Ohio’s First Female Infantry Officer on COVID-19 Front Lines

2LT Colleen O’Callaghan
2LT Colleen O’Callaghan, a platoon leader with the Ohio Army National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 148th Infantry Regiment, oversees her team at Second Harvest Food Bank of Clark, Champaign and Logan Counties in Springfield, Ohio. O’Callaghan is the Ohio National Guard’s first female Army Infantry Officer in its 232-year history. (Photo by SPC Max Elliott.)

COLUMBUS, Ohio – The Ohio Army National Guard’s support during the COVID-19 pandemic has presented many firsts for the organization.

It marks the first time since the Blizzard of 1978 that the Army National Guard has responded to serve the State on such a large scale. The Guard’s overall COVID-19 response, known as Operation Steady Resolve, is the first time Ohio’s Army Guard, Air Guard, Naval Militia, and Military Reserve have been activated under one joint task force.

Among the hundreds of Soldiers, Airmen, and other personnel who have answered the call to serve on the front lines of the COVID-19 response is one who had already achieved an historic first of her own for the organization. Second Lieutenant (2LT) Colleen O’Callaghan is the first woman in the Ohio National Guard’s 232-year history to become an Army Infantry Officer.

With the integration of women into combat arms still in its infancy – the Department of Defense began allowing them to serve in direct combat Units more than five years ago – 2LT O’Callaghan took a leap of faith to start her journey toward becoming an Infantry Officer.

Graduating the Army’s Infantry Basic Officer Leaders Course (IBOLC) was an accomplishment 2LT O’Callaghan says she never envisioned when she began her career in the Ohio Army National Guard. Along with help from her recruitment team, she navigated the obstacles to pave the way for herself and other women to join the Infantry branch.

“I really wanted to take on a big challenge,” 2LT O’Callaghan says. “So, I walked into the Army National Guard recruiting office and told them I want to be an Infantry Officer. I saw it as an opportunity to reinvent myself and serve my country.”

2LT O’Callaghan earned her blue cord – a military decoration worn over the right shoulder on an Army dress uniform by all Infantry-qualified Soldiers – in October after a successful 12 weeks of IBOLC training at Fort Benning, Georgia. The installation is home to the Maneuver Center of Excellence, which also trains armor and cavalry Soldiers, as well as oversees specialty training, including the U.S. Army Ranger and Airborne schools.

After completing Officer Candidate School with a near equal number of men and women, 2LT O’Callaghan was one of only three women in her IBOLC class. Despite being the first woman in the Ohio National Guard to branch into infantry, 2LT O’Callaghan says her experience was the same as any other Soldier’s. She found her peers and cadre supportive of her decision, actively encouraging her throughout the course and treating her professionally.

“The cadre and staff there were really excited and were really understanding of the position I was in. It can be awkward being one of the only females,” says 2LT O’Callaghan. “But I ended up making some great friends and definitely had some memorable experiences.”

Colonel (COL) Matthew Woodruff, commander of the 37th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, attended O’Callaghan’s IBOLC graduation ceremony and met with her family and course cadre.

“This (was) an historic event for the Ohio Army National Guard to have the first female Infantry Officer complete IBOLC,” COL Woodruff says. “It means a lot for the 1-148th (1st Battalion, 148th Infantry Regiment), the 37th IBCT (the major subordinate command over the 1-148th), and the Ohio Army National Guard in paving the way for future female Soldiers, NCOs (noncommissioned officers), and officers to be in combat arms in Ohio.”

2LT O’Callaghan, of Xenia, Ohio, attended her first drill weekend in January as a platoon leader with the Ohio Army National Guard’s Company C, 1-148th, in Tiffin. Shortly thereafter, the coronavirus outbreak hit Ohio, forcing many businesses to close. It also meant a civilian job opportunity for 2LT O’Callaghan was put on hold. So, when the Ohio National Guard created a joint task force in response to Gov. Mike DeWine’s call for the Guard to provide support during the COVID-19 pandemic, it only made sense to 2LT O’Callaghan that she answer the call to volunteer.

“I had just accepted a role at a new job, but they could not start me until after the (governor’s) stay-at-home order was lifted,” 2LT O’Callaghan says. “So, I volunteered to be put on orders and help the State until I could start my new civilian role.”

2LT O’Callaghan was able to serve close to her Southwest Ohio home, at the Second Harvest Food Bank of Clark, Champaign, and Logan Counties in Springfield. As officer-in-charge of the approximately 40 military personnel staffing the food bank, she led a joint team responsible for a variety of mission sets, including drive-thru food distribution and home deliveries across Second Harvest’s rural, tri-county coverage area.

