Soldier’s Volunteer Service Embodies ‘Spirit of the National Guard’

OLYMPIA, Wash. – A service member is often born with a strong desire to help others. Whether it’s coaching a child’s sports team, cleaning up the neighborhood, or any number of other community activities, public service is frequently a common trait of those serving in the military, specifically the Army National Guard.

Sergeant First Class (SFC) Nick Van Kirk, a logistics and decontamination Non-commissioned Officer with the Washington Army National Guard’s 10th Civil Support Team (CST), wanted to give back to his community in a different way.

SFC Nick Van Kirk, a logistics and decontamination Non-commissioned Officer with the 10th Civil Support Team and volunteer firefighter with South Bay Fire Department, talks with his two commanders before a ceremony on Oct. 10, 2019, in Olympia, Washington. (Photo by Joseph Siemandel).

Growing up in the South Bay community of Olympia, Washington, SFC Van Kirk lived down the street from the South Bay Fire Department.

“I had wanted to be a volunteer firefighter for a while, giving back to the community I grew up in,” he recalls. “Being a full-time active Guard member, I wasn’t sure if I would have that chance.”

He got his chance three years ago when his Unit switched from a five-day workweek to a four-day, 10-hour-a-day schedule.

“The schedule switch gave me the opportunity to go for it, and the leadership with the Civil Support Team supported it.”

Becoming a firefighter and emergency medical technician (EMT) takes time and requires the individual to volunteer a certain number of hours to earn required certifications. However, being a full-time member of the 10th Civil Support Team and responding at a moment’s notice to support local law enforcement and first responders also requires a lot of time and energy.

“The training for both firefighting and EMT is time-consuming,” says SFC Van Kirk. “My command supported everything about me volunteering with South Bay.”

Volunteering with South Bay hasn’t hindered SFC Van Kirk’s work at the CST.

“He probably volunteers 40-50 hours a month with the fire department,” says CST First Sergeant (1SG) Paul Gautreaux. “He never misses a day of work with us though. He is even there on Mondays getting our folks and gear ready for the week ahead.”

This past Fourth of July, SFC Van Kirk put his training, both with the fire department and the CST, to use during a critical situation. That morning, he and other members of the South Bay team responded to a call involving a driver missing a turn and hitting two small children who were playing on the shoreline.

“We got to the scene first and the two children were injured pretty bad, so we immediately called for additional EMTs, contacted the hospitals, and got everything organized quickly,” he explains, adding the two children were rushed to a local hospital at the time, and “are doing great today.”

SFC Van Kirk received praise from his station leadership for his work.

“Nick was our only volunteer who stayed on for the additional shift,” says John Clemons, medical service officer with the South Bay Fire Department. “He organized the sub-units to the incident and helped save the lives of two little ones. He is a real asset to our station.”

The dedicated Soldier is also an asset to the CST. “He [SFC Van Kirk] is like so many in the organization,” says Major (MAJ) Wes Watson, commander of the CST. “They are the quiet professionals, volunteering their own time to help others. It’s just the spirit of the National Guard.”

Serving the community is one of the many values of the Army National Guard. By serving part-time, Guard Soldiers are given the flexibility and opportunity to pursue their passions, whether it’s volunteering at home, getting a degree, or working a civilian job. With careers in fields like engineering, medicine, and police and protection, there’s no limit to success in the National Guard. To explore available opportunities, browse the job board or contact a recruiter to learn more!

From an original article by CPT Joseph Siemandel, Washington Army National Guard, which appeared in the news section of NationalGuard.mil in November 2019.

Share on FacebookShare on Twitter

It’s Not About Your Hair. It’s About Your Heart.

Guard Soldier Uses Part-time Modeling Career to Help Others with Alopecia

SPC Imani Gayle of the New Jersey Army National Guard poses for a portrait in Irvington, N.J., her hometown. (Photo by MSG Matt Hecht.)

SPC Imani Gayle of the New Jersey Army National Guard poses for a portrait in Irvington, N.J., her hometown. (Photo by MSG Matt Hecht.)

IRVINGTON, N.J. – At just 22 years old, Specialist (SPC) Imani Gayle balances college, serving in the Army National Guard, a fashion career, and charitable work assisting girls with alopecia: a condition that causes hair loss.

A native of Irvington, SPC Gayle also has alopecia, and has marketed her signature look through working with various clothing and jewelry designers in the New York City area.

Her passion for helping people with alopecia goes beyond charitable work. She’s also getting a degree in biology pre-med, with the hope of one day becoming a dermatologist.

“My reason for joining the Army National Guard was to help me pay for school,” says SPC Gayle, an 88M Motor Transport Operator with New Jersey’s 2-113th Infantry Regiment.

SPC Gayle has put school on hold as she prepares to deploy with the New Jersey National Guard supporting Operation Enduring Freedom – Horn of Africa.

Ever since she was a child, she had worn some type of hat to cover up her alopecia.

“Growing up with alopecia was very hard. I went to a Catholic school, and I used to wear a uniform. My grandma made special hats to match my uniform,” she says. “My eyebrows would fall out, so I would wear my hats low, and kids would question it. It was difficult. I had to ignore them. It really affected me. Kids used to pull my hats off.”

When SPC Gayle went to Basic Training, she wore a hairpiece. The heat and time limitations made wearing it difficult and time-consuming. Finally, she decided to take it off.

“I was a little shy, but it was so hot, I took my hair off. I had this crazy tan line, a lot of people stared, and a lot of drill sergeants were curious.”

She attracted the negative attention of one female drill sergeant.

