Mission of Hope: Guard Soldier Wants to Do Good for Country, Community, and Foster Youth

CDT Christina Meredith is in the Florida Army National Guard’s Simultaneous Membership Program (SMP), which allows college students to serve in a Guard unit and ROTC at the same time.

CDT Christina Meredith is in the Florida Army National Guard’s Simultaneous Membership Program (SMP), which allows college students to serve in a Guard unit and ROTC at the same time.

Christina Meredith believes that anything can be accomplished through hard work and determination.

The Florida Army National Guard Soldier, author, and non-profit founder, who is also on track to achieve her dream of becoming a military officer, isn’t wasting a single opportunity that comes her way.

“You can be offered the world, but if you don’t work, you’ll lose it, or you’ll waste it, and either one is a no-go.”

A survivor of years of abuse at the hands of her own family, CDT Meredith entered the foster care system as a teen, aging out of the system when she turned 18. While still in high school, this junior ROTC member and captain of her high school’s cross country and track and field teams became homeless, living in a car she was able to buy from working two part-time jobs.

It was in that car that she started reading the Bible and making lists of her goals. One of them was to tell her story so that other people would realize that they do not have to succumb to their circumstances. At an even younger age of 10, CDT Meredith vowed to herself after a beating by her mother that she would be nothing like the person who had just left her on the ground crying in pain.

She remembers telling herself, “You will be the antithesis of her. You will love people. You’ll be kind to people, and you will make a difference.”

CDT Meredith recognizes that her mother, too, had been a victim of abuse while she was growing up, and that abuse, without intervention, is often a cycle that can be passed from one generation to the next.

“The cycle of abuse and poverty is a real thing,” she says. “It takes a community of healthy families and organizations to wrap around broken families and children to rehabilitate them into society to the point where they’re giving back and not taking away.”

According to CDT Meredith, there are half a million U.S. children in foster care, 20,000 of whom age out of the system each year, and become homeless just like she did. Eighty percent of foster youth go into the prison system, she says, and many foster youth end up having babies themselves before they become adults.

“When I saw young people like myself giving in to the cycle of poverty, giving in to drugs, giving in to the welfare and prison system, it broke me,” she says.

She is hopeful that her story and her advocacy inspire people and effect change.

“My entire story is about hope, faith, hard work, achieving the dream and the purpose that you have been given in this life, and not allowing things to deter you, because circumstances change. With hard work and a little faith, you can make them change.”

And so when her dream of earning an ROTC scholarship for college didn’t work out, she moved to California and eventually got “discovered” by a pageant recruiter at a Whole Foods. Crowned Miss California United States in 2013, the title gave her a platform to talk about PTSD recovery via trauma therapy and foster care reform in its entirety.

“It really birthed this new chapter in my life where I always wanted to be: to travel, to speak, to share, offer hope and encouragement, and write my book.”

CDT Meredith’s memoir, “CinderGirl, My Journey Out of the Ashes to a Life of Hope,” will be released March 5.

CDT Meredith’s memoir, “CinderGirl, My Journey Out of the Ashes to a Life of Hope,” will be released March 5.

CDT Meredith’s memoir, “CinderGirl: My Journey Out of the Ashes to a Life of Hope,” will be released on March 5. The title is a reflection of how her life has been transformed.

“Growing up with nothing, being homeless with nothing, and then doing a national book tour is almost a Cinderella story.”

On her tour, CDT Meredith will be promoting the book and speaking on the issues that are also the focus of her non-profit organization: The Christina Meredith Foundation, based in Jacksonville, Fla. The foundation’s short-term plan is continued advocacy for foster care reform and mental health. Long-term, CDT Meredith envisions creating a facility where foster youth can live and have access to food, clothing, health care, and learn things like how to balance a checkbook, so long as they have a full-time job or are in school.

In the meantime, CDT Meredith is in school herself, working on a degree in international relations with a minor in psychology. She’s also in ROTC as part of the Guard’s Simultaneous Membership Program. When she earns her commission next December, she plans to become a 25A Signals Officer in the same unit where she currently serves, where her job is to provide secure communications for her fellow Soldiers.

“I love the structure, I love the discipline,” she says of the Guard. “I love the camaraderie. I love that I’m doing good.”

Part of that good comes from knowing she is part of a team that saved lives in her home state when Hurricane Irma swept through Florida in 2017.

CDT Meredith has yet another goal on her list, and that’s to translate her degree and Guard experience into politics. She’s planning to run for office someday.

