‘I Have a New Life, Thanks to the Guard’

SSG Shawnda Roberts

SSG Shawnda Roberts

It’s not every day that opportunity comes knocking at the door. For Shawnda Roberts, that knock was both literal and life altering.

Now, technically, it had been the wrong door, the result of a slight mix-up. A recruiter for the Army National Guard had been searching for a nearby address when he showed up at Roberts’ South Florida apartment nine years ago. Rather than send the visitor on his way to the correct destination, Roberts started asking questions about what this branch of the military did. It had been her impression that the Guard was a full-time active duty branch that went to war a lot.

“I was already at war with this life I was stuck in,” says Roberts, who quickly learned once she invited the recruiter inside her home that the Guard was a part-time commitment that offered a lot of benefits.

Roberts was 24 at the time and had already earned a bachelor’s degree in criminology and a master’s in public administration by the time the recruiter showed up. Even with a full-time job in her field as a corrections officer, Roberts felt lost.

“It just wasn’t my passion.”

On top of being unsure about her career path and realizing the burden of student loans, Roberts was also trying to escape an abusive relationship. Growing up, she’d dealt with a family life that had been marred by drugs, violence, and abuse. She’d gone from her mother to her grandmother’s care, and due to the addiction problems of both, had been taken in at one point by her third-grade teacher. And now she was dealing with yet another bad situation.

“By the time the recruiter left, I was blown away. I had no idea I qualified to join the Guard. I knew what my responsibilities would be, the benefits the Guard afforded, and how the Guard could help me accomplish many of my goals.”

Including being able to shed her skin and start anew. Within a matter of weeks, Roberts enlisted in the Florida National Guard.

“I never looked back on that life. I have a new life, thanks to the Guard.”

After Basic Training, her first Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) was 92Y Supply Specialist. She later moved into 31B Military Police and Intelligence because they better aligned with her previous work experience.

Most recently, though, Roberts decided to switch gears a bit. She became a recruiter and staff sergeant last fall. And, because the Guard offers money for college, she also decided to become a certified medical assistant through Florida Career College.

But don’t assume she’s finished her educational pursuits just yet. SSG Roberts’ next plan is to become a physician assistant through the Army’s Interservice Physician Assistant Program (IPAP). She decided on this as a long-term goal during her deployment to Afghanistan, where she shadowed a physician assistant who helped wounded Soldiers.

“There is no organization I can think of that pays up to $50,000 toward student loans,” says SSG Roberts. “This one benefit alone increased my credit score and kept me out of a financial hardship.”

But the benefits of service go beyond financial security.

“The emotional connection you get from training and deploying with your battle buddies is priceless.”

That’s not to say that life, no matter how much it can improve, is without hardships.

“Part of the Soldier’s Creed is ‘I will never quit.’ This motto has been instilled in me. Replaying those four words in my head is enough motivation to defeat any new obstacles that come my way.”

SSG Roberts also wants to help others overcome obstacles. After she retires from the Guard, one of her goals is to open a center that provides free legal and medical services for people who are struggling because she knows what it is to struggle, and how much it means to receive help.

That’s part of the reason she became a recruiter.

“Somebody has always helped me. I’d like to be able to save at least one person.”

If you’d like more information on how to join the Army National Guard, get in touch with a recruiter — perhaps even SSG Roberts if you happen to be in Florida — and visit the Guard jobs board today.

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