North Dakota Guard Soldier Gives Back to His Former School in Ghana

SPC Dennis Duku hands out backpacks to schoolchildren at the Dadwen Schools Complex in western Ghana, which he attended years ago. (Photo by AFRICOM.)

SPC Dennis Duku hands out backpacks to schoolchildren at the Dadwen Schools Complex in western Ghana, which he attended years ago. (Photo by AFRICOM.)

ACCRA, Ghana — When he first left Ghana for the United States at age 20, Specialist (SPC) Dennis Duku had no idea that his life would come full circle. Or that he would find himself giving back to his elementary school, a place that helped him become who he is today: a Soldier in the North Dakota Army National Guard.

The story began in 2008 when SPC Duku and his family left Ghana to join his father who was living in Virginia to finish his education. When the family later moved to Moorhead, Minnesota, SPC Duku decided to join the Army National Guard.

“I always knew I wanted to join the military,” he says. “I joined the North Dakota National Guard after I found out I could serve my country, my State, and still work full time.”

SPC Duku joined the 188th Engineer Company, out of Wahpeton, as a heavy equipment operator and plumber.

He later learned about the State Partnership Program (SPP) between the North Dakota Guard and the West African countries of Ghana, Togo, and Benin. An opportunity to visit Ghana came when his unit was chosen to participate in United Accord, a multinational joint exercise designed so the U.S. and its African partners could train together and build readiness across 22 different countries.

“When I found out it was my team that was going, I wondered if I could do something for my people,” says SPC Duku.

He spoke to his wife (also from Ghana) and they decided to purchase backpacks and crayons for the students at his old school – 400 backpacks to be exact. When packed, the items filled 12 suitcases.

“I learned that when I travel on official capacity (in the military), I can have up to five pieces of luggage. That’s when I needed to ask others to help me with the remaining seven.”

His fellow members in the 188th Engineer Company were more than happy to help with anything they could. One of those Soldiers was Sergeant (SSG) Rachelle Barendt Klein, a squad leader in the unit, who first heard about what SPC Duku was doing when he was unloading the extra bags at the armory.

“The unit was supportive. They helped load and unload the extra bags and haul them through the airport,” says SSG Klein. “The suitcases were packed light, so they could check the bags without paying the airport fees. SPC Duku and the rest of us spread and shared his story, with pride, when anyone in line would ask.”

Once in Ghana, the entire company wanted to help at the school, but logistically, it was going to be more challenging than expected. In the end, a team of three made the trip.

“Everyone wanted to come with me. I was overwhelmed; I wanted to help my school, and everyone in my unit wanted to help my school, too. It was really surprising to me. I was really excited,” says SPC Duku.

It was about a six-hour drive to SPC Duku’s school, Dadwen Schools Complex, in the western part of Ghana. When the team arrived, they were greeted by Ghana’s municipal chief executive and hundreds of excited school children.

“The level of excitement was surreal,” says SSG Klein. “I look back and I am not sure who was more excited – us or the kids. SPC Duku talked to the kids, old classmates, and teachers. School songs were sung, (there were) prayers, hugs, so many smiles, happy tears. SPC Duku was so humble. He repeatedly pointed out how he just wanted to give back.”

The children at the school were walking a very long distance to use the washroom, so SPC Duku bought and donated 100 bags of cement to begin construction of a new washroom closer to the classrooms.

“In terms of class, my school would be considered third-class,” says SPC Duku. “They lack certain things. They have good infrastructure, but as far as student amenities, they do not have basic things. I left there [Ghana] in 2003 and have never been back since. When I saw it again, it was the same as when I was there. Nothing had changed in those years. It looked like no one was helping. I became the local hero; they were really happy to see me and my guys.”

During the same trip, SPC Duku’s unit, with the help of Soldiers from the 353rd Civil Affairs Command, Ghana Armed Forces, and the Royal Netherlands Army, also built and donated 40 desks to L&A Memorial Academy, another school in Accra, Ghana.

Giving back is one of the many benefits to joining the Army National Guard. Other benefits include education assistance and the ability to serve part-time in a job (Military Occupational Specialty) of your choice. If you’re passionate about making a difference in your State and country, contact your local recruiter for more information.

From an original article by MAJ Amber Schatz, Joint Force Headquarters, which appeared in the news section of NationalGuard.mil in November.

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Guard Helicopter Pilot: ‘The Sky Is Actually Not the Limit’

MCALLEN, Texas — In a small barbed-wire enclosed yard in Tamaulipas, Mexico, three hours south of the Texas-Mexico border, 6-year-old Liliana Chavez Uribe marveled at the sight of crop dusters flying over her home and dreamed that one day she, too, could fly.

A short 18 years later, Second Lieutenant (2LT) Liliana Chavez Uribe smiles as she recalls the memory that propelled her forward and ever upward.

“I grew up in a rural area where we didn’t have running water – we had wells,” 2LT Chavez, 24, says. “We had outhouses, so, no toilets, and the first time I saw a shower I was in second or third grade – I grew up in the projects.”

