Busy Mom and Soldier is on a Mission to do it Right

PFC Elahni Ocean
PFC Elahni Ocean

Private First Class (PFC) Elahni Ocean is a woman on a mission – to utilize every opportunity she earns serving in the Army National Guard to further herself and her family.

Her unusual first name, which, coincidentally, is “inhale” spelled backwards, seems to reflect her outlook toward her service in the New York Army National Guard – to take everything in.

In her civilian life, PFC Ocean is a busy mom and social worker who is dedicated to helping homeless families. She has been living and working in Brooklyn since 2016 and joined the Army National Guard in July 2019.

“Service is definitely part of me. I like being part of that 1 percent – part of the community that is smaller but powerful.”

Military service runs in her family: PFC Ocean entered the Army National Guard at age 28 – the same age her mother was when she joined the Guard. Her father served in the Marines, her sister is in the Army, and many other extended family members also serve.

“My mother served in the Army National Guard, but she wasn’t afforded the same amount of information on the benefits she would have been able to receive, so she didn’t explore all her options,” says PFC Ocean, “But I plan to explore every single option for myself and my family and I am determined to do it right.”

By “doing it right,” PFC Ocean explains, she plans to take advantage of every opportunity her service in the Army National Guard provides – education, housing, and even help with starting her own business.

Her civilian career as a social worker provided experience to help her succeed in her Army National Guard position in Human Resources.

“We ensure that the Soldier and their family are well maintained,” she explains. “We make sure the Soldier’s story is complete in life and on paper.” That includes ensuring their emergency information is up to date, their insurance is in order, their awards and promotions are on track, and checking qualifications for various trainings/schools.

PFC Ocean says she didn’t realize just how much her civilian career and military career were alike until she finished her training in the Army National Guard. Both require paying close attention to detail and a serious amount of discipline.

“As a woman working in both fields, these are really important,” she explains. “In civilian life, the standard you set forth is the standard your family will follow. In the Army National Guard, the standard you set forth is the standard they respect you at.”

In her civilian work with the homeless, there are sometimes six or more people in the family, and she must make certain she follows through to ensure every family member’s needs are met. The same holds true when working with Soldiers’ families.

“There are set rules that you need to abide by,” she explains. “If you don’t, serious things can happen.”

Both involve a tremendous amount of customer service. “I have to make sure their needs are met to get them to their goal.”

After completion of Advanced Individual Training, PFC Ocean earned the Army Achievement Medal, and the Distinguished Leadership Award. She also received a Certificate of Achievement for her outstanding performance as the Student First Sergeant during her training, which led her to being meritoriously promoted to the rank of Private First Class.

She also completed Weapons Qualification Training, which she says, in times of frustration, actually was a great stress reliever.

“It allows you to get to know your body because you have to move as one to hit your target, and you have to learn to control your body and breathing,” she says.

PFC Ocean has not been deployed yet but says the thoughts of it are both a blessing and a curse. While she would welcome the opportunity to travel, she is dedicated to serving in her community at home – she knows it inside and out and is confident in her ability to keep her community safe and well. “No one can do it any better.”

Her service in the Army National Guard has helped her to grow. “Personally, I think it makes me stronger as a woman and as a mom.”

Moving forward, her goals are to earn the rank of Lieutenant, to travel with the Army National Guard, and leverage every available opportunity for her family’s benefit. She already has done college-level studies, but wants to move forward studying business psychology, and eventually start her own business. She plans to pursue the Helmets to Hardhats program, which helps aspiring entrepreneurs to establish and open their own business. She also wants to contribute her experience to programs that provide help to homeless veterans.

“I like the support I receive in the Army National Guard,” she explains. “You feel that you are part of a community. I know that if I ever fall, I will be completely supported because I made the sacrifice for my country.”

The Army National Guard gives you the opportunity to pursue a civilian career while serving part-time in your home State, so your family is always close by. With positions in more than 130 career fields, 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. 

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Texas Army National Guard Hosts Virtual Career Fair

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Your career with the Texas Army National Guard is a click away.

Just like most events during this pandemic, the Texas Army National Guard’s recruitment fair is going virtual. Visit our virtual career fair on Thursday, July 16, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. (Central). With a click from your device you will have the opportunity to speak with recruiters, watch videos, and participate in group chats. Don’t wait! Reserve your spot now!

