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.

Share on FacebookShare on Twitter

Out of the Clinic and into the Cockpit: A Soldier Changes Gears for Her Next 10 Years in the Guard

SSG Odessa Standke is a 68E Dental Specialist in the Minnesota Army National Guard, who’s headed to Warrant Officer Candidate School next month in preparation to become a helicopter pilot.

SSG Odessa Standke is a 68E Dental Specialist in the Minnesota Army National Guard, who’s headed to Warrant Officer Candidate School next month in preparation to become a helicopter pilot.

As of June, Staff Sergeant (SSG) Odessa Standke will have spent 10 years in the Minnesota Army National Guard. This means the 26-year-old, who joined the Guard after her junior year in high school, is approaching the halfway mark to retirement as far as her military service is concerned.

Coming up on this 10-year anniversary got her thinking that she might want to try a different Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) for the second half of her Guard career.

It’s not that she doesn’t enjoy her current job as a 68E Dental Specialist. In fact, SSG Standke likes it so much, she was all set to go to school this semester to earn a bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene so she could work in the dental field as a civilian, too.

“I love dentistry, and I’ve learned so much in the Guard,” she says. “I thought, school’s going to be a breeze.”

But now, those plans are on hold because SSG Standke got accepted for flight school. She’s off to Warrant Officer Candidate School in March, and after that, she’ll learn how to fly helicopters.

During drill weekends, SSG Standke likes the fact that she gets to perform the duties associated with her MOS, like taking X-rays and managing the dental clinic, now that she has grown through the ranks, but her favorite thing to do during annual training is riding on helicopters.

“My unit is close with aviation units that would hook us up with rides on Black Hawks. Sometimes we’d incorporate that into our training. We’d have them drop us out in the middle of a field and then we’d navigate our way back.”

During a deployment to the Sinai Peninsula as part of Multinational Force and Observers, an international organization that oversees the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt, SSG Standke’s job was to clean teeth for soldiers from different countries. But she also had the chance to cruise over northern Egypt and the Red Sea in a Black Hawk, courtesy of another aviation unit.

“I really like the dynamic,” she says of flying. “It’s super different than the medical world, and I like the close-knit teams that work on the aircraft.”

At flight school, SSG Standke is slated to become a pilot for the Chinook helicopter. Powered by tandem rotors, the Chinook is larger than the Black Hawks that she’s used to, “but, I’m open to either. I’ll just be grateful and happy to fly.”

Her advice to anyone considering joining the Guard is: “Just go do it.”

SSG Standke herself wasn’t entirely certain that the Guard was for her when she considered joining as a teenager, but between the education benefits and the fact that being in the Guard sounded like fun, “I thought I’d give it a whirl.”

Since then, SSG Standke has earned an associate’s degree in liberal arts paid for completely by the Guard, she’s gotten additional training in preventive dentistry in order to deploy to Egypt, and now she’s headed to Norway this month to train alongside Norwegian soldiers as part of the Minnesota Guard’s State Partnership Program.

Back when she was 17, SSG Standke reasoned that if she wasn’t happy with her decision to enlist, six years of part-time service was manageable – at the very least, she’d get school benefits and a learning experience out of it.

“But, I ended up loving it.”

She loves the camaraderie and the sense of purpose she gets from serving. And now she’s ready to take everything she’s learned along the way with her in this next chapter in the Guard, where she plans to stay for at least 10 more years.

“I started off as a Dental Specialist as an enlisted private,” she says. “Now I’m moving into a whole different world, but that’s what’s so great about the Guard. There are so many opportunities. Even if you have no experience, the Army will get you where you need to be and help you reach your goals.”

You, too, can get started on achieving your career goals by joining the Army National Guard. The Guard offers training in more than 130 different MOSs in fields ranging from mechanics and maintenance to engineering to infantry to military intelligence and more. Our job board, which can be searched by location, career field, or keyword, is a great place to get started on your research. Contact your local recruiter to learn more.

Share on FacebookShare on Twitter

Mission of Hope: Guard Soldier Wants to Do Good for Country, Community, and Foster Youth

CDT Christina Meredith is in the Florida Army National Guard’s Simultaneous Membership Program (SMP), which allows college students to serve in a Guard unit and ROTC at the same time.

CDT Christina Meredith is in the Florida Army National Guard’s Simultaneous Membership Program (SMP), which allows college students to serve in a Guard unit and ROTC at the same time.

Christina Meredith believes that anything can be accomplished through hard work and determination.

