Father, Son Work Together During Pandemic

From an original article by SGT 1st Class Matthew Keeler, Pennsylvania National Guard, which appeared in the news section of NationalGuard.mil on June 1, 2020.

STROUDSBURG, Pa. – Joseph Sapienza, director of maintenance/life safety for Pleasant Valley Manor nursing home, recently received word that someone very familiar to him would be coming to work at the home.

His son, SGT Alec Sapienza, a combat medic with the 108th Medical Area Support Company, 213th Regional Support Group, was part of a Pennsylvania Army National Guard team that would be providing support at Pleasant Valley Manor.

SGT Alec Sapienza, left, combat medic with the 108th Medical Area Support Company, 213th Regional Support Group, Pennsylvania Army National Guard, and his father, Joseph Sapienza, director of maintenance/life safety for Pleasant Valley Manor nursing home in Stroudsburg, PA, May 21, 2020. SGT Sapienza and other members of the Pennsylvania National Guard are helping out at the nursing home. (Photo by SGT 1st Class Matthew Keeler)
SGT Alec Sapienza, left, combat medic with the 108th Medical Area Support Company, 213th Regional Support Group, Pennsylvania Army National Guard, and his father, Joseph Sapienza, director of maintenance/life safety for Pleasant Valley Manor nursing home in Stroudsburg, PA, May 21, 2020. SGT Sapienza and other members of the Pennsylvania National Guard are helping out at the nursing home. (Photo by SGT 1st Class Matthew Keeler)

The younger Sapienza had been hoping to surprise his dad.

“I was trying to surprise him, until my mom told him,” said SGT Sapienza, who was happy that his father was getting support from someone that he knew. “It made him a little more comfortable with the people that he is working with because I knew them as well, personally, most of my military career.”

The Soldiers and Airmen from the Pennsylvania National Guard, in support of Pennsylvania Department of Health and Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, have been working in nursing homes and long-term care facilities to aid staff during the COVID-19 situation. Pleasant Valley Manor is one of several that Soldiers and Airmen from Pennsylvania Task Force North have helped with during this time.

SGT Sapienza, having come off support to Gracedale Nursing Home in Nazareth, volunteered to assist with another mission – before he knew where it was.

“I learned roughly two to three days ago,” SGT Sapienza said about being contacted to support another mission. “I had a grievous [situation] in my family – the death of my grandfather – and I realized that I still wanted to keep helping the best that I can.”

SGT Sapienza found out that next mission was going to be Pleasant Valley in an interesting way.

“Captain Vu told me that he needed help in a location. Once he informed me that he knew a man named Joseph Sapienza, he asked me if we were related. I said, ‘Yeah, I might know him,’” said SGT Sapienza.

To SGT Sapienza, the importance of the Pennsylvania Army National Guard supporting nursing homes and long-term care facilities cannot be understated.

“After working with Gracedale, I had extra incentive to volunteer to help with another nursing home,” he said. “The experience was changing. It was definitely an eye-opening experience, especially being a pandemic like we are in right now, about how important it is that we are doing these types of missions.”

The speed is similar to Gracedale, SGT Sapienza said, as the medical professionals from the Army National Guard and the staff of Pleasant Valley worked to understand each other’s capabilities.

“Communication is always going to be the biggest factor, especially when it comes to a new environment with people who do not know you,” said SGT Sapienza. “So, it was helpful for us all to sit down and have a conversation for about 5 to 10 minutes about what we can and can’t do.”

For Joseph, it was a moment of pride for him to see the kind of professional that his son has become.

“It is a pleasure for me, because it is an honor because he is my son and I’m seeing him do things that he told me that he did in action,” Joseph said. “It is a great feeling. I could not tell you how proud I am of him – of him and the entire military.”

Joseph, who handles the boiler and building maintenance, also works in customer relations to make sure residents are happy. He said they have been enjoying the Army National Guard Soldiers at Pleasant Valley Manor.

“I feel the feedback has been great,” he said. “I had residents tell me, ‘They were so nice, and it is a pleasure having them.’ And it was really nice to see that they really, really appreciated it.”

For SGT Sapienza, who has visited Pleasant Valley Manor in the past as a volunteer, returning in uniform was different.

“I finally felt like I was helping,” he said. “When I first came here, I was just talking to people, seeing what they were like – there are many veterans here as well – so it kind of helped you build up that rapport with those people. But, by finally coming here and being able to do something with some jurisdiction, it was a very heartfelt moment.”

Many of the troops from the Pennsylvania Army National Guard are taking the opportunity to assist with the residents at these locations as reasons to continue their medical education, said SGT Sapienza.

