Joined to Pay for College, Stayed for Love of Career

Like a lot of young people just starting out in life, at 18, Sheldon McCoy wanted to go to college and be able to pay his bills.

SGT Sheldon McCoy

SGT Sheldon McCOY

His older brother was already serving in the Army National Guard in the McCoys’ hometown in Oklahoma. So once McCoy learned that this branch of the military would pay 100 percent of his in-state tuition, he looked no further than his local Guard recruiter for a solution that allowed him to keep up with his truck payments, enroll in college, and serve on a part-time basis close to home.

That was seven years ago. Now a Sergeant who works full-time in an administrative position with the Oklahoma Guard in the same Unit as his brother, Dustin, McCoy keeps up his part-time training in his military occupational specialty (MOS) as a 13D Field Artillery Automated Data Systems Specialist.

“We are considered the brains of the artillery,” SGT McCoy explains of his MOS.

The job is definitely a team effort.

“The gun can’t function without us and we can’t function without FOs,” he says. FO stands for forward observers, or the infantry, which is on the front lines in battle.

When the infantry calls via radio for the fire direction center to fire at a target, the 13D’s job is to know what ammunition to use, how weather conditions could impact the task, the locations of the battery (guns) and the target, plus figure out what’s in between those two locations that could get in the way, such as, “is there a mountain range that’s so high we’re going to have to shoot at a higher angle.”

Once the information is collected, the 13Ds do their calculations using computers and perform a system of checks and balances of sorts amongst the team, called data bumping, to ensure the round will meet its target precisely.

“When that round leaves the howitzer, it’s scary but it’s awesome at the same time to know that I play a major role in exactly where that round’s going to go,” says SGT McCoy. “You’re going to put it exactly where it needs to be. Not close. I like perfection.”

While this MOS might not translate directly to a similar career in the private sector, the job does require a security clearance, which is attractive to employers, says SGT McCoy. Another advantage is employers know they can depend on a person who has a military background. 

“One thing you get when you hire a 13D or any Soldier is you get leadership skills. Anybody that comes out of basic [training], they’ve got all the leadership skills you could ask for.”

SGT McCoy says he plans to make the Guard his career – at least for the foreseeable future.

“I love it. Army’s for me,” he says.

By age 43, SGT McCoy will be eligible for the Guard’s retirement benefits, but he doesn’t plan to stop working. He had been going to college for a business degree, but is considering the education field as well.

“A college education is pretty nice to have. It’s kind of hard to get a job without it,” he says.

If you’re looking for a way to pay for a degree and still be able to pay your bills, the Army National Guard offers a number of education benefits. Many States like Oklahoma provide 100 percent tuition reimbursement, but contact your local recruiter to find out what your State offers.

And for more information about military occupational specialties, check out our job board for details. There are more than 150 career fields to explore.

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