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Guard Soldier’s Desire to Do More Leads to Dream Job Training Dogs

They say, “do what you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life.”

For Sergeant (SGT) Giovanna Donofrio, this statement holds true as she moves into the sixth year of her military career. She’s turned her passion into purpose, and found a job that she truly loves waking up for in the morning.

At age 20, SGT Donofrio was attending school, but lacked the feeling that she was making an impact. With the desire to do something different with her life, she decided to join the military.

“I needed to do something that made me feel like I was helping people more,” she says. “When I joined, I was pretty excited to feel like I was actually contributing.”

Upon leaving active duty six years later, she knew she wanted to continue her service. She transitioned to the Connecticut Army National Guard, so she could serve close to home and work in the Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) she wanted.

“When I was getting out of active duty, I [kind of] didn’t want to because I was going to miss it so much. But now that I’m in the National Guard, I’m still able to do everything I love.”

SGT Donofrio started her military career as a 91B Light-Wheel Vehicle Mechanic, and two years later, re-classed as a 31K Military Working Dog Handler – an MOS she felt passionate about.

SGT Donofrio and Schurkje pose in front of the flag at the Newtown Military Working Dog Kennels in Connecticut.

Connecticut, home to the only National Guard kennel in the U.S., is the perfect fit for SGT Donofrio. She gets to do what she loves by working with dogs, and she’s a wife and mother of three children, so being able to spend time with her family is a priority. Serving in the Army National Guard gives her the flexibility to do both.

“It’s been very beneficial for me. I love what I do, and I love being able to wear the uniform,” she says. “I love my job and being able to go home every day and see my family.”

SGT Donofrio currently works full time alongside her furry partner, Schurkje (pronounced Shur-key), a 6-year-old Belgian Malinois, specializing in drug detection.

“You’re assigned a military working dog, and depending on what kind of dog it is, whether it’s a drug dog or explosive dog, you train with this dog, and you become a team,” she explains. “Then you go out on missions to either find explosives or drugs.”

To become a dog handler, Guard members must attend Military Police training at Fort Leonard Wood for 7 weeks, followed by K9 training at Lackland Airforce Base for 11 weeks, where they learn how to handle a dog. Once complete, they’re assigned a military working dog, and go through a certification process before being able to deploy. SGT Donofrio and Schurkje are currently working toward their certification.

To get certified, Soldiers and their K9s must go through 3 to 5 days of what’s called a Detection Lane – an exercise that tests a dog’s ability to sniff out a hidden training aid, either narcotics or explosives, depending on the type of dog. The handler watches for any change in behavior, indicating the dog has detected the items.

Then they have patrol, which includes controlled aggression, a scout, and a building search, followed by obedience training in an obstacle course, and an exercise featuring gunfire to ensure the K9 won’t act aggressively or shy away if it comes under fire.

SGT Giovanna Donofrio watches as Schurkje hurdles over an obstacle in the obedience course at the Newtown Military Working Dog Kennels in Connecticut.

“As far as Schurkje goes, he is great with gunfire, and just sits there next to me perfectly fine,” boasts SGT Donofrio.

Even though they can’t run missions just yet, SGT Donofrio and Schurkje are given opportunities elsewhere. This past March, in honor of K9 Veterans Day, the pair, alongside other members of the Connecticut Army National Guard’s 928th Military Working Dog Detachment, were presented with an official citation from the General Assembly at the State Capitol, recognizing them for their service. This, she says, has been one of her most fulfilling moments in the Guard thus far.

Not only does she love her job, she also enjoys all the benefits the Guard has to offer. With the Guard’s tuition assistance, she attends school full time, working toward her bachelor’s degree in accounting, and recently, she was able to purchase a new home using the VA loan benefit.

When she’s off the clock, SGT Donofrio enjoys hanging out with her Pomsky (half Pomeranian/half Husky), spending time with her family, painting, going to Zumba, horseback riding, and coaching cheerleading.

The Army National Guard offers the flexibility you need to live a well-balanced life. With more than 130 career options in fields like military police, medicine, and infantry, you, too, can find a job that you love, with benefits that help support you, your lifestyle, and your family. Contact a local recruiter to learn more today.

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