2LT Chavez, now an Aeromedical Evacuation Officer, 2nd Battalion, 149th Aviation Regiment, General Support Aviation Battalion, who flies Black Hawk and Lakota helicopters for the Texas Army National Guard, says her accomplishments are far beyond what her 6-year-old self could have imagined.

“I have been wanting to fly since the first time I saw an airplane, but I kind of put that dream aside, since I thought it was very competitive. It was like dreaming to be a movie star ­– you put it aside because you think it will never happen.”

Despite the obstacles she and her family endured as immigrants during their journey, 2LT Chavez realized her dreams were more of a reality than she thought.

“I came here as a permanent resident,” she says. “My dad worked his butt off to get us all here the correct, legal way, and now I am a citizen.”

It was during her high school years in Pharr, Texas, that 2LT Chavez discovered her love for the disciplined military structure when she joined the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps.

She graduated fifth in her high school class with an associate degree under her belt and landed a two-year Texas Armed Services scholarship to the University of Texas Pan-American, where she joined the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) and studied biology.

“In ROTC I got the opportunity to go up for the aviation board,” 2LT Chavez says. “I put in the packet, took a physical fitness test, went before a whole bunch of important people and was selected.”

She graduated flight school and Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape (SERE) training. SERE is a requirement for all pilots and U.S. Special Forces that tests participants’ mental and physical fortitude to prepare them to evade capture and survive extreme conditions and unforgiving elements.

Fighting ‘Lowest Moment’ with Laughter 

2LT Chavez says that SERE training was the most challenging experience she has faced in her life.

“My lowest moment (during the training), I can’t say it, but it was really, really low,” she says. “But I started laughing, even though there were tears coming out of my eyes. It was tough, but I always had a positive attitude. I tried to sing and make something positive out of a crappy situation.”

2LT Chavez credits her father’s work ethic as the reason she is so driven to overcome the multitude of challenges she faced during SERE training.

“My dad, he is really motivating. He works in construction, in roofing. He would come back home just burned and blistered – every day, non-stop, and he never complained.”

‘I Embrace Every Stereotype’ 

2LT Chavez remembers being one of three women, and the only Hispanic woman, in her flight school class.

“There is a challenge in being a Hispanic woman and being a minority – that’s two things,” she says. “But now, I think it’s a great thing, because we can actually go all the way to the top.”

The pilot says that she overcomes discrimination the same way that she conquered her challenges during SERE training – with a splash of humor.

“I just play along with it, and I say ‘so what? I don’t care, I’ll make you tacos right now,’” 2LT Chavez says. “I’ll prove a point, I’m Mexican, I’ll braid my hair. I embrace every stereotype, and I think that’s the way to do it instead of being thin-skinned.”

Regardless of all the obstacles she has faced, whether it was getting through college, financial setbacks, discrimination, or SERE, 2LT Chavez never saw failure as an option.

2LT Liliana Chavez Uribe

2LT Liliana Chavez Uribe, Texas Army National Guard

“My main drive was not to disappoint my father. I wanted to finish school and do amazing things for myself and him, also. I want to eventually pay him back for all he has done for us.”

2LT Chavez, a lean five-and-a-half-feet tall, walks ruler-straight and with purpose, radiating positivity while also having a steadfast command presence.

“The leader I hope to be – I expect to touch many, many lives,” she says. “I am already a joyful leader, always looking at the positive side. I am always smiling. I don’t want to be bitter. If you aren’t happy and have a moody face that is contagious.”

 ‘I Want to Fly it All’

When 2LT Chavez talks about her job and flying, her face lights up, and her voice exudes an energetic tone which proves that long after achieving her dream of flying, she is still filled with the same wonder and awe she had watching the crop dusters as a young girl.

“I want to fly a fixed wing. I want to fly it all (all aircraft),” she said.

The pilot reflected upon where she would be in life had her father not moved their family to the United States.

“I would be living a sad life, probably with like, five kids, not in school, not educated or maybe something even worse – just the way stuff is down there.”

Her father, Silvano Chavez, disagrees.

“If we hadn’t come here, nothing would be different,” Chavez said. “Liliana serves as an example that if you work hard and persevere you can get to where you want to be, and if Lily were in Mexico, she would move somewhere else and still succeed because that is the way she is.”

Many Dreams Left to Fulfill

Although she has reached what her family and many people would see as the pinnacle of success, 2LT Chavez says she still has many dreams to fulfill.

“My other plan is to go back to school for earth and coastal sciences, diving and studying earth forms. I want to be an astronaut, too, one day.”

Chavez has a message for other girls who have big “movie star dreams” like hers.

“I’d tell them don’t limit yourself, the sky is actually not the limit – you can be an astronaut if you want to.”

So, if you’re ready to test your limits, the Army National Guard offers plenty of options, right in your own community, where you’ll maintain your military training on a part-time basis. This flexibility gives you time to pursue a civilian career, too, which can be accomplished a lot easier when you take advantage of the Guard’s education benefits

Check out our job board, which can be searched by location or the type of career you’re interested in, from aviation to armor and field artillery, to military police, logistics support, and more. For personalized advice, contact your local recruiter.

