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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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.

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Army National Guard Offers a Way to Pay Federal Student Loans

One of the Army National Guard’s best selling points is its ability to help pay for its Soldiers’ educations.

There are many paths to earning a degree without incurring a ton of debt or any debt at all, like the Guard’s Federal and State tuition assistance programs, but one benefit the Guard offers – the Student Loan Repayment Program – can pay down balances on Federal student loans a Soldier already has.

CPT Peter Brookes, the Enlisted Incentives Program Manager with the Army National Guard, explains: “The gist of it is that we pay 15% or $500 a year of the overall Federal student loans you have when you join the Guard, up to $50,000, inclusive of interest for a 6 year commitment.”

The most important caveat for the program, says CPT Brookes, is that the money goes to the lending institution – not the Soldier. Also, it’s not a one-time check to the lender. For example, for a Guard member who has $50,000 in Federal student loans, the Guard would pay 15% per each individual loan of that balance, up to $7,500 per year.

The Student Loan Repayment Program (SLRP) applies to only Federal loans. State loans and private loans do not qualify.

There are also requirements associated with a Soldier’s status within the Guard. Different standards apply for new Soldiers coming in with no prior service, Soldiers who have prior military service, and those who are already serving in the Guard.

CPT Brookes says for anyone new coming into the Guard, there are three basic eligibility requirements for SLRP – Soldiers must be high school graduates who are moving into a vacant position in the Guard and have a minimum Armed Forces Qualifying Test score of 50 and established Federal student loan debt.

As of this writing, CPT Brookes says new Soldiers can pick one of three incentives between SLRP, the Montgomery GI Bill Kicker, which is $350 a month that goes to a Soldier who’s enrolled in college, for up to 36 months, or a Non-Prior Service Enlistment Bonus for $7,500.

Some of those incentives can be combined with the Guard’s education benefits, which CPT Brookes describes as “unparalleled.”

“When you consider that for the vast majority of us, [Guard service] is a part-time job, it’s pretty phenomenal, he says. “I can’t even think of a civilian equivalent out there for education benefits for a part-time job.”

Not only can Soldiers take advantage of potentially earning free degrees through State Tuition Assistance Programs (programs vary by State), “you can still go and get your [Montgomery GI Bill] Kicker as well,” says CPT Brookes. “So basically you’re getting paid to go to college.”

NationalGuard.com outlines all of the Guard’s benefits, but CPT Brookes says recruiters are the best source for information on benefits, incentives, or bonuses that apply to each State.

Your local recruiter can also help you decide on the job you’ll train to do in the Guard, called your Military Occupational Specialty (MOS). For more information on Guard careers, check out our job board, where you can research more than 150 options in fields ranging from administration, to infantry, engineering, military intelligence, and more.

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