“Most of us have been talking about taking our Medical College Admission Test, or even going to physician assistant school and becoming a doctor,” he said. “Coming from Gracedale, a lot of folks are already in school, nursing school, or trying to get into ‘med’ school.”

The Soldiers are supporting Pleasant Valley Manor for a limited time, but this opportunity will never be lost on Joseph.

“He’s doing a great job and I’m not just saying that because I’m his father – I’m the biggest critic, and he’ll tell you this. If you are not doing it right, then I’m going to tell you, I do not hold back [any] punches,” said Joseph. “I’m just so proud of him.”

If you want to make a difference and serve your community, join the Army National Guard, where you’ll serve part-time, get tuition benefits and receive training in one of more than 130 careers in fields like Supply and LogisticsHeavy WeaponsGround Forces, and Transportation. For details on any MOS, search our job board, and contact your local recruiter for more information.

Share on FacebookShare on Twitter

Meet the First Enlisted Female Guard Soldiers to Graduate Army Ranger School

FORT BENNING, Ga. – Two Soldiers from the South Carolina and Pennsylvania Army National Guard are the first enlisted National Guard females to graduate from U.S. Army Ranger School.

Staff Sergeant (SSG) Jessica Smiley, a South Carolina Army National Guard military police non-commissioned officer serving with the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, and Sergeant (SGT) Danielle Farber, Pennsylvania Army National Guard 166th Regional Training Institute Medical Battalion Training Site instructor, completed the mentally and physically challenging school at Fort Benning on Dec. 13. The school prepares Soldiers to be better trained, more capable and more resilient leaders.

“My mindset going into this was to leave 100 percent on the table and never have a regret or look back and say, ‘I should have pushed harder, or I should have done something different,’” says SSG Smiley. “My mindset today is that I did just that. I gave 100 percent. I did everything that I could, and now here I am.”


SGT Danielle Farber of the Pennsylvania Army National Guard and SSG Jessica Smiley of the South Carolina Army National Guard became the first enlisted National Guard female Soldiers to graduate U.S. Army Ranger School. (Photo by SGT Brian Calhoun.)

As the first female National Guard enlisted Soldiers to graduate from the school, SSG Smiley and SGT Farber join a small group of women who have earned a Ranger tab since the Pentagon lifted the ban on women serving in combat arms positions.

The others are: U.S. Army Captain (CPT) Kristen Griest and U.S. Army First Lieutenant (1LT) Shaye Haver, who, in 2015, became the first women to ever complete the school; 1LT Emily Lilly, who was the first female Army National Guard officer to graduate in 2018; and U.S. Army SSG Amanda Kelley, the first enlisted Soldier to graduate, also in 2018. However, SSG Smiley and SGT Farber do not think Ranger school is an accomplishment only they are capable of achieving.

“I don’t think it’s charting a course for other women because it’s something that we all have in us. We just haven’t been allowed to do it … There’s many women out there who are completely capable of doing it,” says SSG Smiley. “Do it … put in the hard work, put in the dedication to accomplish the goal.”

SSG Smiley and SGT Farber say the accomplishment took years of training and did not come without setbacks. SGT Farber has been working toward this goal since 2016 when she first tried for the Pennsylvania Ranger/Sapper State assessment program and was not selected. She tried again in 2018 and was selected, with approximately 10 other Soldiers. A year later, she left for Ranger school.

“Train hard for it,” says SGT Farber. “Come into it knowing you’re going to be doing things that every other male that comes through here has to do. Don’t come through here and expect any sort of special treatment because it won’t happen.”

Now that they have earned their Ranger tabs, SSG Smiley and SGT Farber hope to use the skills they’ve gained and help the Soldiers they work with and lead.

“This day to me is not the end of the school, but is the beginning of the new chapter in my career, not only for myself but for future Soldiers,” says SSG Smiley.

U.S. Army Command Sergeant Major (CSM) Russ Vickery says he is proud of what SSG Smiley and SGT Farber achieved.

“It is a big deal to be the first enlisted females in the National Guard graduating Ranger School … it’s groundbreaking,” he says. “We always tell [Soldiers] that they can do it. Physical size is not the limitation; it’s the amount of heart and soul that a Soldier brings.”

If you have the heart and soul to serve your State and your nation, the Army National Guard might be the perfect place for you. Most Guard Soldiers serve part-time and take advantage of fantastic education benefits to help pay for school. The Guard also offers training in more than 130 different careers, including fields like technology and networking, aviation, ground forces, and transportation.

Search the job board for details and contact a recruiter for more information.

From an original article by SGT Brian Calhoun, South Carolina National Guard, which appeared in the news section of NationalGuard.mil in December 2019.

Share on FacebookShare on Twitter