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.

Share on FacebookShare on Twitter

New York Guardsmen Build STEM Learning Center During Training Mission

HALEIWA, Hawaii – While most New York Army National Guard Soldiers spent their 2019 annual training at Fort Drum, Fort Indiantown Gap, or Joint Base Dix-McGuire-Lakehurst, 45 Soldiers from the 204th Engineer Battalion did their training in Hawaii.

Soldiers from 1156th Engineer Company were selected to participate in an Innovative Readiness Training (IRT) rotation at Girl Scout Camp Paumalu in Haleiwa, Hawaii, this summer. IRT is a joint service program that began in 1993, providing real-world training opportunities for service members to prepare them for wartime missions while supporting the needs of America’s underserved communities.

Communities typically provide materials and basic services, while military units contribute personnel and resources. IRT is designed to produce mission-ready forces, civil-military partnerships, and stronger communities.

“The Hawaii Girl Scout Camp IRT is an outstanding program for New York Army National Guard engineers which will benefit the local community while fostering an environment for our Soldiers to grow, develop, and prepare for future missions,” says Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) Wing Yu, commander of the 204th Engineer Battalion.

Along with service members from other U.S. military components, New York’s engineers have been working at the camp to help build a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) learning center for the Girl Scouts.

Chief Warrant Officer 2 (CW2) Oliverio Hernandez explains that this was not a volunteer mission. Service members were selected by their chain of command because of their standings in the unit and their military job training.

“We were hand-selected for this rotation because they needed our specific skill sets,” he says.

The 23-year veteran with the Army National Guard has been through myriad training missions and environments across the U.S., but this was the first of its kind for him.

“This IRT is actually a large-scale project that we’re building from the bottom up,” CW2 Hernandez says. “This is more than just equipment familiarization; this is practical application in a real-world environment with a real-world impact.”

The IRT mission took Soldiers out of their normal home stations and forced them to adapt to a new, different, and challenging environment.

Another unique benefit of IRT is that it’s geared toward developing junior and future leaders.

PFC Jesse Velez, a plumber assigned to the 1156th Engineer Company, 204th Engineer Battalion, New York Army National Guard, measures a board before cutting it during an Innovative Readiness Training (IRT) mission at Camp Paumalu, Haleiwa, Hawaii, July 31, 2019. (Photo by SSG Michael Davis).

Lower enlisted service members are not only doing the hands-on training that wouldn’t normally occur in a drill weekend or annual training, they are also given the opportunity to teach and learn from their peers.

Most Soldiers on the roster have the rank of Private First Class (PFC) or Specialist (SPC), which is just below Sergeant (SGT), and will soon become non-commissioned officers (NCOs) with management responsibilities. This mission affords Soldiers the time and opportunity to practice training others, as well as learning the patience it takes to be an effective leader.

“Learning and instructing that happens at the lower levels builds a greater sense of team and unit cohesion, which all adds to the readiness for the force,” CW2 Hernandez says. “They’re getting to manage, teach, and learn during a real mission.”

Two of these future leaders who are an integral part of the mission are PFC Anthony Allen and PFC Jesse Velez. Both are members of the 1156th Engineer Company, and each has a civilian trade that enhances his military job and this mission.

PFC Allen has been in the New York Amy National Guard for two years. He’s a 12W Carpentry and Masonry Specialist for his unit, who was also assigned as the chainsaw trainer and team leader for the IRT mission because of his civilian experience.

He wasn’t sure what to expect when he arrived on the worksite, but he knew it wouldn’t be anything like what he was used to back home.

“We’ve had challenges, but our biggest one so far is definitely the weather,” he says.

Even though he’s only been with the Guard a short time, PFC Allen has the mindset and determination of a seasoned veteran.

“It doesn’t matter what we come across, we’re going to work through it.”

PFC Velez is a 12K Plumber on his very first mission with the Guard.

“This is the perfect place to test what the Army just trained me to do in Basic and Advanced Individual Training,” he says.

While being grateful for the opportunities the National Guard has already afforded him, he’s looking to contribute his skills to the mission and continue learning as much as he can.

“This is the true definition of one-fight, one-team. We’re building community relationships together – showing them they can count on us!”

Once the IRT portion is complete, the Girl Scouts will have only a fraction of the building to be completed before they can begin to teach girls and boys from across all the islands.

Shari Chang, Girl Scouts of Hawaii CEO and a fourth-generation Girl Scout, says she applied for the IRT program knowing she could partner with a skilled labor force that would have the capabilities and expertise to make the project happen.

The estimated completion date is September 2020.

“We are so thankful for the support from the military on this project,” says Chang. “The whole process is now coming to fruition, and it has been an amazing opportunity for both of us.”

Army National Guard Soldiers are dedicated to serving their communities, and an IRT is just one of the many opportunities to do so. If you’re passionate about making an impact, consider joining the Guard. Explore more than 130 exciting careers in fields like logistics, technology, and transportation on our job board, and contact a recruiter to learn how you can serve today!

From an original article by SSG Michael Davis, New York National Guard, which appeared in the news section of NationalGuard.mil in August 2019.

Share on FacebookShare on Twitter

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.

 

Share on FacebookShare on Twitter