Services YMCA (ASYMCA), and Missile Defender of the Year (Missile Defense Alliance Advocacy).

She was the first female to win Soldier of the Year in the Alaska Army National Guard.

SPC Gonsalves is a proud Guard Soldier who finds gratification in her everyday routine. Whether she’s called to maintain traffic control points, assist with natural disaster relief, or aid other parts of the country, she’s always prepared and ready to fulfill the mission at hand, alongside a team of 300 Soldiers.

“You are part of a team of 300 that protects 300 million,” she says proudly.

SPC Gonsalves has sound advice for those interested in joining the Army National Guard: “Consider what line of job you’d like to do and go for it! Know that there are a lot of opportunities in the Guard, and the Guard will not let you down.”

If you’re looking for your dream job with benefits like education assistance, insurance, and the ability to serve close to home, explore available opportunities in the Army National Guard today. Whether you’re into technology, logistics, or ground forces careers, you’re bound to find the one that’s right for you. Browse the job board and contact a recruiter to learn how you can make a difference in your country and your community.

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Guard Soldier’s Desire to Do More Leads to Dream Job Training Dogs

They say, “do what you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life.”

For Sergeant (SGT) Giovanna Donofrio, this statement holds true as she moves into the sixth year of her military career. She’s turned her passion into purpose, and found a job that she truly loves waking up for in the morning.

At age 20, SGT Donofrio was attending school, but lacked the feeling that she was making an impact. With the desire to do something different with her life, she decided to join the military.

“I needed to do something that made me feel like I was helping people more,” she says. “When I joined, I was pretty excited to feel like I was actually contributing.”

Upon leaving active duty six years later, she knew she wanted to continue her service. She transitioned to the Connecticut Army National Guard, so she could serve close to home and work in the Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) she wanted.

“When I was getting out of active duty, I [kind of] didn’t want to because I was going to miss it so much. But now that I’m in the National Guard, I’m still able to do everything I love.”

SGT Donofrio started her military career as a 91B Light-Wheel Vehicle Mechanic, and two years later, re-classed as a 31K Military Working Dog Handler – an MOS she felt passionate about.

SGT Donofrio and Schurkje pose in front of the flag at the Newtown Military Working Dog Kennels in Connecticut.

Connecticut, home to the only National Guard kennel in the U.S., is the perfect fit for SGT Donofrio. She gets to do what she loves by working with dogs, and she’s a wife and mother of three children, so being able to spend time with her family is a priority. Serving in the Army National Guard gives her the flexibility to do both.

“It’s been very beneficial for me. I love what I do, and I love being able to wear the uniform,” she says. “I love my job and being able to go home every day and see my family.”

SGT Donofrio currently works full time alongside her furry partner, Schurkje (pronounced Shur-key), a 6-year-old Belgian Malinois, specializing in drug detection.

“You’re assigned a military working dog, and depending on what kind of dog it is, whether it’s a drug dog or explosive dog, you train with this dog, and you become a team,” she explains. “Then you go out on missions to either find explosives or drugs.”

To become a dog handler, Guard members must attend Military Police training at Fort Leonard Wood for 7 weeks, followed by K9 training at Lackland Airforce Base for 11 weeks, where they learn how to handle a dog. Once complete, they’re assigned a military working dog, and go through a certification process before being able to deploy. SGT Donofrio and Schurkje are currently working toward their certification.

To get certified, Soldiers and their K9s must go through 3 to 5 days of what’s called a Detection Lane – an exercise that tests a dog’s ability to sniff out a hidden training aid, either narcotics or explosives, depending on the type of dog. The handler watches for any change in behavior, indicating the dog has detected the items.

Then they have patrol, which includes controlled aggression, a scout, and a building search, followed by obedience training in an obstacle course, and an exercise featuring gunfire to ensure the K9 won’t act aggressively or shy away if it comes under fire.

SGT Giovanna Donofrio watches as Schurkje hurdles over an obstacle in the obedience course at the Newtown Military Working Dog Kennels in Connecticut.

“As far as Schurkje goes, he is great with gunfire, and just sits there next to me perfectly fine,” boasts SGT Donofrio.

Even though they can’t run missions just yet, SGT Donofrio and Schurkje are given opportunities elsewhere. This past March, in honor of K9 Veterans Day, the pair, alongside other members of the Connecticut Army National Guard’s 928th Military Working Dog Detachment, were presented with an official citation from the General Assembly at the State Capitol, recognizing them for their service. This, she says, has been one of her most fulfilling moments in the Guard thus far.

Not only does she love her job, she also enjoys all the benefits the Guard has to offer. With the Guard’s tuition assistance, she attends school full time, working toward her bachelor’s degree in accounting, and recently, she was able to purchase a new home using the VA loan benefit.

When she’s off the clock, SGT Donofrio enjoys hanging out with her Pomsky (half Pomeranian/half Husky), spending time with her family, painting, going to Zumba, horseback riding, and coaching cheerleading.

The Army National Guard offers the flexibility you need to live a well-balanced life. With more than 130 career options in fields like military police, medicine, and infantry, you, too, can find a job that you love, with benefits that help support you, your lifestyle, and your family. Contact a local recruiter to learn more today.

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