Soldier Embraces Opportunities to Learn Through Army National Guard Service

PFC Daniel Olson doesn’t know how his Army National Guard journey will play out. And, he’s happy about that.

In addition to tuition and health care benefits, and the ability to serve his community, access to almost unlimited opportunities is one of the things he loves most about the Army National Guard.

PFC Daniel Olson
PFC Daniel Olson

“There are 26 letters of the alphabet. If plan A doesn’t work, there are 25 other plans,” says PFC Olson, who currently works as a Horizontal Construction Engineer (MOS 12N) and a recruiter’s assistant for the New York Army National Guard.

No matter what plan or path he chooses, he knows the Army National Guard will be part of his life for a long time.

Soldier Surrounded, Inspired by Military Service

PFC Olson was surrounded by military service while growing up. His mother served in the Army National Guard, his father and grandfather were in the Navy, and his uncle was in the Marines for 32 years. He enjoyed hearing the stories his uncle shared.

“He always talked to me about the military,” says PFC Olson. “Seeing his awards and listening to his stories opened my eyes and made me realize I want something like that.”

He knew he wanted to serve his country but wasn’t sure which branch would be the best fit. Then, while in high school, he was inspired by a speaker at a leadership conference. She told a story about how her parents’ home was flooded during Hurricane Katrina and Army National Guard Soldiers helped her family.

“She said a National Guard Soldier carried a fridge out of the basement by himself. She said she’ll never forget what they did for her parents. I thought, ‘That’s awesome. I want to help people,’” says Olson.

Not too long after the conference, an Army National Guard recruiter visited his school. A teacher notified students about the visit and said they could go to enjoy pizza being served at the event with no obligation to join the Army National Guard. Olson was not about to turn down pizza, so he went and ended up asking the recruiter several questions. He was intrigued by the benefits offered by the Army National Guard but had no intention to join.

From “I’m just here for the pizza” to Army National Guard Service

After reflecting on his plans for the future, PFC Olson realized he got more than just free pizza out of the recruiting event at his high school. He realized the Army National Guard was the military branch that would best fit his plans: getting a degree and being part of his college’s track team while serving in the military part-time.

He is currently attending the State University of New York at Delhi, pursuing a physical education degree. His studies may evolve into a sports management degree so he can get a personal trainer’s license.

So far, he has paid nothing for his tuition thanks to the Army National Guard’s education benefits. He is using the GI Bill, GI Bill Kicker (a supplementary monthly monetary benefit), and Pell Grants to fund his college education. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs pays him to work at his school’s Veterans Lounge and he received a $20,000 bonus for joining the Army National Guard. He also gets paid for his Army National Guard work.

All of the Army National Guard benefits are icing on the cake – or cheese on the pizza – for PFC Olson.

“I’m able to stay close to home to attend school locally, pursue my career goals, and serve my country,” he says.

The Army National Guard has also taught the kind of life lessons he was hoping for.

“I actually wanted to better myself as an individual,” he says. “I wanted to become more organized and make sure I was on point and focused when I got to college.”

From Plan A to Plan Z

PFC Olson is enjoying his current MOS and learning the ropes as a recruiter’s assistant. He’s looking forward to gaining even more skills when he deploys for the first time. He will be working along the U.S. southern border for 14 months starting this October.

For now, he is embracing whatever opportunities come his way with an open mind for the future.

He may want to pursue a recruiting career. He may want to use his Army National Guard heavy equipment training for a civilian job. He may want to use his personal trainer’s license to open a gym that focuses on getting people physically and mentally ready to join the military.

He plans on working at least 20 years for the Army National Guard. And no matter what else he pursues over the next two decades, he knows he will be prepared with the communication, leadership, and teamwork skills he has learned so far. He also intends to keep following two key strategies:

“Paying attention to detail and being able to listen are so important,” says PFC Olson. “If you can do those two things, everything else will come.”

If you want to serve your community while also accomplishing your personal goals, check out the Army National Guard, where you’ll serve part-time and receive training in one of more than 130 careers in fields like Intelligence, Heavy Weapons, Ground Forces, and Mechanic and Maintenance. For details on any MOS, search our job board, and contact your local recruiter for more information.

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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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Meet the Army National Guard’s Fearless Female Leaders

In honor of Women’s History Month, On Your Guard recognizes some female leaders we’ve had the pleasure of interviewing over the last few years:

Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) Elizabeth Evans, Commander, 53rd Brigade Special Troops Battalion, Florida Army National Guard

LTC Evans graduated from West Point looking forward to an engineering career in the Army. Unfortunately, she found out many of the engineering battalions were restricted to men, with women allowed to serve only in support roles.

Her best chance to achieve her goal of commanding a combat or construction Unit was in the Army reserve components, which offered construction formations that were 100% open to women.

She joined the Florida Army National Guard, inspired by its dual mission of serving the Nation and responding to local emergencies, like extreme weather events. Within 6 months, she was asked to command a Horizontal Construction Company.

By 2017, she had led 300 missions in a combat zone in Iraq and served as a task force commander for a counter-narcotics mission, training military components in three Central American countries.

“I think I’m extremely fortunate to be a female in the Army National Guard because of the opportunities I have to be a role model to others, both male and female,” she says. “I have the ability to show younger Soldiers coming in that anything is possible regardless of your gender.”

Read more.

Sergeant First Class (SFC) Shereka Danzy, Drill Sergeant and Recruiter, New Jersey Army National Guard

As the first woman to become a drill sergeant in the New Jersey Army National Guard, SFC Shereka Danzy knows her position embodies more than just the average job.

“You’re representing women, one, and that’s a big deal, then I’m representing myself and my support team – everyone that was behind me,” she says.

The Army veteran teaches Soldiers at the Recruit Sustainment Program how to march and about military customs, courtesies, and acronyms to get them ready for basic training.

SFC Danzy, who’s also a Guard recruiter, felt honored to be asked to become a drill sergeant by her command.

“They could have chosen anybody, but they saw something in me.”

That something, she believes, is her “passion for soldiering. Grabbing Soldiers under your wing. Teaching them right from wrong, not only teaching them, but showing them what right looks like.”

Read more.

Cadet (CDT) Christina Meredith, Florida Army National Guard 

CDT Christina Meredith is living her best life as a Florida Army National Guard Soldier, author, and non-profit founder.

After years of abuse as a child, she entered the foster care system and then became homeless. Eventually, she was “discovered” by a pageant recruiter and crowned Miss California United States in 2013. She finally had a platform to accomplish one of her goals: to share her story so others would realize they could overcome their circumstances.

Since then, CDT Meredith has written a memoir, “CinderGirl: My Journey Out of the Ashes to a Life of Hope,” and started The Christina Meredith Foundation, a non-profit organization that advocates for foster care reform and mental health.

The flexibility of serving in the Guard part-time allows her enough time for everything important in her life.

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

Read more.

If you’re interested in joining these leaders, find out more about what the Guard has to offer, including great education benefits and training in careers ranging from police and protection to intelligence to transportation. Visit our job board for details and contact a recruiter for more information.

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