Guard Soldier Jumps Straight from Basic Training to Elite Army Schools

SPC Connor McGuffee

SPC Connor McGuffee, a Louisiana National Guard Soldier with 2nd Battalion, 156th Infantry Regiment, 256th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, outside his Unit’s armory in New Iberia, La. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Garrett Dipuma.)

NEW IBERIA, Louisiana – Army National Guard Specialist (SPC) Connor McGuffee dove headfirst into his military career by completing both the U.S. Army’s Airborne and Ranger schools right after basic training, a feat that took him 13 months to accomplish.

SPC McGuffee, 21, joined the Louisiana Army National Guard so he could earn a degree from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette before entering the workforce as a full-time Soldier. The Guard offers education benefits to help pay for your tuition and expenses, and, because service is part-time, you can complete your education while you serve.

“I’ve always wanted to be in the Army, but I want to get my degree before I go active,” says SPC McGuffee, 2nd Battalion, 156th Infantry Regiment, 256th Infantry Brigade Combat Team. “The National Guard just looked like a good option since I could go to a physical school full-time and have my tuition covered while still starting my military career.”

He says he was particularly excited at the chance to attend an elite military training course right out of the gate.

“I jumped at the chance to go to Ranger school when it was offered to me,” says SPC McGuffee. “My dad was a Ranger, and I grew up hearing stories from him about his time in the military.”

During basic training, SPC McGuffee and other top-performing Soldiers were offered the chance to attend the course on the condition they maintain the high standards they exhibited.

“My dad was shocked when I wrote home to tell him I was going to Ranger school,” says SPC McGuffee. “I feel really lucky that I was in the right place at the right time to get that opportunity.”

McGuffee says the course was as tough as one would expect, if not harder for somebody who was still new to the military.

“I had just learned the basic concepts the instructors were trying to teach, so being so new was definitely a challenge,” he says. “The hardest part, though, was just constantly failing at what seemed like everything.”

The new Ranger explains that the course is designed that way. Every situation is set up as nearly impossible to complete without error, and one person can fail because of a shortcoming exhibited by another team member. This builds stress, and eventually, Ranger candidates develop excellent critical thinking and communication skills in situations of high stress and fatigue.

“I got recycled once because I let one of my team members fall asleep,” says SPC McGuffee. “But that taught me one of the best lessons I took away from the course; teamwork and discipline are necessary to succeed, and I think that applies in military and civilian life.”

As far as preparing for Ranger school, SPC McGuffee has some straightforward advice for would-be candidates: Go in with a mantra of knowing you will earn the tab and never give up. He says that although the course was not as physically challenging as he thought it would be, it was extremely difficult, even though he was in peak condition from his high school football career and constant workouts leading up to Ranger school.

“During basic, pretty much all of my downtime was committed to extra exercise to prepare. I was working out twice a day running, lifting weights, and doing bodyweight exercises between basic and Ranger school,” says SPC McGuffee. “It’s a hard course that you definitely need to be mentally and physically ready for before you get there.”

Now that he is home, SPC McGuffee enjoys his free time spending time with his family playing Dungeons and Dragons or MechWarrior.

“Basic training and Ranger school were really challenging, but I loved every moment I was there,” says SPC McGuffee. “Those were some of the best times I’ve had in my life, and I can’t see myself wanting to work outside of the military now.”

With positions in more than 130 career fields ranging from Ground Forces, to Technology and Networking, to Intelligence, and Aviation, you can find your perfect fit with the Army National Guard. Check out the job board for more information on available careers, and contact a local recruiter to learn more. 

From an original article by Staff Sgt. Garrett Dipuma, Louisiana National Guard, which appeared in the news section of NationalGuard.mil in February 2020.

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Guard Chaplain Says Serving Once a Month is Not Enough

CPT Rachel Zarnke with the Four Chaplins Medal
CPT Rachel Zarnke, Chaplain for the New Jersey Army National Guard’s 1st Squadron, 102nd Cavalry Regiment, displays The Four Chaplains Medal she was presented with in Jordan last June. The four chaplains – two Protestant ministers, a rabbi, and a Catholic priest – went down with the torpedoed USAT Dorchester during World War II, giving up their own life preservers so others might survive. (Photo by SFC Brian A. Barbour, Army National Guard.)

Captain (CPT) Rachel Zarnke loves serving as a Chaplain in the Army National Guard so much that coming to drill “one weekend a month is not enough.”

“I love being an Army Chaplain,” she says. “I love the mission. I just want to do it every day.”

The 33-year-old Soldier is joining the active duty Army this summer so she can serve full-time, but after eight years with the New Jersey Army National Guard, she leaves on many high notes.

