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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Maryland Army National Guard Member Wise Beyond Her Rank

WO1 Karinn Hemingway, a 110th Information Operations Battalion Information Services Technician, commissions as a Maryland Army National Guard Warrant Officer during a graduation and pinning ceremony in October 2019. (Photo by Major Kurt Rauschenberg.)
WO1 Karinn Hemingway, a 110th Information Operations Battalion Information Services Technician, commissions as a Maryland Army National Guard Warrant Officer during a graduation and pinning ceremony in October 2019. (Photo by Major Kurt Rauschenberg.)

BALTIMORE, Maryland – Warrant Officers: They are the technical experts of the U.S. Army and Army National Guard. They are tasked with the invaluable responsibility of becoming subject matter experts in their career fields and serve as advisors, mentors, and trainers. Warrant Officers typically ascend from the Non-commissioned Officer (NCO) ranks within their military occupational specialties (MOSs).

However, Karinn Hemingway, a Maryland Army National Guard member, became one of the few Warrant Officers to be selected without being an NCO. Her diverse experience in the military and the civilian world allowed her to gain the necessary skills and knowledge she needed to dive into the Warrant Officer Program.

“I think it would be very different if I were on active duty,” explains WO1 Hemingway. “I don’t think I would have had the flexibility to work in the many different roles that gave me the experience to become a Warrant Officer. Being in the Guard has made it possible for me to work my full-time civilian job, attend college, obtain certifications, and still serve.”

A former Specialist in the 110th Information Operations Battalion, WO1 Hemingway has more than 10 combined years of military service as a Telecommunications Operator and Maintainer, and civilian experience in the information technology and cyber fields.

WO1 Hemingway started her military career on active duty in the U.S. Army working at the Defense Intelligence Agency in the Washington, D.C., area. After completing an initial active duty enlistment, she focused on completing both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees. During her decade-long break in service, she worked as a government contractor spending time in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Upon returning home from her second contract in Afghanistan, WO1 Hemingway decided to re-enlist into the Army again – this time into the Virginia Army National Guard, before coming to the Maryland Army National Guard.

Between those enlistments, her military career field had merged with another. Even with her years of experience in the military, she no longer qualified in her previous MOS. Frustrated with the situation, WO1 Hemingway began to consider alternative career paths, such as commissioning or switching to a different branch of service.

However, she realized commissioning could potentially take her out of the field she had specialized in for years. After attending a Future Formation event, a program designed to retain Soldiers near the end of their enlistment contracts, she shifted her direction. She pursued the path of becoming a Warrant Officer.

“I think that was the best decision for me because I wanted to stay in [my career field],” WO1 Hemingway explains.

It was this same decision that led her to meet Chief Warrant Officer 2 (CW2) Curtis Taylor, the Warrant Officer Strength Manager of the Maryland Army National Guard Recruiting and Retention Battalion, who guided her through the initial process.

“One of the first things [that stood out] was her poise and demeanor,” explains CW2 Taylor. “You could tell how focused and determined she was to achieve this goal. Second, you could say that she was wise beyond her rank. Which begged the question, ‘Why are you just a Specialist?’”

Her rank as a Specialist would be a unique challenge when submitting her Warrant Officer packet, as typically most Warrant Officer career fields have a minimum NCO rank requirement. Despite this hurdle, WO1 Hemingway gathered everything she needed, and went in front of a board to prove her qualifications.

“Normally, Technical Warrant [Officers] require a certain amount of expertise,” explains WO1 Hemingway. “You’re supposed to be the subject matter expert for your job specialty. For Technical Warrant [Officers], you tend to have people that are more seasoned and have been in their career for a long time.”

At first glance, Specialists would be assumed to have minimal experience in their fields, CW2 Taylor explains. However, you often see a higher level of experience and education from junior ranking Guard members who enter the military equipped with bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

“I think the difference with active duty is you [often] have two jobs in the Guard,” explains CW2 Taylor. “You have your civilian job and then you have your [military job]. So, you’ve already shown you’re capable of managing several different tasks.”

Knowing she had the experience and skills to set herself apart, WO1 Hemingway and CW2 Taylor poured over the prerequisite requirements to be a Technical Warrant Officer within her career field. They discovered that highly experienced Specialists could be considered for selection.

While WO1 Hemingway may not have necessarily satisfied the rank requirement, she certainly had more than enough experience in her specialty. Her separation from active duty prior service and the flexibility of the National Guard both provided the space and time for her to gain the knowledge and the training she needed to be awarded her MOS qualification and satisfy the requirements to be a Warrant Officer candidate.

“Being in the Guard has allowed me the ability to work in numerous roles in my civilian career,” explains WO1 Hemingway. “All of the skills that I learned [during Advanced Individual Training] and throughout my military career were the baseline for me continuing in that role in my civilian job.”

Once her packet was approved, WO1 Hemingway shipped off to Warrant Officer Candidate School, where she learned the foundational leadership skills. Upon graduating, she had officially joined the ranks of Warrant Officers.

Her next step is to go through the Warrant Officer Basic Course to become fully qualified in her technical specialty. Until then, she will fulfill the role of mentor for any service member looking to tap into her vast knowledge and skill set.

Throughout her career, she was no stranger to mentoring many of her peers and co-workers.

“I guess they felt like I was easier to talk to than their leadership,” explains WO1 Hemingway. “I became the person they would always come and talk to.”

With her combined civilian and military experience, she will be able to share her diverse knowledge and skills with those looking for guidance into the Warrant Officer Program and beyond.

Citizen-Soldiers like WO1 Hemingway primarily serve part-time in their home States, enabling them to further their careers while staying close to home. They earn benefits to help pay for education and expenses while serving their country and their communities.

With more than 130 positions in career fields ranging from Heavy Weapons to Transportation to Intelligence, 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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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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