Despite Dark Times, New Jersey Guard Recruiter Never Loses Hope

JOINT BASE McGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J. – All eyes are on New Jersey Army National Guard Captain (CPT) Domenico Lazzaro as he walks up to the podium using two canes.

It’s Oct. 18. Seventeen months have passed since CPT Lazzaro’s life changed due to a training accident.

“I never thought I would be in this situation,” he says.

For the next 45 minutes, he tells the story of how he has come to stand in front of the Soldiers, Airmen and civilians at Joint Force Headquarters located at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey. He calls it: “Don’t dis my disability.”

On June 11, 2017, CPT Lazzaro fell while navigating an obstacle course at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst during annual training and fractured his T8 vertebrae in the middle of the spine.

After seven hours of surgery, the doctors had fused five vertebrae from the thoracic to the lumbar regions.

In one day, CPT Lazzaro went from racing motorcycles and being an avid weightlifter to being paraplegic.

For most people, this would have been the start of coming to grips with a new reality, taking into consideration the accommodations they might need or the things they might not be able to do again. Others would simply give up.

CPT Lazzaro didn’t.

Three weeks later, something peculiar happened.

CPT Domenico Lazzaro of the New Jersey Army National Guard shows the audience a slide about different levels of spinal cord injuries during the National Disability Employment Awareness Month observance at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., on Oct. 18, 2018. (Photo by MSG Mark Olsen).

CPT Domenico Lazzaro of the New Jersey Army National Guard shows the audience a slide about different levels of spinal cord injuries during the National Disability Employment Awareness Month observance at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., on Oct. 18, 2018. (Photo by MSG Mark Olsen.)

“After my injury, I had a buzzing sensation in both legs similar to the feeling you get when a leg falls asleep, but I could not move them.”

CPT Lazzaro began to have some feeling in his foot.

“The first evening, I stayed up all night moving my left toes.”

According to his doctors, this was unusual, because recovery occurs from the point of injury down, not the other way around.

“The doctors kept pushing me to move things, so I did,” says CPT Lazzaro.

This was not the first time that he had faced adversity.

In 1991, while a member of the Pennsylvania Army National Guard, he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Hodgkin’s is a cancer in the lymphatic system where cells grow abnormally and can spread to other parts of the body.

For the next two years, CPT Lazzaro underwent radiation treatments. After 20 years, he is cancer-free.

In 2009, he reenlisted in the New Jersey National Guard and received his commission in August 2011. From 2015-2016, CPT Lazzaro deployed to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as the 328th Military Police Company’s executive officer. Upon his return, he accepted a full-time position as a specialty branch recruiter. Then last year’s accident occurred.

Because of his injury, CPT Lazzaro was given the option of medical retirement with disability.

“I want to continue to serve,” he says, refusing to give up.

In order to continue his service, he must be able to pass the Army physical fitness test in two years.

From July to December 2017, CPT Lazzaro was in a wheelchair. Then he used a walker until January 2018.

“I switched to forearm crutches from February to June, and started using canes from June until present,” he says.

During this time CPT Lazzaro was in intensive physical therapy.

“Once I started moving, I began using a glider – a type of upright elliptical that uses your arms to move the legs.”

He also uses an electronic stimulation bike that uses electric pulses to move his legs to pedal a bicycle, an exoskeleton harness that mechanically moves the legs, and locomotor training, while physical therapists move each leg and his hips to simulate walking on a treadmill. This is all combined with basic leg strengthening exercises.

All these devices serve one purpose: helping CPT Lazzaro learn to walk again.

Today, he can move with the aid of one cane.

“The more I progressed, the more I could do on my own,” he explains. “The physical therapists say my progress is staggering.”

CPT Lazzaro is back at work with specialty branch recruiting and serves as the 42nd Regional Support Group’s anti-terrorism officer.

He also spends time working with other paraplegic patients.

“I try to help people get past the idea that they can’t recover,” he says.

Because of his experiences, he brings one thing that is sometimes missing from other people: hope.

“Hope is very important,” CPT Lazzaro says. “Believing things will get better with time can help you progress and adapt to your situation.”

It is hope that drives him.

“I want to go back to my life the way I was,” he says. “I want to be the person I was.”

If you’re passionate about helping and healing others like the medical professionals who helped CPT Lazzaro, visit our job board and explore health care careers in the Army National Guard.

Being a Soldier in the Guard means serving your community and country while making a difference. The Guard provides education assistance, and offers training in more than 150 career fields including engineering, logistics, infantry, and aviation. Reach out to your local recruiter to learn more.

From an original article by MSG Mark Olson, New Jersey Army National Guard, which appeared in the news section of NationalGuard.mil in October.