One is being awarded with the Four Chaplains Medal in 2019, which is presented to one Army Chaplain a year for “collegial selfless behavior while rendering religious support to the military community regardless of faith or race.” For that, she thanks her first Unit – the 104th Brigade Engineer Battalion – because “they grew me and taught me what it meant to be a Chaplain.”

Another is a 9-month deployment to Jordan with the 102nd Calvary Regiment, where she learned it was OK to take this next step in her career. Her mission there was to support Soldiers of any faith or no faith at all and be their “morality, ethical, and spiritual touchstone,” she says.

“When deployed, you are absent normal touchstones,” she explains. “It can become disorienting very quickly. Having a Chaplain able to reorient people on their values, their goals, and what is real, and what is just sort of the fog of the deployment is important.”

As a Christian minister, CPT Zarnke represents her faith tradition, but to help Soldiers of different or no faith, she listens and asks Soldiers how their spiritual traditions or their value sets might instruct them to resolve a problem. During the deployment, if she felt a Soldier needed support beyond what she could provide, she referred them to other resources as necessary.

In Jordan to support Operation Spartan Shield last year, CPT Zarnke also led “spiritual resiliency trips” to places that carry religious, spiritual, cultural, or environmental significance.

“Being in a place where God has been is very important to me, so to be able to share that part of my faith with my Soldiers was incredible.”

CPT Zarnke, an Illinois native, was in seminary school at Princeton when she decided to join the military. Since she was a full-time student, the Guard was the perfect branch to join because service is part-time. CPT Zarnke also served as a minister in a Lutheran church in New Jersey for 3 1/2 years.

The military, she says, showed her there were infinite ways to serve.

“I don’t like to play the demographic game, but when you are a young female, trying to step up and lead in a church, no one wants to listen to you. Not intentionally, it’s just not a voice people are used to deferring to. The Army teaches you to stay in your lane – to know what you know and to lead. It was a life-changing experience.”

CPT Zarnke especially likes working with younger Soldiers who are still figuring out who they are.

“I think a Soldier’s heart is amazing. They are so selfless, and so honorable, and to be able to support them in their moments of need really means a lot to me.”

In her first domestic mission, CPT Zarnke lent her support during Hurricane Sandy in 2012, providing what she calls “ministry of presence –  just being there for your Soldiers,” whether it’s to thank them on behalf of the citizens of New Jersey for responding to the devastating storm, being a safe person to talk to or pray with, or to provide them with the Eucharist because many churches were closed.

At drill, her job is to get to know the 300 to 400 Soldiers in her Unit and provide worship services and Bible studies, but her most fulfilling mission is “whenever I’m called outside of drill and there’s a need I can meet.” That could mean meeting up with a Soldier in a hospital, a coffee shop, or a laundromat to lend her support.

When CPT Zarnke looks back on her early days in the Guard, she says she had no idea what she’d gotten herself into, but “the Army will teach you what it needs from you. I could never repay the Army for everything it’s given me. It is an incredible community.”

If you’re interested in joining a community of dedicated women and men who serve both their communities and their country, Guard service comes with benefits that go beyond personal fulfillment. You’ll train for a career in one of 130 specialties, including everything from Administrative jobs to Police and Protection roles to serving on the front lines as part of Ground Forces. Guard Soldiers are also eligible for money for college, low-cost health and life insurance, and more.

Contact your local recruiter for more information about the Army National Guard.

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Maryland Army National Guard Member Wise Beyond Her Rank

WO1 Karinn Hemingway, a 110th Information Operations Battalion Information Services Technician, commissions as a Maryland Army National Guard Warrant Officer during a graduation and pinning ceremony in October 2019. (Photo by Major Kurt Rauschenberg.)
WO1 Karinn Hemingway, a 110th Information Operations Battalion Information Services Technician, commissions as a Maryland Army National Guard Warrant Officer during a graduation and pinning ceremony in October 2019. (Photo by Major Kurt Rauschenberg.)

BALTIMORE, Maryland – Warrant Officers: They are the technical experts of the U.S. Army and Army National Guard. They are tasked with the invaluable responsibility of becoming subject matter experts in their career fields and serve as advisors, mentors, and trainers. Warrant Officers typically ascend from the Non-commissioned Officer (NCO) ranks within their military occupational specialties (MOSs).

However, Karinn Hemingway, a Maryland Army National Guard member, became one of the few Warrant Officers to be selected without being an NCO. Her diverse experience in the military and the civilian world allowed her to gain the necessary skills and knowledge she needed to dive into the Warrant Officer Program.