2LT O’Callaghan says her experience as a new Officer was enhanced by support from her senior NCOs. While Infantry Officers don’t typically train to run food bank operations, she was able to use her administrative expertise from previous civilian jobs while capitalizing on the variety of skills her team members had to offer. Together, they were able to efficiently operate at the food bank and serve fellow Ohioans in need.

The public’s response in Springfield has been overwhelmingly positive.

“There were a lot of people who were just very grateful there was help available,” she says. “I would stand toward the front of drive-thru distributions to greet people as they arrived; they were always very positive and thankful we were there to help them when they needed it most.”

2LT O’Callaghan says she felt gratified to serve her friends and neighbors in such a direct way. The Army National Guard is unique in that it allows Soldiers like 2LT O’Callaghan to serve in their communities, which has helped her make the place she calls home even better.

“We genuinely want to be here. We have all volunteered and we are all serving relatively close to our homes whenever possible,” she says. “Everybody wants to help because there are so many people (who are) out of work and need assistance, and we have the ability to do it.”

2LT O’Callaghan says she wants her service as both a female Infantry Officer and a member of the Ohio Army National Guard during Operation Steady Resolve to inspire others to start their own journey and, ultimately, pursue opportunities to serve their Community, State, and Nation.

“I didn’t get here on my own, and at no point was I alone,” she says. “What I hope to do is encourage other women to take on something extremely challenging and take the leap.”

The Army National Guard offers positions in more than 130 career fields, so you can serve your community in a way that’s right for you. Opportunities include supply and logistics, admin and relations, transport, and more. Check out the job board for more information on available careers, and contact a local recruiter to learn more. 

From an original article by 1LT Kevin Livingston, Ohio National Guard, which appeared in the news section of NationalGuard.mil on July 21, 2020.

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Dual Mission: Soldier Serves as Guard Intelligence Analyst and Recruiter

Specialist (SPC) Anna Xenitelis can rattle off the benefits of joining the Army National Guard pretty quickly.

There’s the pay, money for school, health care, and the ability to receive college credits for attending Army courses, to name a few. All of these things rate as fantastic in her book, “but for me, it really, truly is that you’re part of this giant family, and knowing that you have all these people around you, that no matter what happens, you’ll have someone to depend on at the end of the day.”

As a 35F Intelligence Analyst in the Arizona Army National Guard, Soldiers depend on her for the information they need to take action.

Last year, SPC Xenitelis spent nine months deployed to the Middle East in support of Operation Spartan Shield. Her job was “to collect information from a multitude of sources to create one big picture on what’s happening around me.”

She didn’t need to know Arabic – there are translators for that – but her mission involved a lot of legwork, reading up to 3,000 reports a day about what is happening in the region.

“You have to constantly educate yourself on the area,” says SPC Xenitelis. “In order to be successful, you have to understand the past first.”

That means understanding the history of a country, its relationships with other nations, its political and military standpoints, and how it treats its civilians.

SPC Anna Xenitelis
SPC Anna Xenitelis is a full-time recruiter in the Arizona Army National Guard who also serves as a 35F Intelligence Analyst.

SPC Xenitelis was recognized as Soldier of the Month by her Unit, the 198th Regional Support Group, for her work during the deployment, and performing above her rank.

Even more fulfilling was an assignment she took on voluntarily to help her brother’s Army National Guard Infantry unit, which was on deployment in Afghanistan at the same time.

“It’s probably the best feeling that I’ve felt in this whole world knowing that maybe I helped my brother and the people on his convoy.”

Born and raised in Hawaii, SPC Xenitelis comes from a military family.

“I knew I wanted to be in the military,” she says. “I wanted to give back just like I saw my dad, my mom, and my brother get to do. I also wanted to be a part of that. I wanted to be a part of something bigger than myself.”

A family friend’s stories about his job as a military intelligence officer got her interested in the intelligence field. SPC Xenitelis was especially interested in conducting interrogations, but she learned that she would have to work her way up first.

She decided to go for the 35F Military Occupational Specialty (MOS). She enlisted in the Guard at age 17, but not before doing her own independent, objective research like any good intelligence analyst would. She also sought opinions from Soldiers and Airmen she knew to get their perspectives on their particular service branches.

Last fall, as she prepared to come back from deployment, SPC Xenitelis started researching Active Guard Reserve (AGR) jobs, (full-time positions in the Guard). There wasn’t anything available in intelligence, but a recruiting job caught her eye.

“I love the Guard, and if I can get other people to join, that would be great.”