The flexibility of serving in the Guard part-time is allowing her the time to work on all of her goals.

“I have my civilian job and still have that military experience and leadership, and I can really bring something to my country.”

With its dual mission to serve the State and the Nation, the Army National Guard is always looking for service-minded people to join its ranks. Besides the satisfaction of knowing that your service is making a difference, the Guard offers training in more than 130 different jobs in fields like military intelligence, aviation, infantry, mechanics and maintenance, and more. Contact your local recruiter to learn more.

 

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Army National Guard Captain Honored by Latina Style Magazine

LATHAM, N.Y. – At age 15, Elsa Canales arrived in the Long Island suburb of Selden from El Salvador. She spoke very little English. Her parents and five older siblings had left their Central American country to escape rampant violence in 1999.

Nineteen years later, New York Army National Guard Captain (CPT) Elsa Canales is an experienced logistics officer and company commander with nine years of service, a degree from the State University of New York, Stony Brook, and two deployments to Kuwait.

Latina Style Magazine recognized CPT Canales for her military accomplishments during its annual National Latina Symposium, where 12 women serving in the Armed Forces were honored.

CPT Canales represented the Army National Guard.

Being part of the event was a terrific experience, CPT Canales says. Not so much because she got an award, but because of the women she got to meet there.

New York Army National Guard CPT Elsa Canales, a logistics officer, was recognized by Latina Style magazine for her military accomplishments during a Sept. 6, 2018, award ceremony in Arlington, Va. (Photo by Latina Style.)

New York Army National Guard CPT Elsa Canales, a logistics officer, was recognized by Latina Style magazine for her military accomplishments during a Sept. 6, 2018, award ceremony in Arlington, Va. (Photo by Latina Style.)

“A lot of times you think that you are a minority, but when you see so many women in a room full of female generals and colonels, it gives you hope that one day you can be in those positions,” she says.

“I’ve always been proud of being Latina, but just being in that room and hearing amazing stories made (me) kind of feel like, ‘wow!’” she says.

She’s the second New York Army National Guard officer to be honored by the magazine. In 2017, Colonel (COL) Isabel Smith, chief of staff of the 53rd Troop command, received the award.

CPT Canales entered the Army relatively late. She commissioned in 2009 when she was 26; four years older than officers who enter college at 18 and then commission four years later.

After finishing high school, she worked on an associate’s degree at a local community college before going on to Stony Brook for her bachelor’s degree.

At Stony Brook she went to a job fair, and saw a table set up by National Guard recruiters.

“I started looking at the pictures and I thought, ‘that looks awesome,’” she remembers. “I went back home and started thinking about it, and I thought, ‘What better way to give back to this country that gave so much to my family, than to actually join and serve.’”

So Elsa Canales, college student, also became ROTC Cadet Elsa Canales, and then Second Lieutenant (2LT) Elsa Canales when she graduated.

Her first assignment as a lieutenant in the New York Army National Guard was in Company G of the 427th Brigade Support Battalion.

In 2012 she deployed to Kuwait as part of the battalion’s Company D. Once in Kuwait, she was assigned as the executive officer to the forward support company working for the South Carolina Army National Guard’s 4th Battalion, 118th Infantry.

She got back from that Kuwait deployment, and then went back overseas in 2013 with the 642nd Aviation Support Battalion.

She had transferred into the unit for a captain’s position, and when she learned the unit was deploying, she figured it was her duty to go with it, CPT Canales says.

On that deployment she was an assistant operations officer working in the battalion headquarters.

Since returning from Kuwait she’s worked as an operations officer in the joint operations staff in Latham and in the logistics section of the 42nd Infantry Division, and served in the headquarters of the 427th Brigade Support Battalion.

Currently, CPT Canales works full-time as a Department of Defense civilian employee in the Operations and Training Directorate at New York National Guard Headquarters, while also serving as the commander of Company A of the 427th Brigade Support Battalion.

CPT Canales applied to be considered for the Latina Style award only because COL John Andonie, the New York Army National Guard’s chief of staff, told her she should.

COL Andonie says he asked CPT Canales to apply for the award because she is an excellent officer, and he thought she would be a great representative of the Army National Guard in general, and New York in particular.

So CPT Canales filled out the paperwork that asked questions about her career and background, and forgot about it. Then at annual training, she got an email saying she had been selected as the Army National Guard winner.

The best thing about winning the award, CPT Canales says, was being able to be part of an event with so many women with the shared background of a Hispanic heritage and being in the military.

