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.

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Guard Experience Gives Soldier Opportunity “To Be Part of Something Bigger Than Just Myself”

One of the main reasons SSG John Arnold joined the South Carolina Army National Guard was to get away from the 9-to-5 grind.

Mission accomplished.

His journey in the Army National Guard has taken him around the world and includes everything from working on multimillion-dollar boats in South Carolina to touring an ice cream factory in Afghanistan.

Though he’s had vastly different and wide-ranging experiences over his 10 years in the Army National Guard, one thing ties them all together: teamwork, discipline, the desire to succeed, and the willingness to learn something new.

Soldier Loves Guard’s Dual Mission

When SSG Arnold joined the Army National Guard, he was 26 and had an associate degree from a small technical college. He knew what he wanted: a sense of purpose. He also knew what he didn’t want: to work in a typical office environment.

He explored joining the military and passed up the other branches to join the Army National Guard.

“I loved the dual-mission aspect. We not only protect our own State and homeland, but we also travel abroad for peacetime and combat missions,” says SSG Arnold. “We’re the ‘jack-of-all-trades’ branch of the military and I absolutely love it.”

Different Military Occupation Specialties (MOS) Build Many Skills

His first MOS in the Army National Guard was 12B (Combat Engineer). To learn even more skills, he transitioned to several other MOSs, including 12R (Interior Electrician), and 12H (Senior Construction Supervisor).

“Another aspect I love about Guard life is I was able to change my MOS, which is tough to do in other branches of the military,” says SSG Arnold.

SSG John Arnold’s journey in the Army National Guard has taken him around the world and includes everything from working on multimillion-dollar boats in South Carolina to touring an ice cream factory in Afghanistan.
SSG John Arnold’s journey in the Army National Guard has taken him around the world and includes everything from working on multimillion-dollar boats in South Carolina to touring an ice cream factory in Afghanistan.

As he moved through different jobs in the Army National Guard, he took advantage of opportunities he encountered. The first was using the South Carolina Army National Guard’s Employer Assistance Team to get a job with a boat company. Another Soldier in his Unit was already employed there.

“I feel like my Guard experience played a major factor in getting hired,” says SSG Arnold. “It showed the company that I was disciplined, mechanically inclined with an electrical background, and that I was reliable.”

He was responsible for all the electrical components on each boat. Though he says it was “stressful and challenging” working on extremely expensive boats – “One screwup, I could fry an entire wiring harness and its components – he felt satisfaction when each job was finished.

Though he wasn’t able to accompany his Unit to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria devastated the island (he had just received a promotion), he cheered them from afar. He was able to take advantage of deployments to Columbia, SC, to strengthen dams and remove debris from residential areas during torrential flooding; and Kandahar, Afghanistan, to build guard towers and cafeteria buildings, deconstruct forward operating bases, and ensure the safe transition from American forces to the Afghan National Army or local police.

Sharing Ice Cream and Experiences

It was in Kandahar, during what he calls his most fulfilling mission, that he encountered the ice cream factory.

“We did not get to taste the ice cream, however, the owner got to taste some American dip,” he says.

Though the ice cream factory was memorable, the impact he feels he made while there stands out more.

“We turned the land back over to the local tribal landowners who were, in turn, grateful and thankful for what the American forces had done in the area,” says SSG Arnold.

These are the types of experiences he gets to share every day in his newest role in recruitment. He also gets to speak with potential recruits about the benefits of service in the Army National Guard.

He tells them how he’s used his Army National Guard tuition benefits to pay back loans from his associate degree, to get a bachelor’s degree in emergency management, and start a master’s program in environmental policy and management. He tells them how the Guard gives him the opportunity to serve his community and his country. He tells them how the Guard is a great place to learn.

“The Army National Guard will teach you all of the skills you need during your AIT (Advanced Individual Training) school for your chosen MOS. To learn your MOS, all you have to have is the drive and desire to learn something new,” he says.

He also credits the Army National Guard with giving him self-assurance that will last his entire lifetime:

“Since joining, I’ve had the confidence to be able to take on anything life might throw at me, knowing I will take care of it.”

If you feel a calling to do more in life and give back to your community, check out 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 LogisticsHeavy WeaponsGround Forces, and Administrative Careers. For details on any MOS, search our job board, and contact your local recruiter for more information.

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Guard Specialist Happy Behind the Wheel or Behind the Mask

SPC Amia Adkins
SPC Amia Adkins of the West Virginia Army National Guard, a 68E Dental Specialist, learned how to operate heavy machinery in order to deploy to Kuwait.