Prior to that, in her civilian life, SPC Xenitelis ran a photography business, and had been working in a salon, using her Guard education benefits to pay for cosmetology school.

Now she’s a Guard recruiter full-time, but she’s still serving as a 35F every drill weekend because she has no intention to give up working in intelligence.

“I absolutely love my job,” she says.

So as a recruiter and an intelligence analyst, SPC Xenitelis’s advice for anyone joining the Guard is not that surprising: talk to a recruiter, but also do your own independent research.

One of the things you’ll do during the enlistment process is find an MOS that suits you. For a look at all of the careers that are available in the Guard, the job board is a great place to start. The Guard offers more than 130 MOSs in fields ranging from technology and networking, to mechanics and maintenance, to engineering and more.

Contact your local recruiter for more information about serving part-time in the Guard, maybe even SPC Xenitelis, if you’re in the Mesa, Ariz., area.

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Guard Soldier Jumps Straight from Basic Training to Elite Army Schools

SPC Connor McGuffee

SPC Connor McGuffee, a Louisiana National Guard Soldier with 2nd Battalion, 156th Infantry Regiment, 256th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, outside his Unit’s armory in New Iberia, La. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Garrett Dipuma.)

NEW IBERIA, Louisiana – Army National Guard Specialist (SPC) Connor McGuffee dove headfirst into his military career by completing both the U.S. Army’s Airborne and Ranger schools right after basic training, a feat that took him 13 months to accomplish.

SPC McGuffee, 21, joined the Louisiana Army National Guard so he could earn a degree from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette before entering the workforce as a full-time Soldier. The Guard offers education benefits to help pay for your tuition and expenses, and, because service is part-time, you can complete your education while you serve.

“I’ve always wanted to be in the Army, but I want to get my degree before I go active,” says SPC McGuffee, 2nd Battalion, 156th Infantry Regiment, 256th Infantry Brigade Combat Team. “The National Guard just looked like a good option since I could go to a physical school full-time and have my tuition covered while still starting my military career.”

He says he was particularly excited at the chance to attend an elite military training course right out of the gate.

“I jumped at the chance to go to Ranger school when it was offered to me,” says SPC McGuffee. “My dad was a Ranger, and I grew up hearing stories from him about his time in the military.”

During basic training, SPC McGuffee and other top-performing Soldiers were offered the chance to attend the course on the condition they maintain the high standards they exhibited.

“My dad was shocked when I wrote home to tell him I was going to Ranger school,” says SPC McGuffee. “I feel really lucky that I was in the right place at the right time to get that opportunity.”

McGuffee says the course was as tough as one would expect, if not harder for somebody who was still new to the military.

“I had just learned the basic concepts the instructors were trying to teach, so being so new was definitely a challenge,” he says. “The hardest part, though, was just constantly failing at what seemed like everything.”

The new Ranger explains that the course is designed that way. Every situation is set up as nearly impossible to complete without error, and one person can fail because of a shortcoming exhibited by another team member. This builds stress, and eventually, Ranger candidates develop excellent critical thinking and communication skills in situations of high stress and fatigue.

“I got recycled once because I let one of my team members fall asleep,” says SPC McGuffee. “But that taught me one of the best lessons I took away from the course; teamwork and discipline are necessary to succeed, and I think that applies in military and civilian life.”

As far as preparing for Ranger school, SPC McGuffee has some straightforward advice for would-be candidates: Go in with a mantra of knowing you will earn the tab and never give up. He says that although the course was not as physically challenging as he thought it would be, it was extremely difficult, even though he was in peak condition from his high school football career and constant workouts leading up to Ranger school.

“During basic, pretty much all of my downtime was committed to extra exercise to prepare. I was working out twice a day running, lifting weights, and doing bodyweight exercises between basic and Ranger school,” says SPC McGuffee. “It’s a hard course that you definitely need to be mentally and physically ready for before you get there.”

Now that he is home, SPC McGuffee enjoys his free time spending time with his family playing Dungeons and Dragons or MechWarrior.

“Basic training and Ranger school were really challenging, but I loved every moment I was there,” says SPC McGuffee. “Those were some of the best times I’ve had in my life, and I can’t see myself wanting to work outside of the military now.”

With positions in more than 130 career fields ranging from Ground Forces, to Technology and Networking, to Intelligence, and Aviation, you can find your perfect fit with the Army National Guard. Check out the job board for more information on available careers, and contact a local recruiter to learn more. 

From an original article by Staff Sgt. Garrett Dipuma, Louisiana National Guard, which appeared in the news section of NationalGuard.mil in February 2020.

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