“I had a drill sergeant yelling in my face, ‘You think you’re cute, you got a weave on, you think you’re cute, I think she wants to be cute.’ I didn’t break down at that moment, but as soon as the shark attack was done, I just broke down crying. My male drill sergeant pulled me aside, and said, ‘She didn’t know.’ I think she felt really bad, and later she apologized to me.”

SPC Gayle’s drill sergeant wasn’t the only one who came to her defense. Her fellow Soldiers also embraced who she was.

“Initially, I always wore my wigs. So, when I got back, it was just, hmm, if these strangers who don’t know me and never met me could come to my defense and do everything that I felt people at home could do, then why couldn’t people at home do it?” she says.

“So, once I came home I stopped wearing my wigs, and I got a lot of attention. I got a lot of offers from people locally who do fashion shows, who make clothes, who make jewelry, different makeup artists, different hair stylists. I’ve done hair photo shoots and everything. It kind of helped me build a platform for young girls in New Jersey with alopecia.”

The money she gets from her modeling shoots goes to her Alopecia Awareness Foundation, and so far, she has given out three college scholarships to girls in Nevada, Texas, and New Jersey.

“They’re so overwhelmed with joy. When you’re young it’s hard to find someone you can relate to. I think I give them a lot of comfort, and I still talk to them. It makes me feel so good.”

Thinking back to her school days, SPC Gayle realized her hats were cute, but she always preferred to “have her head out there.”

“It’s not about your hair, it’s about your heart. Embrace your alopecia and be accepting of yourself. It’s important that you accept yourself for who you are, and not what people see you as.”

The Army National Guard gives you the flexibility to serve part-time while making a difference in your community. If you’re passionate about helping others and want to pursue your dreams, explore more than 130 career options on our job board and answer the call that speaks to you. Contact a local recruiter today to learn more!

From an original article by MSG Matt Hecht, New Jersey National Guard, which appeared in the news section of NationalGuard.mil in February 2019.

Share on FacebookShare on Twitter

Guard’s Flexibility Gives Soldier Ability to Jump from One Adventure to the Next

SPC Kristopher Nordby rappels into a University of Rhode Island basketball game for Military Appreciation Night.

SPC Kristopher Nordby rappels into a University of Rhode Island basketball game for Military Appreciation Night.

One of the things that sets the Army National Guard apart from other branches of the military is that Soldiers serve on a part-time basis.

For Specialist (SPC) Kristopher Nordby of the Rhode Island Army National Guard, this level of flexibility is giving the 22-year-old the opportunity to try different things, travel overseas, and go to as many Army schools as he can.

SPC Nordby joined the Guard five years ago as a junior in high school under the Guard’s split training option. Inspired partly by an older brother’s adventures as an Infantryman for the Guard, he enlisted with the Massachusetts Army National Guard as a 12B Combat Engineer. That was until he found out his home state of Rhode Island had an Airborne Infantry Unit, one of only a handful that exists within the Guard.

“Jumping out of planes and shooting the different weapons that the military has available kind of sparked my interest a little more,” he says of his choice to switch military occupational specialties (MOS) to 11B Infantryman and do an interstate transfer to Rhode Island, a move he believes might not have been as easy had he joined an active duty branch of the military.

While the regular infantry is on foot with rucksacks or using ground vehicles to arrive at a training ground or the battlefield, the airborne unit parachutes to their destinations from Black Hawk or Chinook helicopters, or C-130 planes, says SPC Nordby.

SPC Kristopher Nordby

SPC Kristopher Nordby

“We can just jump in,” he says.

One of the things that drew SPC Nordby to the Army National Guard was the number of military schools he’d be able to attend without having to enlist for full-time, active duty Army service.

“Any schools they want to send me to, I’m willing to go to because that’s what I’m into.”

So far, he’s been to six military courses in his career. The most rewarding for him was the three different trainings at Army Mountain Warfare School in Jericho, Vt.

“I really didn’t know I was into rock climbing or mountaineering until I went to those schools.”

The mountains left him wanting more, so he’s considering becoming a certified mountain guide as a civilian career and pay for it by using the Guard’s education benefits.

With deployments having slowed down, especially for infantry units, SPC Nordby is taking advantage of opportunities to better himself as a Soldier until a call to serve his country comes.

“In the meantime, I’ll just go to all of these schools and learn as much as I can military-wise. Hopefully, it will help me out once I am able to deploy.”

Another option SPC Nordby is considering later in his career is trying out for one of the Special Forces units that Rhode Island also has within the state.

But for now, he’s got a full-time Guard job on a mobile event team that sets up recruiting booths and activities at high schools and events in Rhode Island, which is also flexible enough to allow him to attend military schools and train overseas.

Just recently, his unit has been attached to the U.S. Army’s 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, based in Vincenza, Italy, which has allowed him to travel to the Netherlands, Germany, Poland, and Romania for trainings and parachute competitions.

“I’ve been able to travel all over the place, and it’s been amazing.”

Another thing he likes about his job is the camaraderie he’s found in the Guard.

“The friendships that you build within the unit, they’re incredible. I’ve never experienced anything like it. I can rely on anybody in my unit to help me if I ever needed it.”

So, if you’re looking for a part-time job where you can build long-lasting bonds and go on adventures, consider joining the Army National Guard.

Even if you’re not sure what career you want to jump into, the Guard offers more than 150 different jobs ranging from infantry to engineering to field artillery, and much more. You can explore all of these careers on our job board, or contact your local recruiter, who can help you find a good fit.

Share on FacebookShare on Twitter