 

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California Officer Balances Guard Service with Teaching the Next Generation of Medicine

KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan – To the Soldiers assigned to Train, Advise and Assist Command-South (TAAC-South), Major (MAJ) Nathan Wall, with the California Army National Guard’s 40th Infantry Division, is simply the deputy logistics and medical operations officer for the unit.

However, back home in Loma Linda, Calif., he goes by Dr. Wall, especially with the students of Loma Linda University School of Medicine, where he is a professor.

“I teach molecular genetics and biochemistry to first- and second-year medical students,” MAJ Wall says. “I am also the program director for the Ph.D. programs in biochemistry and in cancer biology for the Ph.D. students.”

MAJ Wall also leads a research group within the university that studies the biochemical and genetic issues associated with cancer.

“We focus on the understanding of how cells undergo a process called apoptosis, or programmed cell death, in hopes that by understanding this process we can design experimental therapeutics that will induce this phenomenon in cancer cells,” he explains.

Balancing Civilian/Military Roles

With a very active role in the university, MAJ Wall manages to balance life as a professor and a California Army Guard Soldier.

“MAJ Wall is a caring and thorough officer,” says Army MAJ Erik Underwood, logistics officer for TAAC-South. “He truly embodies what we call a Citizen-Soldier®; he is exactly the type of leader and Soldier the [Army] National Guard looks for.”

MAJ Wall says he was motivated to enlist after watching the fall of the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York on 9/11.

“It was heart wrenching, and I knew then that I wanted to join Army.”

At the time, he was at Yale University completing a post-doctoral fellowship, and chose to complete his original plans before joining the Army.

Following Yale, he moved with his family to Massachusetts to complete his second post-doctoral training at Harvard Medical School. Only after moving to California to work at Loma Linda University was he able to commission with the California Guard.

“I have been in the Army for 10 years now, and I can say I have never had a bad day in uniform.”

During his time with the Guard, MAJ Wall has served in medical, logistics, and operations specialties. While each required a different focus, the officer has been able to make transitions easily.

“[He] has transitioned from the medical side to logistics very well, and has been able to tie in both branches,” says MAJ Underwood, a native of Yorba Linda, Calif. “His desire to learn, as you can see from his educational background, I believe, has made him successful in his transition.”

MAJ Wall gives credit to his wife and kids for his successes as both a professor and Soldier.

“I would have never joined [the Army] if my wife wouldn’t have joined with me,” he says. “Even though I am serving [in Afghanistan] now, they are serving back in the States in my absence.”

Though he and his family have to deal with separation during deployments and training as part of military life, it’s something the family has experience with from MAJ Wall’s time in graduate school.

MAJ Nathan Wall, of the California Army National Guard’s 40th Infantry Division and the deputy logistics officer for Train, Advise and Assist Command-South in Afghanistan, works in his office in Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan. (Photo by Army SSG Neysa Canfield, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division.)

MAJ Nathan Wall, of the California Army National Guard’s 40th Infantry Division and the deputy logistics officer for Train, Advise and Assist Command-South in Afghanistan, works in his office in Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan. (Photo by Army SSG Neysa Canfield, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division.)

Serving in uniform and educating others in the classroom complement each other, he says, adding that he doesn’t consider himself only a professor or only a Soldier – he’s both.

“For me, one makes the other better. As a Soldier, the skills that I am able to develop affect who I am as a professor, as a father, son, and spouse, and vice versa.”

Nearing End of Deployment

As his nine-month deployment at TAAC-South nears the end, MAJ Wall says he is excited to see his family and his students back at Loma Linda.

“Whenever I get an opportunity, I take some time to put some of my lessons together in preparation for my return to the school,” he says. “I am very thankful for the university and their patience and their ability to let me be a Soldier.”

MAJ Underwood says he feels grateful to have had the opportunity to have MAJ Wall as part of his team during the deployment.

“I think our unit made a great decision in picking MAJ Wall for this deployment,” MAJ Underwood says. “He has done a lot of good for Afghanistan and TAAC-South. The fact that he has a very successful career in his civilian life shows how patriotic he is and how much he wants to serve his country.”

So, if you are interested in having a civilian career and serving your country and community, both of these things can be done simultaneously when you join the Army National Guard.

Guard service is part-time, which gives Soldiers the flexibility to pursue a career outside of the military. Plus, with the Guard’s education benefits, paying for college or a trade school is easier than you might think. Guard Soldiers also receive training in a career in fields like engineering, aviation, infantry, transportation, and more. Check out all of the options on our job board, and contact your local recruiter to learn more.

From an original article by Army SSG Neysa Canfield, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, which appeared in the news section of NationalGuard.mil in August.