As a civilian, when Specialist (SPC) Amia Adkins drives, she hops into her Prius and takes off. When she drives in the West Virginia Army National Guard, she needs to strap on goggles, pull on gloves, and don a helmet before she even starts the engine.

Driving is not the only – or even the starkest – difference between civilian and Guard life for SPC Adkins. As a civilian, she’s a surgical assistant at Mountain State Oral and Facial Surgery in Charleston, W.Va. While on deployment in the Guard last year, she was a 12N Horizontal Construction Engineer, driving and operating a variety of heavy equipment.

For someone who grew up in the small town of Man, W.Va., and joined the Guard “to see everything, do everything, and learn everything,” SPC Adkins is making the most of her service experience.

She joined at age 19, after Guard representatives visited her high school. She didn’t know much about the military and had no military lineage, but she was intrigued by the opportunity to step outside her comfort zone and the chance to gain leadership skills.

“It was for the experience,” she says. “I wanted to build character, become more cultured, and meet more people.”

She now has friends from West Virginia, where she lives and is stationed – to Texas and Alabama, where she mobilized for deployment – to Kuwait, where she deployed for nine months last year.

West Virginia: Home & Headquarters

As she began her work as a 68E Dental Specialist six years ago with the West Virginia Army National Guard’s Medical Detachment, SPC Adkins used Montgomery GI Bill® benefits to enroll at Valley College in Beckley, W.Va., to become a surgical assistant.

Her Guard journey was playing out exactly as she expected. Then, she had a chat with her Master Sergeant who told her about a unit – the 821st Engineer Company – that needed volunteers to deploy. He planted a seed that would change her Guard experience.

Texas & Alabama: Mobilizing for Deployment

“My Master Sergeant said it was a good opportunity to step outside my comfort zone to learn to lead different types of people, not just people in my field, and to learn a new skill,” says SPC Adkins. “I really respect my Master Sergeant, so I took his advice and took deployment.”

She believed she would be continuing her dental work during deployment. When she arrived in Summersville, W.V., to begin mobilization, she was given instructions to go to a training site in Alabama to learn how to drive earthmovers, such as bulldozers, high excavators, dump trucks, and scrapers.

At first, she was surprised by the change of assignment.

“But then I got a little excited because I thought, ‘This is new,’ and I didn’t know anything about it,” says SPC Adkins.

In just over a month, she went from dental specialist to heavy equipment construction operator.

Kuwait: Bone-Jarring & Teeth-Rattling Work

The 821st Engineer Company got enough volunteers to deploy. Along with SPC Adkins, there were two dental specialists, a cook, a surveyor and two MPs who stepped away from their everyday work to learn how to operate construction equipment.

“I wasn’t alone in the learning process, fortunately.”

After finishing mobilization duties in Texas, the unit met up in Kuwait where SPC Adkins and her colleagues worked on projects like building retention dams. Each day brought a new mystery in terms of the tools of her trade.

“We never got to pick our own equipment, so we never knew what we were going to get,” says SPC Adkins.

The constant change was due to environmental conditions. Some of the equipment had no cabs and, therefore, no air conditioning.  

“They didn’t want to put the same person on there every day,” says SPC Adkins.

Her least favorite assignment? The scraper because “it jerked you around.” Her favorite assignment? The high excavator because “I was better at operating it, so I just kind of felt like I was getting more done with it.”

One of her most memorable experiences while deployed was the opportunity to graduate from the Basic Leader Course.

“I learned a lot about what I should and shouldn’t do as a leader. Before that course, I didn’t have a clue.”

Back to the Future

Home since January, she’s had a chance to reflect on her journey and decided to return to her original Military Occupational Specialty (MOS). She can’t help but compare her Guard experiences. And, yes, there are similar skills required for being a dental specialist and being a heavy equipment construction operator.

“Dexterity,” says SPC Adkins. “You have to be precise when you’re operating equipment, and you have to be very coordinated, so I had to use my dexterity.”

When she thinks about the future, she sees herself becoming a dental officer in the active duty Army, but for now, she’s enjoying her time in the Guard.

“I really like the camaraderie, I like wearing the uniform, I’m proud to wear the uniform,” says SPC Adkins. “When people see you out in uniform, they say, ‘Thanks for helping.’ I feel like everyone around us appreciates what we do.”

What advice would she give to somebody considering the Guard?

“Don’t rush. Explore your options,” says SPC Adkins. “I’m a living example you can change your mind and do something else. The possibilities are endless.”

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 LogisticsHeavy WeaponsGround Forces, and Munitions. For details on any MOS, search our job board, and contact your local recruiter for more information.

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