Guard Recruiter Knows Price of Freedom

As a boy, Othello Smith fled Liberia with his father and some family members – on foot – to escape civil war in 1996. They took refuge in Sierra Leone, only to have civil war break out there, too, forcing the family to flee yet again – this time to Guinea.

Fortunately, Smith and his family were granted asylum as war refugees in the U.S. and settled in Rhode Island in 1998. He still hasn’t seen his mother, who’s in Liberia, since 1994. They’re hoping to connect with each other via Facebook when the technology becomes available to her.

Smith has seen what it’s like to live in a country with too much freedom – as in freedom to do anything you want without repercussions. In his experience in Liberia, “freedom is handing a gun to a 14-year-old kid, and he can do whatever he wants with that weapon. A young kid could see his uncle die in front of him because that is the freedom that is afforded in that county. There was nothing there to prevent that civil war.”

Smith is grateful that his new homeland has protections in place to prevent the kind of chaos he’s lived through, but still, freedom comes with a price that some Americans take for granted.

SPC Smith
SPC Othello Smith, Rhode Island Army National Guard recruiter.

That’s one of the reasons he joined the Rhode Island Army National Guard three years ago at age 28. The Guard also offered Specialist (SPC) Smith an expedited path to citizenship and education benefits to help him earn a degree in nursing and perhaps, later, pharmacy. As a first-generation American, he wants to set a good example for his two children that anything can be accomplished through hard work.

SPC Smith thought about going Active Duty but, “the National Guard just seemed to be the best fit, as far as accomplishing your goals, and still staying in the State, serving your country, and making a difference at the same time.”

His decision to join the military was met with some resistance from his father.

“Because of so many traumatizing things that we witnessed – I literally lived through two civil wars – my father, at the time, was totally against any military activity. I decided if I were ever to bear arms and get deployed, I will change the way soldiers behave toward citizens.”

Of all Military Occupational Specialties (MOSs), SPC Smith chose one of the loudest – 13B Cannon Crewmember – a choice that could have easily triggered bad memories from his youth. During one of his first Fourths of July in Rhode Island, he remembers that fireworks sent him under his bed, where his family found him screaming and crying.

SPC Smith says he got used to loud noises on his own and through his faith in God.

He was determined to be trained in “one of the hardest MOSs the military has to offer. I like to get my hands dirty and roll up my sleeves,” he says.

Over the last year, he has transitioned to recruiting for the Rhode Island Guard. One of his goals is to expose fellow Liberian immigrants – his State has one of the largest Liberian populations in the U.S. – to military life.

“There’s more to being in America than just being an employee. You have to be a difference-maker.”

To SPC Smith, “what the Guard stands for is making a change in people’s lives.” He has found both mentors and a family in the Guard.

“The military has wrapped its arms around me and showed me that there are people out there who are willing to help you in your career, help you with a family situation, and give you advice.”

When some of his recruits come in unsure of their physical capabilities, SPC Smith tells them, “an old guy like me went to basic training and did it, and you will be able to do it. You’re not there by yourself. They are people with you every step of the way.”

SPC Smith says he often gets a text or an email from his recruits thanking him for his support.

“The relationship that I build with my recruits is very important to me,” he says. “Changing lives, that’s the most important mission I’ve accomplished so far in the military.”

If you’re up for a life-changing experience, you’ll find it in the Army National Guard, where you’ll serve part-time and receive training in one of more than 130 careers in fields like Supply and Logistics, Technology and Networking, Ground Forces, and Engineering. For details on any MOS, search our job board, and contact your local recruiter for more information.

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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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