Guard Specialist Happy Behind the Wheel or Behind the Mask

SPC Amia Adkins
SPC Amia Adkins of the West Virginia Army National Guard, a 68E Dental Specialist, learned how to operate heavy machinery in order to deploy to Kuwait.

As a civilian, when Specialist (SPC) Amia Adkins drives, she hops into her Prius and takes off. When she drives in the West Virginia Army National Guard, she needs to strap on goggles, pull on gloves, and don a helmet before she even starts the engine.

Driving is not the only – or even the starkest – difference between civilian and Guard life for SPC Adkins. As a civilian, she’s a surgical assistant at Mountain State Oral and Facial Surgery in Charleston, W.Va. While on deployment in the Guard last year, she was a 12N Horizontal Construction Engineer, driving and operating a variety of heavy equipment.

For someone who grew up in the small town of Man, W.Va., and joined the Guard “to see everything, do everything, and learn everything,” SPC Adkins is making the most of her service experience.

She joined at age 19, after Guard representatives visited her high school. She didn’t know much about the military and had no military lineage, but she was intrigued by the opportunity to step outside her comfort zone and the chance to gain leadership skills.

“It was for the experience,” she says. “I wanted to build character, become more cultured, and meet more people.”

She now has friends from West Virginia, where she lives and is stationed – to Texas and Alabama, where she mobilized for deployment – to Kuwait, where she deployed for nine months last year.

West Virginia: Home & Headquarters

As she began her work as a 68E Dental Specialist six years ago with the West Virginia Army National Guard’s Medical Detachment, SPC Adkins used Montgomery GI Bill® benefits to enroll at Valley College in Beckley, W.Va., to become a surgical assistant.

Her Guard journey was playing out exactly as she expected. Then, she had a chat with her Master Sergeant who told her about a unit – the 821st Engineer Company – that needed volunteers to deploy. He planted a seed that would change her Guard experience.

Texas & Alabama: Mobilizing for Deployment

“My Master Sergeant said it was a good opportunity to step outside my comfort zone to learn to lead different types of people, not just people in my field, and to learn a new skill,” says SPC Adkins. “I really respect my Master Sergeant, so I took his advice and took deployment.”

She believed she would be continuing her dental work during deployment. When she arrived in Summersville, W.V., to begin mobilization, she was given instructions to go to a training site in Alabama to learn how to drive earthmovers, such as bulldozers, high excavators, dump trucks, and scrapers.

At first, she was surprised by the change of assignment.

“But then I got a little excited because I thought, ‘This is new,’ and I didn’t know anything about it,” says SPC Adkins.

In just over a month, she went from dental specialist to heavy equipment construction operator.

Kuwait: Bone-Jarring & Teeth-Rattling Work

The 821st Engineer Company got enough volunteers to deploy. Along with SPC Adkins, there were two dental specialists, a cook, a surveyor and two MPs who stepped away from their everyday work to learn how to operate construction equipment.

“I wasn’t alone in the learning process, fortunately.”

After finishing mobilization duties in Texas, the unit met up in Kuwait where SPC Adkins and her colleagues worked on projects like building retention dams. Each day brought a new mystery in terms of the tools of her trade.

“We never got to pick our own equipment, so we never knew what we were going to get,” says SPC Adkins.

The constant change was due to environmental conditions. Some of the equipment had no cabs and, therefore, no air conditioning.  

“They didn’t want to put the same person on there every day,” says SPC Adkins.

Her least favorite assignment? The scraper because “it jerked you around.” Her favorite assignment? The high excavator because “I was better at operating it, so I just kind of felt like I was getting more done with it.”

One of her most memorable experiences while deployed was the opportunity to graduate from the Basic Leader Course.

“I learned a lot about what I should and shouldn’t do as a leader. Before that course, I didn’t have a clue.”

Back to the Future

Home since January, she’s had a chance to reflect on her journey and decided to return to her original Military Occupational Specialty (MOS). She can’t help but compare her Guard experiences. And, yes, there are similar skills required for being a dental specialist and being a heavy equipment construction operator.

“Dexterity,” says SPC Adkins. “You have to be precise when you’re operating equipment, and you have to be very coordinated, so I had to use my dexterity.”

When she thinks about the future, she sees herself becoming a dental officer in the active duty Army, but for now, she’s enjoying her time in the Guard.

“I really like the camaraderie, I like wearing the uniform, I’m proud to wear the uniform,” says SPC Adkins. “When people see you out in uniform, they say, ‘Thanks for helping.’ I feel like everyone around us appreciates what we do.”