From an original story by 1LT Nadine Wiley De Moura, 100th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, which appeared in the news section of NationalGuard.mil, in May 2018.

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Guard Sniper School Trains Soldiers to Take Out Targets and Provide Battlefield Intelligence

Becoming a sniper in the Army National Guard won’t get you extra pay or even a patch on your uniform, but this Additional Skill Identifier, which will be added to your military records, is highly coveted among Soldiers.

That’s because sniper school is hard to get into in the first place. It’s also highly demanding, according to Staff Sergeant (SSG) Aaron Pierce, an instructor at the National Guard Marksmanship Training Center in North Little Rock, Ark., one of two Army schools that offer sniper training.

The school is limited to Soldiers in the 11 and 18 series of Military Occupational Specialties (MOSs). The 11 series covers 11B Infantryman and 11C Indirect Fire Infantryman. The 18 series are jobs in Special Forces.

SSG Pierce explains that typically a Unit’s Scout platoon holds competitions to test Soldiers’ land navigation, marksmanship, and physical training to determine which Soldier gets to go to the school, which lasts 42 days with no breaks and many 18-hour days. Only 160 Soldiers are accepted to Pierce’s school per year.

SSG Aaron Pierce (at right), a Sniper School instructor with the National Guard Marksmanship Training Center, coaches a student.

SSG Aaron Pierce (at right), a Sniper School instructor with the National Guard Marksmanship Training Center, coaches a student.

SSG Pierce recommends that Soldiers be in the top percentages of the PT scores because the job is physically demanding. Instead of a normal 35-pound rucksack, a sniper might carry 60 pounds on his back and have to walk a number of miles or even crawl to accomplish the mission.

Intestinal fortitude is a must-have, according to SSG Pierce.

“You’re using powered optics. You’re going to know whether you’ve eliminated that individual target,” says SSG Pierce, who turned down Army Ranger School to attend Sniper School in 2007. “You’re going to see it. It’s going to be personal.”

Also: “In the sniper world, you are in the business of hunting men,” he says. “There is a very high risk of capture or being killed because you don’t have a lot of support.”

Book smarts also play a role.

“Your ASVAB score has to be significant to attend this school. There are a lot of formulations. It is academically demanding,” says SSG Pierce. “If you struggle in mathematics, you are going to suffer badly in this school.”

Students must also have received an expert rifle qualification within the last 6 months.

But being a sniper isn’t just about pulling the trigger. When you go to sniper school, you’ll learn two roles – being a sniper and being the spotter, or the person who does most of the calculations to ensure the round meets the target.

“You have to know both jobs equally. If you’re a sniper, then you’re also a spotter,” says SSG Pierce.

For more about that, see the video below.

In fact, the more senior sniper typically works as the spotter who uses a kestrel, a hand-held ballistic computer, and a data book that contains DOPE, or Data of Previous Engagement. The distance of each target requires an elevation dialed onto the scope. The kestrel takes in the muzzle velocity, atmospheric conditions, and the caliber of the weapon to provide the elevation, and all of this is recorded in the data book.

The tricky part for the spotter, says SSG Pierce, is using an optic to read the wind – both for speed and direction.

“The bullet is going to curve in to the target, so if the wind is blowing left to right, we need to dial our crosshairs to the left because we know the bullet is going to be pushed to the right.”

SSG Pierce says the first three weeks of school are devoted to shooting moving and stationary objects, and estimating range. The second half is more marksmanship work, plus fieldcraft, which is stalking a target while remaining undetectable thanks to a ghillie suit. The suit provides camouflage that can be adjusted by attaching surrounding foliage to it.

Despite all the cool gadgets and stealthy moves, SSG Pierce says the job of a sniper isn’t always as glamorous as it may seem.

“Even though your primary mission is to deliver precision rifle fire, the secondary mission of a sniper is to collect battlefield information.”

While deployed to Iraq, SSG Pierce split his duties between conducting infantry patrols and operations and his role as a sniper. Most of his sniper missions involved watching main supply routes.

“You’re collecting information for follow-on forces most of the time. It’s mission first and not your own desires to use your skills to engage targets.”

And while being a sniper may not translate directly to a civilian job other than working on a SWAT team, when explained correctly to a potential employer, this Additional Skill Identifier has its merits, says SSG Pierce.

“You can certainly say that it is a very demanding school that only a small percentage of Soldiers attend. It requires intelligence, discipline, intestinal fortitude, and physical fitness,” says SSG Pierce. “It requires you to think outside the box and make snap, educated decisions. Certainly those disciplines can be applied to other things.”

So, if you’re ready to test your discipline, consider joining the Army National Guard, which, besides Infantry and Special Forces jobs, offers training in more than 130 careers. Search our job board by location, job field, or keyword, or contact your local recruiter for personalized advice.

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