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.

Share on FacebookShare on Twitter

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.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.

Share on FacebookShare on Twitter

How I Got My College Degree for Free

The Army National Guard Paid for It

Between the Army National Guard’s Federal tuition assistance, State tuition assistance, and GI Bill, Sergeant First Class (SFC) Ryan West earned his bachelor’s degree for free.

He estimates that between the special military rates offered by the schools he attended and the Guard’s education benefits, he has saved $30,000 to $40,000 in tuition and fees.

Without the Guard picking up the tab, SFC West’s other options to pay for school were using his GI Bill from his previous active duty service in the Army or student loans.

SFC Ryan West, a Medical Readiness Non-Commissioned Officer with the South Carolina Army National Guard.

SFC Ryan West, a Medical Readiness Non-Commissioned Officer with the South Carolina Army National Guard.

“I was raised in a single-parent home, there just wasn’t money for college,” he explains.

SFC West, a Medical Readiness Non-Commissioned Officer with the South Carolina Army National Guard, has had a few stops and starts on his way to earning that degree. He had started college before joining the Army in 1998, but, “It didn’t work out for me. The money wasn’t there, plus I wasn’t that disciplined.”

So, he joined the military, something he had wanted to do since he was a child.

“I’m from a small town, Hopkins, South Carolina, so I wanted to get out and see the world, see new places, and meet new people,” says SFC West. “And, of course, defend my country. There’s nothing like it. You get a great reward from serving.”

After leaving active duty in 2002, SFC West wanted to continue his service, so he joined the Guard because he liked the idea of serving part-time, especially so he could go back to school.

But then he deployed to Iraq, which marked a complete turnaround in how he looked at his career.

“Prior to that, I was just a traditional Guardsman, just going through the motions, coming to drill. I didn’t really have aspirations of going higher in the ranks or being better than what I was.”

Experiencing what he did while deployed in Iraq as a 68W Healthcare Specialist (combat medic) – the inhumanity of war and even meeting new people from different places, made him realize he could reach higher.

It was after coming home that SFC West realized all of the Guard benefits he could use to complete his degree.

“You get funds from three different sources, which is great,” SFC West says. “You don’t get that in the Reserves, and you don’t get that in the regular Army.”

The Guard offers Federal tuition assistance. Plus, each State or Territory offers State tuition assistance, but note that each State or Territory has its own rules and policies. Finally, the GI Bill can pick up the tab for books, fees, or really anything. This money is a monthly expense allowance paid directly to the student, not the school.

 

SFC West and his family at his college graduation.

Armed with all of these financial resources and a renewed sense of purpose, SFC West re-started his studies at Limestone College in South Carolina, but then decided to take a full-time job with the Guard. As 2014 came into view, he decided to go back to school “to finish this thing before I retire,” finally earning his bachelor’s in organizational leadership from the University of South Carolina.

And, he might not be done using up all those education benefits. He still has some of his post-9/11 GI Bill benefits to transfer to his children, and he can still use the Guard’s tuition assistance to earn a master’s degree he’s thinking about getting.

His advice for anyone joining the Guard is: “Let the Guard get the most out of you, and you get the most out of the Guard.”

And that means taking advantage of all the opportunities it offers, including making the most of the education benefits.

“That paycheck means nothing if you stay five or six years and you don’t have a degree – a free degree,” he says.

So if you’re looking for a way to pay for college, or even vocational school, the Guard offers those benefits and more, like training in careers ranging from medicine and engineering to field artillery and logistics. You can explore all of the Guard’s career fields on our job board.

And, for personalized advice, including specifics on your State’s education benefits because the information varies from State to State, contact your local recruiter.

Share on FacebookShare on Twitter