What advice would she give to somebody considering the Guard?

“Don’t rush. Explore your options,” says SPC Adkins. “I’m a living example you can change your mind and do something else. The possibilities are endless.”

If you’re up for a life-changing experience, you’ll find it in the Army National Guard, where you’ll serve part-time and receive training in one of more than 130 careers in fields like Supply and LogisticsHeavy WeaponsGround Forces, and Munitions. For details on any MOS, search our job board, and contact your local recruiter for more information.

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Guard Officer Finds Purpose in Military Service and Helping Veterans

2LT Bryan Abell recently commissioned as an Infantry Officer in the Michigan Army National Guard through ROTC at Michigan State.

Second Lieutenant (2LT) Bryan Abell says he’s made a few decisions that he doesn’t have a solid explanation for – one of them was joining the military without knowing much about it, other than what he’d seen in the movies. Another was his successful attempt to break a Guinness World Record for doing the most chest-to-ground burpees in a 12-hour period. The inspiration was a YouTube video he just happened to catch about someone who’d broken a record for most burpees in an hour.

These days, the recent college graduate is finding more meaning and more purpose in the things he does, and he gives most of the credit for that to his experiences serving in the Michigan Army National Guard. The 24-year-old just commissioned as an Officer in the Guard in December through his participation in ROTC at Michigan State University.

Between finishing up his finance degree and serving as an 11B Infantryman in the Michigan Army National Guard’s 1/126th Infantry Battalion as part of the Guard’s Simultaneous Membership Program, he also found time during his senior year to start a non-profit organization, the Stronger Warrior Foundation, with his sister, Katelyn.

“We wanted it to be a military-based organization; it’s an amazing community that doesn’t get thanked enough for what they do,” says 2LT Abell. “It’s one thing to say, ‘Thank you for your service.’ We wanted to have an impact that wasn’t just surface level.”

Stronger Warrior Foundation creates care packages for deployed Soldiers. Items are contained in hand-built wooden crates that can be decorated by a sponsor, who can also send written or video messages to the recipients.

The Stronger Warrior Foundation creates care packages for deployed Soldiers.

2LT Abell is also putting his pursuit of another world’s record – this time for most burpees in an hour – toward raising money for his charity. You can catch the action live on Stronger Warrior’s website at 4 p.m. Eastern, Saturday, March 21.

Part of the inspiration to do something that helps veterans came from 2LT Abell’s experience as an ROTC Cadet training in Honduras, where he rucked alongside the Honduran military through villages with mud huts and no running water.

“It was a humbling experience to see how lucky we [Americans] are and how lucky our military is.”

ROTC also gave him the opportunity to participate in Air Assault School and compete against seven other international ROTC teams at the Ranger Challenge, held at The U.S. Military Academy.

Besides opportunities that have molded him into an Officer, his military service also came with some great financial benefits: the GI Bill®, the GI Bill® Kicker, State tuition assistance (about $6,000 a year in Michigan), federal tuition assistance (about $4,000 a year), a monthly stipend through ROTC, and a scholarship that paid for the cost of living on campus.

“I didn’t have to pay for any room and board expenses while at Michigan State. I didn’t have to pay for much of anything,” he says.

Army ROTC allows Cadets to choose between Active Duty or National Guard assignments once they commission. 2LT Abell is staying in the Guard, though he had considered switching from Infantry Officer to Financial Manager Officer. His training at Fort Benning, Ga., home of the infantry, cemented that decision.

“I absolutely just fell in love with everything about the Infantry. The history, the ancestry of the Infantry, the lineage that you’re following after – it’s something very special.”

Staying in the Guard also means he can serve part-time and close to home in his new Unit.

“I plan on being very involved in the military, but I also want to be close to my family, run this non-profit organization, and work a civilian job, too.”

Rather than pursuing a corporate career, 2LT Abell is going to be working as a financial advisor to help people with their finances so they have “a better quality of life.” He’s planning to pursue a master’s degree and eventually work in the government so his work can have a positive impact on the lives of others.

“There’s got to be some kind of purpose and meaning behind it or I don’t feel like I’m fulfilling myself.”

Joining the Guard, he says, “has been the best experience of my life. I definitely wouldn’t have started that non-profit if I wasn’t in the National Guard. I don’t think I would have broken that world record if I wasn’t in the National Guard. I don’t think I’d be a lot of things if I didn’t join the National Guard.”

