Ohio’s First Female Infantry Officer on COVID-19 Front Lines

2LT Colleen O’Callaghan
2LT Colleen O’Callaghan, a platoon leader with the Ohio Army National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 148th Infantry Regiment, oversees her team at Second Harvest Food Bank of Clark, Champaign and Logan Counties in Springfield, Ohio. O’Callaghan is the Ohio National Guard’s first female Army Infantry Officer in its 232-year history. (Photo by SPC Max Elliott.)

COLUMBUS, Ohio – The Ohio Army National Guard’s support during the COVID-19 pandemic has presented many firsts for the organization.

It marks the first time since the Blizzard of 1978 that the Army National Guard has responded to serve the State on such a large scale. The Guard’s overall COVID-19 response, known as Operation Steady Resolve, is the first time Ohio’s Army Guard, Air Guard, Naval Militia, and Military Reserve have been activated under one joint task force.

Among the hundreds of Soldiers, Airmen, and other personnel who have answered the call to serve on the front lines of the COVID-19 response is one who had already achieved an historic first of her own for the organization. Second Lieutenant (2LT) Colleen O’Callaghan is the first woman in the Ohio National Guard’s 232-year history to become an Army Infantry Officer.

With the integration of women into combat arms still in its infancy – the Department of Defense began allowing them to serve in direct combat Units more than five years ago – 2LT O’Callaghan took a leap of faith to start her journey toward becoming an Infantry Officer.

Graduating the Army’s Infantry Basic Officer Leaders Course (IBOLC) was an accomplishment 2LT O’Callaghan says she never envisioned when she began her career in the Ohio Army National Guard. Along with help from her recruitment team, she navigated the obstacles to pave the way for herself and other women to join the Infantry branch.

“I really wanted to take on a big challenge,” 2LT O’Callaghan says. “So, I walked into the Army National Guard recruiting office and told them I want to be an Infantry Officer. I saw it as an opportunity to reinvent myself and serve my country.”

2LT O’Callaghan earned her blue cord – a military decoration worn over the right shoulder on an Army dress uniform by all Infantry-qualified Soldiers – in October after a successful 12 weeks of IBOLC training at Fort Benning, Georgia. The installation is home to the Maneuver Center of Excellence, which also trains armor and cavalry Soldiers, as well as oversees specialty training, including the U.S. Army Ranger and Airborne schools.

After completing Officer Candidate School with a near equal number of men and women, 2LT O’Callaghan was one of only three women in her IBOLC class. Despite being the first woman in the Ohio National Guard to branch into infantry, 2LT O’Callaghan says her experience was the same as any other Soldier’s. She found her peers and cadre supportive of her decision, actively encouraging her throughout the course and treating her professionally.

“The cadre and staff there were really excited and were really understanding of the position I was in. It can be awkward being one of the only females,” says 2LT O’Callaghan. “But I ended up making some great friends and definitely had some memorable experiences.”

Colonel (COL) Matthew Woodruff, commander of the 37th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, attended O’Callaghan’s IBOLC graduation ceremony and met with her family and course cadre.

“This (was) an historic event for the Ohio Army National Guard to have the first female Infantry Officer complete IBOLC,” COL Woodruff says. “It means a lot for the 1-148th (1st Battalion, 148th Infantry Regiment), the 37th IBCT (the major subordinate command over the 1-148th), and the Ohio Army National Guard in paving the way for future female Soldiers, NCOs (noncommissioned officers), and officers to be in combat arms in Ohio.”

2LT O’Callaghan, of Xenia, Ohio, attended her first drill weekend in January as a platoon leader with the Ohio Army National Guard’s Company C, 1-148th, in Tiffin. Shortly thereafter, the coronavirus outbreak hit Ohio, forcing many businesses to close. It also meant a civilian job opportunity for 2LT O’Callaghan was put on hold. So, when the Ohio National Guard created a joint task force in response to Gov. Mike DeWine’s call for the Guard to provide support during the COVID-19 pandemic, it only made sense to 2LT O’Callaghan that she answer the call to volunteer.

“I had just accepted a role at a new job, but they could not start me until after the (governor’s) stay-at-home order was lifted,” 2LT O’Callaghan says. “So, I volunteered to be put on orders and help the State until I could start my new civilian role.”