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Army National Guard Captain Honored by Latina Style Magazine

LATHAM, N.Y. – At age 15, Elsa Canales arrived in the Long Island suburb of Selden from El Salvador. She spoke very little English. Her parents and five older siblings had left their Central American country to escape rampant violence in 1999.

Nineteen years later, New York Army National Guard Captain (CPT) Elsa Canales is an experienced logistics officer and company commander with nine years of service, a degree from the State University of New York, Stony Brook, and two deployments to Kuwait.

Latina Style Magazine recognized CPT Canales for her military accomplishments during its annual National Latina Symposium, where 12 women serving in the Armed Forces were honored.

CPT Canales represented the Army National Guard.

Being part of the event was a terrific experience, CPT Canales says. Not so much because she got an award, but because of the women she got to meet there.

New York Army National Guard CPT Elsa Canales, a logistics officer, was recognized by Latina Style magazine for her military accomplishments during a Sept. 6, 2018, award ceremony in Arlington, Va. (Photo by Latina Style.)

New York Army National Guard CPT Elsa Canales, a logistics officer, was recognized by Latina Style magazine for her military accomplishments during a Sept. 6, 2018, award ceremony in Arlington, Va. (Photo by Latina Style.)

“A lot of times you think that you are a minority, but when you see so many women in a room full of female generals and colonels, it gives you hope that one day you can be in those positions,” she says.

“I’ve always been proud of being Latina, but just being in that room and hearing amazing stories made (me) kind of feel like, ‘wow!’” she says.

She’s the second New York Army National Guard officer to be honored by the magazine. In 2017, Colonel (COL) Isabel Smith, chief of staff of the 53rd Troop command, received the award.

CPT Canales entered the Army relatively late. She commissioned in 2009 when she was 26; four years older than officers who enter college at 18 and then commission four years later.

After finishing high school, she worked on an associate’s degree at a local community college before going on to Stony Brook for her bachelor’s degree.

At Stony Brook she went to a job fair, and saw a table set up by National Guard recruiters.

“I started looking at the pictures and I thought, ‘that looks awesome,’” she remembers. “I went back home and started thinking about it, and I thought, ‘What better way to give back to this country that gave so much to my family, than to actually join and serve.’”

So Elsa Canales, college student, also became ROTC Cadet Elsa Canales, and then Second Lieutenant (2LT) Elsa Canales when she graduated.

Her first assignment as a lieutenant in the New York Army National Guard was in Company G of the 427th Brigade Support Battalion.

In 2012 she deployed to Kuwait as part of the battalion’s Company D. Once in Kuwait, she was assigned as the executive officer to the forward support company working for the South Carolina Army National Guard’s 4th Battalion, 118th Infantry.

She got back from that Kuwait deployment, and then went back overseas in 2013 with the 642nd Aviation Support Battalion.

She had transferred into the unit for a captain’s position, and when she learned the unit was deploying, she figured it was her duty to go with it, CPT Canales says.

On that deployment she was an assistant operations officer working in the battalion headquarters.

Since returning from Kuwait she’s worked as an operations officer in the joint operations staff in Latham and in the logistics section of the 42nd Infantry Division, and served in the headquarters of the 427th Brigade Support Battalion.

Currently, CPT Canales works full-time as a Department of Defense civilian employee in the Operations and Training Directorate at New York National Guard Headquarters, while also serving as the commander of Company A of the 427th Brigade Support Battalion.

CPT Canales applied to be considered for the Latina Style award only because COL John Andonie, the New York Army National Guard’s chief of staff, told her she should.

COL Andonie says he asked CPT Canales to apply for the award because she is an excellent officer, and he thought she would be a great representative of the Army National Guard in general, and New York in particular.

So CPT Canales filled out the paperwork that asked questions about her career and background, and forgot about it. Then at annual training, she got an email saying she had been selected as the Army National Guard winner.

The best thing about winning the award, CPT Canales says, was being able to be part of an event with so many women with the shared background of a Hispanic heritage and being in the military.

She’s used to being only one of two or three female officers in a meeting, CPT Canales says. And the fact that she has an accent makes her stand out even more.

“You have to make sure that you make a good first impression,” she says.

But being there with all those other successful Latina military women made her realize that “anything is possible.”

So, if you’re interested in exploring your possibilities for the future, the Army National Guard is a great choice, offering more than 150 careers in areas like logistics, administration, infantry, transportation, and more. You can research each and every opportunity on our job board. Besides the training you’ll receive, you’ll also get great benefits like money for college to help further your career.

Guard service is a part-time commitment, which allows Soldiers the flexibility to pursue civilian careers while they serve close to home. For more information, contact your local recruiter.

From an original article by Eric Durr, New York National Guard, which appeared in the news section of NationalGuard.mil in September.

 

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