If you’re between 17 and 35 years old, you, too, can join the Army National Guard, and you don’t have to join ROTC to take advantage of great benefits like money for college. The Guard also offers free career training in fields like Transportation, Aviation, Mechanics and Maintenance, and Heavy Weapons. Our job board has all the details. Contact your local recruiter to learn more.

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A Guard Soldier’s Journey from Truck Driver to Attorney

In his eight years of part-time service with the Illinois Army National Guard, Jacob Smith has gotten some big benefits – leadership skills, a sense of direction in life, and his undergraduate and law degrees, courtesy of the Guard’s education benefits.

And now this former 88M Truck Driver is putting his law degree to work as the newest officer in the Illinois Guard’s Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps, the branch of the Guard that serves as a legal resource for Soldiers, Guard units, and the State Adjutant General.

“It is an interesting contrast,” says First Lieutenant (1LT) Smith of his switch in military occupational specialties (MOSs) from driving large vehicles to now advising his colleagues on legal matters.

“Being a JAG officer is more applicable to my civilian career,” he says. “It will broaden my base of legal experience and knowledge.”

Growing up, 1LT Smith had positive impressions of becoming an attorney, having worked in his family’s law firm, and of military service because his father had served in the active duty Army and later the Illinois Army National Guard.

After starting college, 1LT Smith decided to serve in the military.

“I thought the Guard would be a good way to do both at the same time.”

1LT Jacob Smith has gone from 88M Truck Driver to an officer in the Illinois Army National Guard’s Judge Advocate General Corps.

1LT Jacob Smith has gone from 88M Truck Driver to an officer in the Illinois Army National Guard’s Judge Advocate General Corps.

He chose 88M because Illinois has a lot of transportation units, and the MOS had a relatively short training schedule. His Advanced Individual Training could be squeezed into a summer between semesters, plus he could drill close to school.

And because of his State’s tuition assistance, 1LT Smith estimates he has saved somewhere in the ballpark of $100,000 in tuition for his undergrad and law degrees. On top of that, the GI Bill helped with living expenses while he was in school.

“These are huge benefits on the financial side,” says 1LT Smith, 26, who’s also hoping to take advantage of another Guard benefit in the next few years – VA home loan eligibility – which allows Soldiers to buy a home with little to no down payment.

1LT Smith, who’s been an attorney since 2017, just recently completed his JAG Corps training, a two-part process. First, he attended the 6-week Direct Commission Course at Fort Benning, and then he spent 10 ½ weeks at the Judge Advocate General’s Legal Center and School in Virginia where he received “a crash course in many areas of military law.”

As a judge advocate in his new unit, 1LT Smith expects to do a fair amount of what’s called administrative law. This includes participating in administrative separation boards used to determine whether a Soldier should be discharged from the Guard because of misconduct. In such cases, the Soldier would appear before a board instead of in a courtroom.

“It’s one tool used by commanders to more efficiently deal with certain misconduct, rather than pursuing a court-martial process.”

Judge advocates often deal with cases involving criminal offenses as well, which is a departure from 1LT Smith’s full-time civilian law career, where he focuses on business law, estate planning, and commercial real estate and banking matters.

As a JAG officer, he’ll also be handling cases related to property law. 1LT Smith explains that typically a commander would initiate an investigation if a sensitive and valuable item like a pair of night vision goggles was lost to determine if someone should be held liable. A JAG officer would review the findings to make sure they are legally sufficient.

One of 1LT Smith’s goals for the future is to deploy overseas and work in operational law: “the laws of war, advising commanders in an overseas environment on whether they can legally engage certain targets, spend money on particular projects, and what are the repercussions for taking certain actions in a combat environment,” he says. “It’s an area of law where there’s not really a civilian equivalent.”

Overall, 1LT Smith says his time in the Guard has given him direction in his life, great people to serve with, and an opportunity to give back.

“The opportunity to serve comes with sacrifices, certainly, but I get to carry on a civilian career and work with incredible leaders and friends,” he says. “It adds tremendous value to my life.”

So, if you’re looking for a way to serve your community and your country part-time while you pursue a civilian career, you should speak to an Army National Guard recruiter. Besides outstanding education benefits, the Guard also offers training in more than 130 career fields.

Search our job board for details on careers in engineering, administration, infantry, armor and field artillery, aviation, medicine, military police, intelligence, mechanic and maintenance, transportation, and logistics support.

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