Ohio’s First Female Infantry Officer on COVID-19 Front Lines

2LT Colleen O’Callaghan
2LT Colleen O’Callaghan, a platoon leader with the Ohio Army National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 148th Infantry Regiment, oversees her team at Second Harvest Food Bank of Clark, Champaign and Logan Counties in Springfield, Ohio. O’Callaghan is the Ohio National Guard’s first female Army Infantry Officer in its 232-year history. (Photo by SPC Max Elliott.)

COLUMBUS, Ohio – The Ohio Army National Guard’s support during the COVID-19 pandemic has presented many firsts for the organization.

It marks the first time since the Blizzard of 1978 that the Army National Guard has responded to serve the State on such a large scale. The Guard’s overall COVID-19 response, known as Operation Steady Resolve, is the first time Ohio’s Army Guard, Air Guard, Naval Militia, and Military Reserve have been activated under one joint task force.

Among the hundreds of Soldiers, Airmen, and other personnel who have answered the call to serve on the front lines of the COVID-19 response is one who had already achieved an historic first of her own for the organization. Second Lieutenant (2LT) Colleen O’Callaghan is the first woman in the Ohio National Guard’s 232-year history to become an Army Infantry Officer.

With the integration of women into combat arms still in its infancy – the Department of Defense began allowing them to serve in direct combat Units more than five years ago – 2LT O’Callaghan took a leap of faith to start her journey toward becoming an Infantry Officer.

Graduating the Army’s Infantry Basic Officer Leaders Course (IBOLC) was an accomplishment 2LT O’Callaghan says she never envisioned when she began her career in the Ohio Army National Guard. Along with help from her recruitment team, she navigated the obstacles to pave the way for herself and other women to join the Infantry branch.

“I really wanted to take on a big challenge,” 2LT O’Callaghan says. “So, I walked into the Army National Guard recruiting office and told them I want to be an Infantry Officer. I saw it as an opportunity to reinvent myself and serve my country.”

2LT O’Callaghan earned her blue cord – a military decoration worn over the right shoulder on an Army dress uniform by all Infantry-qualified Soldiers – in October after a successful 12 weeks of IBOLC training at Fort Benning, Georgia. The installation is home to the Maneuver Center of Excellence, which also trains armor and cavalry Soldiers, as well as oversees specialty training, including the U.S. Army Ranger and Airborne schools.

After completing Officer Candidate School with a near equal number of men and women, 2LT O’Callaghan was one of only three women in her IBOLC class. Despite being the first woman in the Ohio National Guard to branch into infantry, 2LT O’Callaghan says her experience was the same as any other Soldier’s. She found her peers and cadre supportive of her decision, actively encouraging her throughout the course and treating her professionally.

“The cadre and staff there were really excited and were really understanding of the position I was in. It can be awkward being one of the only females,” says 2LT O’Callaghan. “But I ended up making some great friends and definitely had some memorable experiences.”

Colonel (COL) Matthew Woodruff, commander of the 37th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, attended O’Callaghan’s IBOLC graduation ceremony and met with her family and course cadre.

“This (was) an historic event for the Ohio Army National Guard to have the first female Infantry Officer complete IBOLC,” COL Woodruff says. “It means a lot for the 1-148th (1st Battalion, 148th Infantry Regiment), the 37th IBCT (the major subordinate command over the 1-148th), and the Ohio Army National Guard in paving the way for future female Soldiers, NCOs (noncommissioned officers), and officers to be in combat arms in Ohio.”

2LT O’Callaghan, of Xenia, Ohio, attended her first drill weekend in January as a platoon leader with the Ohio Army National Guard’s Company C, 1-148th, in Tiffin. Shortly thereafter, the coronavirus outbreak hit Ohio, forcing many businesses to close. It also meant a civilian job opportunity for 2LT O’Callaghan was put on hold. So, when the Ohio National Guard created a joint task force in response to Gov. Mike DeWine’s call for the Guard to provide support during the COVID-19 pandemic, it only made sense to 2LT O’Callaghan that she answer the call to volunteer.

“I had just accepted a role at a new job, but they could not start me until after the (governor’s) stay-at-home order was lifted,” 2LT O’Callaghan says. “So, I volunteered to be put on orders and help the State until I could start my new civilian role.”

2LT O’Callaghan was able to serve close to her Southwest Ohio home, at the Second Harvest Food Bank of Clark, Champaign, and Logan Counties in Springfield. As officer-in-charge of the approximately 40 military personnel staffing the food bank, she led a joint team responsible for a variety of mission sets, including drive-thru food distribution and home deliveries across Second Harvest’s rural, tri-county coverage area.