2LT O’Callaghan was able to serve close to her Southwest Ohio home, at the Second Harvest Food Bank of Clark, Champaign, and Logan Counties in Springfield. As officer-in-charge of the approximately 40 military personnel staffing the food bank, she led a joint team responsible for a variety of mission sets, including drive-thru food distribution and home deliveries across Second Harvest’s rural, tri-county coverage area.

2LT O’Callaghan says her experience as a new Officer was enhanced by support from her senior NCOs. While Infantry Officers don’t typically train to run food bank operations, she was able to use her administrative expertise from previous civilian jobs while capitalizing on the variety of skills her team members had to offer. Together, they were able to efficiently operate at the food bank and serve fellow Ohioans in need.

The public’s response in Springfield has been overwhelmingly positive.

“There were a lot of people who were just very grateful there was help available,” she says. “I would stand toward the front of drive-thru distributions to greet people as they arrived; they were always very positive and thankful we were there to help them when they needed it most.”

2LT O’Callaghan says she felt gratified to serve her friends and neighbors in such a direct way. The Army National Guard is unique in that it allows Soldiers like 2LT O’Callaghan to serve in their communities, which has helped her make the place she calls home even better.

“We genuinely want to be here. We have all volunteered and we are all serving relatively close to our homes whenever possible,” she says. “Everybody wants to help because there are so many people (who are) out of work and need assistance, and we have the ability to do it.”

2LT O’Callaghan says she wants her service as both a female Infantry Officer and a member of the Ohio Army National Guard during Operation Steady Resolve to inspire others to start their own journey and, ultimately, pursue opportunities to serve their Community, State, and Nation.

“I didn’t get here on my own, and at no point was I alone,” she says. “What I hope to do is encourage other women to take on something extremely challenging and take the leap.”

The Army National Guard offers positions in more than 130 career fields, so you can serve your community in a way that’s right for you. Opportunities include supply and logistics, admin and relations, transport, and more. Check out the job board for more information on available careers, and contact a local recruiter to learn more. 

From an original article by 1LT Kevin Livingston, Ohio National Guard, which appeared in the news section of NationalGuard.mil on July 21, 2020.

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Citizen-Warrior: Guard Soldier Melds Military, Gridiron Experience

2LT Devin King, with the Ohio Army National Guard’s Battery C, 1st Battalion, 134th Field Artillery Regiment, also serves as the long snapper on the Ohio University football team.  (Photo by Abigail Dean, Ohio Athletics)

ATHENS, Ohio – Army National Guard Second Lieutenant (2LT) Devin King puts on his uniform when on duty with the Ohio Army National Guard’s Battery C, 1st Battalion, 134th Field Artillery Regiment. He wears a different uniform on weekends during college football season, as the long snapper on Ohio University’s team.

2LT King, like many other Ohio National Guard Soldiers, is also a college student.

He enlisted in May 2014 while still a senior at Sheridan High School in Thornville, Ohio, because he planned to go to Ohio University in Athens to wrestle. Without a scholarship, King needed a way to pay the tuition. Enlisting enabled him to do so.

Citizen-Soldiers earn benefits to help pay for education and expenses while serving their country and their community.

“My father recommended looking into the Guard to help pay for school, and I took that opportunity,” says 2LT King. “I also viewed it as a great way to serve my community and country.”

Once at Ohio, he joined the university’s Army ROTC program and was recently commissioned as a Second Lieutenant.

In early 2018, his roommate talked him into trying out for the football team — not much of a stretch since 2LT King played football in high school. His skills impressed the coaches, and he made the team as a walk-on. When an injury sidelined the starting long snapper during the first game of the season, he stepped into the position.

This year, he has the starting job and a full scholarship.

“I remember the week before the first game (last season) thinking, ‘Wow, I’m really playing (NCAA) Division I football,’” he says. “Stepping into that starting role full-time really meant a lot to me. I put in a lot of practice time during the summer, and it really paid off.”

2LT King graduated with a bachelor’s degree in health service administration in December 2018, and he’s on target to earn his master’s in coaching education. Next on his list of goals is to attend the Field Artillery Basic Officer Leader Course and play in the NFL.