She’s used to being only one of two or three female officers in a meeting, CPT Canales says. And the fact that she has an accent makes her stand out even more.

“You have to make sure that you make a good first impression,” she says.

But being there with all those other successful Latina military women made her realize that “anything is possible.”

So, if you’re interested in exploring your possibilities for the future, the Army National Guard is a great choice, offering more than 150 careers in areas like logistics, administration, infantry, transportation, and more. You can research each and every opportunity on our job board. Besides the training you’ll receive, you’ll also get great benefits like money for college to help further your career.

Guard service is a part-time commitment, which allows Soldiers the flexibility to pursue civilian careers while they serve close to home. For more information, contact your local recruiter.

From an original article by Eric Durr, New York National Guard, which appeared in the news section of NationalGuard.mil in September.

 

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Alabama Army National Guard Welcomes First Black Female Pilot

 

2LT Kayla Freeman at the U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence, Fort Rucker, Ala., June 21, 2018, after her graduation from aviation school. (U.S. Army photo by 1LT Jermaine Thurston.)

2LT Kayla Freeman at the U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence, Fort Rucker, Ala., June 21, 2018, after her graduation from aviation school. (U.S. Army photo by 1LT Jermaine Thurston.)


FORT RUCKER, Ala. – When Second Lieutenant (2LT) Kayla Freeman wore her wings for the first time on the stage of Fort Rucker’s Army Aviation school, she didn’t consider how historically impactful the moment was.

2LT Freeman, whose June 21 graduation made her the first black female pilot in the Alabama Army National Guard, says she “didn’t think about making history when I started this journey. I just wanted to do the best that I could do and hopefully inspire a few people along the way.”

That’s a goal she has also accomplished, evidenced by 2LT Freeman being inundated with congratulations, well-wishes, and messages of appreciation in the few weeks after her achievement.

2LT Freeman says she was honored to have her wings pinned by a longtime hero and fellow history-maker, retired Colonel (COL) Christine “Nickey” Knighton, who was the second black woman in the Department of Defense to earn her aviator wings, the first from Georgia, and the first woman in the U.S. Army to command a tactical combat arms battalion.

“COL Knighton has been an inspiration to me since college,” 2LT Freeman says. “I felt that it was only right to have her pin me.”

Retired COL Christine Knighton pins aviator wings on 2LT Kayla Freeman at Freeman’s graduation from the Army Aviation school, June 21, 2018, at Fort Rucker, Ala. (U.S. Army photo by 1LT Jermaine Thurston.)

Retired COL Christine Knighton pins aviator wings on 2LT Kayla Freeman at Freeman’s graduation from the Army Aviation school, June 21, 2018, at Fort Rucker, Ala. (U.S. Army photo by 1LT Jermaine Thurston.)

2LT Freeman also lists COL Knighton as one of her main role models, along with her own grandfather, and the pioneering female Tuskegee Airmen like Mildred Carter.

Like COL Knighton before her, 2LT Freeman’s inspirations led her to attend Tuskegee University and enroll in the historic institute’s ROTC program. She says she knew since she was a child that she wanted to fly, and says it was discipline, perseverance, and faith that helped her achieve that goal.

“You can’t let mistakes and setbacks keep you down,” she says. “Learn from them and continue moving forward. Most importantly, keep God first, and He will direct your path.”

Major General (MG) Sheryl Gordon applauded 2LT Freeman’s historic accomplishment. MG Gordon is the first female general officer in the Alabama National Guard, and is now the first female to serve as its adjutant general.

“We take the ideals of equal opportunity very seriously,” MG Gordon says, “and we’re extremely proud of 2LT Freeman’s achievements. She is further proof that we don’t see race or gender in the Alabama Guard – we see Soldiers and Airmen and their potential. She has worked very hard to earn those wings, and that’s a great example for all of us.”

Currently at Fort Hood preparing to deploy to the Middle East as a platoon leader in the Alabama Army National Guard’s 1-169th Aviation Battalion, 2LT Freeman’s mind is on the mission. After that, she says, her plans are simple: keep going.

“I just plan to continue to develop my skills as an officer and aviator, as well as mentoring others,” she says.

In her civilian career, 2LT Freeman is an aerospace engineer at U.S. Army Aviation Development Test Activity at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Ala.

If you’re interested in defending the skies and controlling some of the most advanced aircraft in the world, consider joining the Army National Guard, where you can enjoy a fulfilling and rewarding career in aviation.

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

From an original article by SPC Cody Muzio and SFC Myra Bush, which appeared in the news section of Army.mil in July.

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