2LT O’Callaghan says her experience as a new Officer was enhanced by support from her senior NCOs. While Infantry Officers don’t typically train to run food bank operations, she was able to use her administrative expertise from previous civilian jobs while capitalizing on the variety of skills her team members had to offer. Together, they were able to efficiently operate at the food bank and serve fellow Ohioans in need.

The public’s response in Springfield has been overwhelmingly positive.

“There were a lot of people who were just very grateful there was help available,” she says. “I would stand toward the front of drive-thru distributions to greet people as they arrived; they were always very positive and thankful we were there to help them when they needed it most.”

2LT O’Callaghan says she felt gratified to serve her friends and neighbors in such a direct way. The Army National Guard is unique in that it allows Soldiers like 2LT O’Callaghan to serve in their communities, which has helped her make the place she calls home even better.

“We genuinely want to be here. We have all volunteered and we are all serving relatively close to our homes whenever possible,” she says. “Everybody wants to help because there are so many people (who are) out of work and need assistance, and we have the ability to do it.”

2LT O’Callaghan says she wants her service as both a female Infantry Officer and a member of the Ohio Army National Guard during Operation Steady Resolve to inspire others to start their own journey and, ultimately, pursue opportunities to serve their Community, State, and Nation.

“I didn’t get here on my own, and at no point was I alone,” she says. “What I hope to do is encourage other women to take on something extremely challenging and take the leap.”

The Army National Guard offers positions in more than 130 career fields, so you can serve your community in a way that’s right for you. Opportunities include supply and logistics, admin and relations, transport, and more. Check out the job board for more information on available careers, and contact a local recruiter to learn more. 

From an original article by 1LT Kevin Livingston, Ohio National Guard, which appeared in the news section of NationalGuard.mil on July 21, 2020.

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Michigan Army National Guard Helps Boost Food Bank Distribution

Michigan Army National Guard Helps with Food Bank Distribution
Soldiers from the 1433rd and 1434th Engineer Companies, Michigan Army National Guard, package more than 1,000 meal boxes a day at Gleaners Community Food Bank in Pontiac in response to COVID-19. Guard members are serving at six food distribution sites across the state. (Photo by 2LT Ashley Goodwin.)

LANSING, Michigan – The Army National Guard has been helping communities across the nation cope with the COVID-19 pandemic in a variety of ways.

Since March, the Michigan Army National Guard has helped the Food Bank Council of Michigan distribute more than 26 million pounds of food, feeding hundreds of thousands of Michigan families during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The National Guard’s involvement has been key to getting more food out to more people throughout this time, and they have been such a tremendous help,” says Kath Clark, director of food programs for the Food Bank Council of Michigan. “All of our volunteers do great work, but when the National Guard comes in, they really put their back into it.”

After Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued a “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order in March, food banks were challenged to find alternative ways to support Michiganders.

“A majority of those working in our food banks are retirees and are at a higher risk of contracting the coronavirus,” says Clark. “Many of the volunteers decided they were going to follow the order early on, understandably, of course, which left us short-staffed.”

The food bank asked for help from the Michigan Army National Guard via the State Emergency Operations Center.

Michigan National Guard support was initiated with 10 to 12 members at each of six food bank distribution sites – in Ann Arbor, Battle Creek, Comstock Park, Flint, Pontiac, and Royal Oak. Their assistance has helped increase the distribution of resources to families in need by 41 percent.

“This mission has allowed a unique opportunity to directly apply the skills from my civilian career to a military mission,” says Sergeant (SGT) Kyle Greenway, 1433rd Engineer Company, Michigan Army National Guard.

The Army National Guard provides Citizen-Soldiers the opportunity to pursue a civilian career while serving part-time in their home State, so your service directly supports your community. In return for their service, Soldiers receive benefits, including money for college, VA home loans, and Guard pay, among others.

“I am the non-commissioned officer in charge at the Gleaners Community Food Bank in Pontiac, Michigan, and on the civilian side, I am a manufacturing shipping supervisor in Holland, Michigan,” SGT Greenway says.

“By combining good manufacturing practices and the hard work ethic of the Michigan Army National Guard, my team has been able to increase the output of production at our site by more than 300 percent,” SGT Greenway says. “This is a testament to the readiness and commitment of the Michigan Army National Guard to serving our fellow Michiganders in times of need.”

With positions in more than 130 career fields, including supply and logistics, admin and relations, and transport, you can find your perfect fit. Check out the job board for more information on available careers, and contact a local recruiter to learn more.  

From an original article by 2LT Ashley Goodwin, Michigan National Guard, which appeared in the news section of NationalGuard.mil in June 2020.

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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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