Meanwhile, 2LT King continues to balance life as a Soldier and student-athlete, to be the best warrior-athlete he can be for both of his teams.

“I think there are a lot of great lessons and values the military can give you to help prepare you to be a student-athlete,” he says. “Working together as a cohesive team in the military to accomplish a task or mission can be directly carried over to sports, to help lead and bring teammates together to work toward the common goal we have of being conference champions and successful on the national scale.”

2LT King also credits his military experience for giving him the tools to handle time management and prioritize tasks.

His experience may have influenced his younger brother, Chance, who also enlisted. His brother, a Private First Class, earned recognition as a distinguished honor grad after completing basic training. He’s now at Advanced Individual Training to learn skills for his job as a 14G Air Defense Battle Management System Operator.

“Chance thinks very highly of me, as I do of him, and he has the same drive to go above and beyond expectations that are set for him,” says 2LT King. “I couldn’t be more proud of him and the success he has had early in his career.”

2LT King has set an example for his brother as he finds success on the football field, in the classroom, and in the Ohio Army National Guard.

The Army National Guard gives you the opportunity to pursue an education or civilian career while serving part-time in your home State. With positions in more than 130 career fields, ranging from Intelligence to Police and Protection to Munitions, you can find your perfect fit. Check out the job board for more information on available careers, and contact a local recruiter to learn more.  From an original article by Stephanie Beougher, Ohio National Guard, which appeared in the news section of NationalGuard.mil on Jan. 1, 2020.

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Guard Soldier Exhibits Warrior Spirit in Everything She Does

COLUMBUS, Ohio – After her first year of college, Valerie Stearns came to the conclusion that she wanted to do more with her life.

“I realized that I had greater potential,” she says. “That’s when I decided to enlist in the Ohio Army National Guard.”

That was nine years ago.

Now serving as the executive officer of the Ohio Army National Guard’s 1191st Engineer Company, First Lieutenant (1LT) Stearns has deployed to Afghanistan with a military police company, and was one of the first female Soldiers integrated into combat arms roles. She served as the first female platoon leader in the 812th Engineer Company (Sapper) and leads the 1191st Engineer Company’s search and extraction team.

1LT Stearns gets an end-of-the-year hug from her third-grade class at Fostoria Elementary School in Fostoria, Ohio.

1LT Stearns says that one of the most rewarding aspects of serving in those capacities is having a positive impact on others, which shares something in common with the civilian job she’s had for the past two years – teaching third-graders and pre-kindergarten students.

“My favorite part about being a teacher is making an impact on individual lives every day. I love developing exciting lessons that allow students to reach their full potential and providing creative resources for students to learn.”

Though she loves teaching, 1LT Stearns recently stepped away from the classroom for a full-time slot in the Army National Guard.

1LT Stearns has a competitive spirit, which is what drives her to excel in everything she does.

“It’s important to step out of your comfort zone and challenge yourself in new ways. It’s how you become better.”

It was that love of competition that led her to compete in the Ohio Army National Guard Combatives Tournament – an annual competition that tests Soldiers’ skills and hand-to-hand combat techniques learned through the Modern Army Combatives Program, a core Soldier competency.

1LT Valerie Stearns, executive officer with the Ohio Army National Guard’s 1191st Engineer Company, stands with MG John C. Harris Jr., after she won the lightweight division championship at the 2018 Ohio Army National Guard Combatives Tournament in Columbus, Ohio.

She won last year’s lightweight division championship and is looking forward to defending her title in September.

“Competing in the Combatives Tournament is a way to build camaraderie and helps instill the warrior spirit,” she says.

With her dedicated spirit and heart for developing young minds, 1LT Stearns is stepping out of her comfort zone to grow as a Citizen-Soldier® in the Ohio National Guard.

The Army National Guard gives you the flexibility to serve part-time and close to home so you can serve your State and Nation while you pursue a college degree and a civilian career. The Guard offers education assistance and career training in more than 130 fields including infantry, aviation, intelligence, engineering, and more. Check out our job board for more information on all of these careers, and a contact a recruiter today.

From an original article by Stephanie Beougher, Ohio National Guard, which appeared in the news section of NationalGuard.mil in May 2019.

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