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.

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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.

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Australian Native Comes ‘Full Circle’ as D.C. Army Guard Vocalist

SGT Vicki Golding

SGT Vicki Golding, a vocalist with the District of Columbia Army National Guard’s 257th Army Band, sings the Australian national anthem as part of the Centenary of Mateship celebration during the Twilight Tattoo on June 27, 2018, at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Va. SGT Golding, an Australian native who now lives in the U.S., also performed “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and “I Am Australian” at the event, which commemorated the 100-year anniversary of the partnership between the United States and Australia established during World War I. (Photo by Tech. Sgt. Erich B. Smith.)

ARLINGTON, Va. – For Sergeant (SGT) Vicki Golding, a vocalist with the District of Columbia Army National Guard’s 257th Army Band, performing during the recent Centenary of Mateship celebration event was, in a way, about coming full circle.

The celebration, held in Virginia, marked the 100-year alliance between the United States and Australia, and was a fitting opportunity for SGT Golding, a Brisbane, Australia, native who now lives in the U.S.

“In terms of representing both countries, this event felt like it was ready-made for me,” says SGT Golding, who was approached by Australian Embassy officials to perform at the event once they learned she was vocalist in the D.C. Army Guard.

“It wasn’t lost on me on what a big deal this was for a girl from Brisbane – ending up here in D.C. with the best military band in the country.”

Her journey from “Down Under” to singing in the 257th Army Band started in childhood where she was part of a family musical act with her three sisters and brother. Her father, whom SGT Golding described as the “essential music man,” led the group.

“My father was a music teacher and an opera singer and was a very technical musician. He was just the sort of person [who] would make you want to do better.”

While the music bug subsided for her siblings, SGT Golding’s love of performing continued.

Following the footsteps of a high school friend, she enlisted in the Australian army as a musician, eventually landing a position as a vocalist.

When the United States Army Band “Pershing’s Own” performed during an international tattoo (military entertainment performance) in Brisbane, SGT Golding says she was captivated by the variety of music they played.

“They had a rock band and a rhythm section along with the trombone section,” she says, adding she felt she was witnessing the “sheer talent of a premier band.”

Years later, marriage to an American brought her to the Washington, D.C., area.

Though she had left the Australian army, SGT Golding says she was still interested in serving and performing. That led her to reach out to Soldiers she knew from “Pershing’s Own,” who suggested the 257th Army Band as a good fit.

She followed the suggestion and enlisted in the Guard in 2003, even though the band didn’t have a singer vacancy at the time.

“When I first joined the 257th, I had videos and demos of me singing, and I said, ‘Look, I can play tuba, I can play percussion, but I really want to sing for you guys.’”

Eventually, a vocalist position opened up, and she wasted no time in securing her new role. Now, SGT Golding performs more than 35 shows a year, representing the D.C. Army Guard and the Army as a vocalist.

She says she thrives off the excitement of large-scale shows, especially in stadiums when she sings “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

“It’s a sacred piece that never gets old because there’s this energy that comes from the audience. You can feel the audience just waiting for you to sing it to them.”

But it was a military funeral for a D.C. Guard member lost in battle that she will never forget.

“I was singing the national anthem, maybe 10 feet away was his family, and I remember struggling.”

Years of performing in uniform, however, provided the focus needed to sing the song through.

“They had just lost their family member,” says SGT Golding. “If I can’t suck it up for 90 seconds, be professional, and do my job when they lost just about everything – that’s just not acceptable to me.”

SGT Golding brings that same kind of discipline and love of music to the civilian side, volunteering at non-profit organizations that cater to military spouses and veterans who use musical therapy to treat post-traumatic stress.

“I have been blessed with musical abilities, and any time I feel I am not using them, I feel like I am wasting something that was given to me,” she says. “And so I want to share what I have been given, whether it’s performing, teaching, or writing musical arrangements – whatever that might be.”

SGT Golding adds that her civilian experiences working with non-profit organizations, plus keeping abreast of popular music trends, help broaden her horizons as a military vocalist.

“It’s not a bad thing to think outside of the box,” she says. “Because if things aren’t flexible, they’ll break sometimes.”

While SGT Golding says the pinnacle of her musical ambition is performing on a network show back in her native country, she is thrilled with being a singing Soldier and sharing the same kind of camaraderie in the D.C. Army Guard as she felt in Australia.

“The common thread between the two militaries is the sense of family,” she says. “It was a real lifeline for me in Australia, and the same is true here in America.”

So if you’re looking for a way to use your talents and work on a team that becomes like a second family, consider joining the Army National Guard, where you can be an Army Bandperson like SGT Golding, or just about anything else you can imagine.

That’s because the Guard offers training in more than 150 careers, and you can research all of them on our job board by State, category, or keyword. Learn more about how you can serve part-time in the Guard and take advantage of its benefits like money for college by contacting your local recruiter.

From an original article by Tech. Sgt. Erich Smith, National Guard Bureau, which appeared in the news section of NationalGuard.mil in June.

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