“I think it would be very different if I were on active duty,” explains WO1 Hemingway. “I don’t think I would have had the flexibility to work in the many different roles that gave me the experience to become a Warrant Officer. Being in the Guard has made it possible for me to work my full-time civilian job, attend college, obtain certifications, and still serve.”

A former Specialist in the 110th Information Operations Battalion, WO1 Hemingway has more than 10 combined years of military service as a Telecommunications Operator and Maintainer, and civilian experience in the information technology and cyber fields.

WO1 Hemingway started her military career on active duty in the U.S. Army working at the Defense Intelligence Agency in the Washington, D.C., area. After completing an initial active duty enlistment, she focused on completing both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees. During her decade-long break in service, she worked as a government contractor spending time in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Upon returning home from her second contract in Afghanistan, WO1 Hemingway decided to re-enlist into the Army again – this time into the Virginia Army National Guard, before coming to the Maryland Army National Guard.

Between those enlistments, her military career field had merged with another. Even with her years of experience in the military, she no longer qualified in her previous MOS. Frustrated with the situation, WO1 Hemingway began to consider alternative career paths, such as commissioning or switching to a different branch of service.

However, she realized commissioning could potentially take her out of the field she had specialized in for years. After attending a Future Formation event, a program designed to retain Soldiers near the end of their enlistment contracts, she shifted her direction. She pursued the path of becoming a Warrant Officer.

“I think that was the best decision for me because I wanted to stay in [my career field],” WO1 Hemingway explains.

It was this same decision that led her to meet Chief Warrant Officer 2 (CW2) Curtis Taylor, the Warrant Officer Strength Manager of the Maryland Army National Guard Recruiting and Retention Battalion, who guided her through the initial process.

“One of the first things [that stood out] was her poise and demeanor,” explains CW2 Taylor. “You could tell how focused and determined she was to achieve this goal. Second, you could say that she was wise beyond her rank. Which begged the question, ‘Why are you just a Specialist?’”

Her rank as a Specialist would be a unique challenge when submitting her Warrant Officer packet, as typically most Warrant Officer career fields have a minimum NCO rank requirement. Despite this hurdle, WO1 Hemingway gathered everything she needed, and went in front of a board to prove her qualifications.

“Normally, Technical Warrant [Officers] require a certain amount of expertise,” explains WO1 Hemingway. “You’re supposed to be the subject matter expert for your job specialty. For Technical Warrant [Officers], you tend to have people that are more seasoned and have been in their career for a long time.”

At first glance, Specialists would be assumed to have minimal experience in their fields, CW2 Taylor explains. However, you often see a higher level of experience and education from junior ranking Guard members who enter the military equipped with bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

“I think the difference with active duty is you [often] have two jobs in the Guard,” explains CW2 Taylor. “You have your civilian job and then you have your [military job]. So, you’ve already shown you’re capable of managing several different tasks.”

Knowing she had the experience and skills to set herself apart, WO1 Hemingway and CW2 Taylor poured over the prerequisite requirements to be a Technical Warrant Officer within her career field. They discovered that highly experienced Specialists could be considered for selection.

While WO1 Hemingway may not have necessarily satisfied the rank requirement, she certainly had more than enough experience in her specialty. Her separation from active duty prior service and the flexibility of the National Guard both provided the space and time for her to gain the knowledge and the training she needed to be awarded her MOS qualification and satisfy the requirements to be a Warrant Officer candidate.

“Being in the Guard has allowed me the ability to work in numerous roles in my civilian career,” explains WO1 Hemingway. “All of the skills that I learned [during Advanced Individual Training] and throughout my military career were the baseline for me continuing in that role in my civilian job.”

Once her packet was approved, WO1 Hemingway shipped off to Warrant Officer Candidate School, where she learned the foundational leadership skills. Upon graduating, she had officially joined the ranks of Warrant Officers.

Her next step is to go through the Warrant Officer Basic Course to become fully qualified in her technical specialty. Until then, she will fulfill the role of mentor for any service member looking to tap into her vast knowledge and skill set.

Throughout her career, she was no stranger to mentoring many of her peers and co-workers.

“I guess they felt like I was easier to talk to than their leadership,” explains WO1 Hemingway. “I became the person they would always come and talk to.”

With her combined civilian and military experience, she will be able to share her diverse knowledge and skills with those looking for guidance into the Warrant Officer Program and beyond.

Citizen-Soldiers like WO1 Hemingway primarily serve part-time in their home States, enabling them to further their careers while staying close to home. They earn benefits to help pay for education and expenses while serving their country and their communities.

With more than 130 positions in career fields ranging from Heavy Weapons to Transportation to Intelligence, 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. 

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