The Florida Army National Guard Soldier, author, and non-profit founder, who is also on track to achieve her dream of becoming a military officer, isn’t wasting a single opportunity that comes her way.

“You can be offered the world, but if you don’t work, you’ll lose it, or you’ll waste it, and either one is a no-go.”

A survivor of years of abuse at the hands of her own family, CDT Meredith entered the foster care system as a teen, aging out of the system when she turned 18. While still in high school, this junior ROTC member and captain of her high school’s cross country and track and field teams became homeless, living in a car she was able to buy from working two part-time jobs.

It was in that car that she started reading the Bible and making lists of her goals. One of them was to tell her story so that other people would realize that they do not have to succumb to their circumstances. At an even younger age of 10, CDT Meredith vowed to herself after a beating by her mother that she would be nothing like the person who had just left her on the ground crying in pain.

She remembers telling herself, “You will be the antithesis of her. You will love people. You’ll be kind to people, and you will make a difference.”

CDT Meredith recognizes that her mother, too, had been a victim of abuse while she was growing up, and that abuse, without intervention, is often a cycle that can be passed from one generation to the next.

“The cycle of abuse and poverty is a real thing,” she says. “It takes a community of healthy families and organizations to wrap around broken families and children to rehabilitate them into society to the point where they’re giving back and not taking away.”

According to CDT Meredith, there are half a million U.S. children in foster care, 20,000 of whom age out of the system each year, and become homeless just like she did. Eighty percent of foster youth go into the prison system, she says, and many foster youth end up having babies themselves before they become adults.

“When I saw young people like myself giving in to the cycle of poverty, giving in to drugs, giving in to the welfare and prison system, it broke me,” she says.

She is hopeful that her story and her advocacy inspire people and effect change.

“My entire story is about hope, faith, hard work, achieving the dream and the purpose that you have been given in this life, and not allowing things to deter you, because circumstances change. With hard work and a little faith, you can make them change.”

And so when her dream of earning an ROTC scholarship for college didn’t work out, she moved to California and eventually got “discovered” by a pageant recruiter at a Whole Foods. Crowned Miss California United States in 2013, the title gave her a platform to talk about PTSD recovery via trauma therapy and foster care reform in its entirety.

“It really birthed this new chapter in my life where I always wanted to be: to travel, to speak, to share, offer hope and encouragement, and write my book.”

CDT Meredith’s memoir, “CinderGirl, My Journey Out of the Ashes to a Life of Hope,” will be released March 5.

CDT Meredith’s memoir, “CinderGirl, My Journey Out of the Ashes to a Life of Hope,” will be released March 5.

CDT Meredith’s memoir, “CinderGirl: My Journey Out of the Ashes to a Life of Hope,” will be released on March 5. The title is a reflection of how her life has been transformed.

“Growing up with nothing, being homeless with nothing, and then doing a national book tour is almost a Cinderella story.”

On her tour, CDT Meredith will be promoting the book and speaking on the issues that are also the focus of her non-profit organization: The Christina Meredith Foundation, based in Jacksonville, Fla. The foundation’s short-term plan is continued advocacy for foster care reform and mental health. Long-term, CDT Meredith envisions creating a facility where foster youth can live and have access to food, clothing, health care, and learn things like how to balance a checkbook, so long as they have a full-time job or are in school.

In the meantime, CDT Meredith is in school herself, working on a degree in international relations with a minor in psychology. She’s also in ROTC as part of the Guard’s Simultaneous Membership Program. When she earns her commission next December, she plans to become a 25A Signals Officer in the same unit where she currently serves, where her job is to provide secure communications for her fellow Soldiers.

“I love the structure, I love the discipline,” she says of the Guard. “I love the camaraderie. I love that I’m doing good.”

Part of that good comes from knowing she is part of a team that saved lives in her home state when Hurricane Irma swept through Florida in 2017.

CDT Meredith has yet another goal on her list, and that’s to translate her degree and Guard experience into politics. She’s planning to run for office someday.

The flexibility of serving in the Guard part-time is allowing her the time to work on all of her goals.

“I have my civilian job and still have that military experience and leadership, and I can really bring something to my country.”

With its dual mission to serve the State and the Nation, the Army National Guard is always looking for service-minded people to join its ranks. Besides the satisfaction of knowing that your service is making a difference, the Guard offers training in more than 130 different jobs in fields like military intelligence, aviation, infantry, mechanics and maintenance, and more. Contact your local recruiter to learn more.

 

Share on FacebookShare on Twitter