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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May’s Hot Job Is … 31B Military Police

Now that On Your Guard is back online, we plan to pick one hot job each month throughout 2015 and tell you a bit about it. What defines each featured job as “hot”? One all-important benchmark: number of times people searched for it on the National Guard jobs board. So, without further ado, let’s get started.


For anyone thinking about starting down a law enforcement or security services career path, the 31B-Military Police military occupational specialty (MOS) in the Army National Guard may well be the best first step possible. In fact, 31B is, hands down, the most searched for MOS on the jobs board.

Just like their civilian counterparts, military police, or MPs, are called upon to preserve law and order. That means preventing and investigating crimes, providing surveillance, gathering evidence, patrolling the base, controlling crowds, and providing security to keep the peace. They also respond to natural disasters and other emergencies on the home front.

Besides its primary mission to serve local communities, the National Guard is also called upon to serve the Nation. Military police who are called to active duty in a war zone support battlefield operations. This could include working with intelligence officers to deal with prisoners of war and guarding senior officers. The Guard’s military police also have been called upon to train police forces in other countries like Iraq and Afghanistan.

Speaking of training, 31Bs attend 10 weeks of Basic Combat Training, followed by 8-10 weeks of Advanced Individual Training for their MOS. Advanced training includes both classroom and in-the-field instruction, and you’ll learn how to conduct police work, from crowd control techniques to how to restrain suspects and investigate crimes. The Guard also offers MPs additional opportunities for specialized training, such as an Interviewing and Interrogation Course and an Active Shooter Response Course.

The National Guard is a part-time commitment, which allows Soldiers to simultaneously serve and work toward a degree and/or pursue a civilian career. So, once you’re finished with Basic and Advanced training, you’ll have time to take advantage of the Guard’s outstanding education benefits, like tuition assistance and the Montgomery GI Bill. From there, you’ll be able to combine that education with the experience you’ll have as an MP to become an excellent law enforcement/security job candidate.

Plus, as SPC Stephen Strebinger explains in this video, MP training can give you a better feel for what area of civilian police work you want to pursue. He says he’s working toward a degree in criminal justice, and “the Guard’s paying for me to get there.”

For more information about how you can join the Guard’s military police, or learn more about any of its 200 career fields, visit the National Guard jobs board and contact a recruiter today.

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September Spotlight: Summer Training in Indiana

Indiana National Guard partners with FEMA in water rescue exercise

A rescue team member from Ohio's Federal Emergency Management Team prepares to deliver a simulated casualty to a team of Soldiers from the 381st Military Police Company, Indiana National Guard. The Vibrant Response 14 exercise tests the abilities of multiple agencies to respond in the event of an actual chemical, biological, radioactive, or nuclear incident or other emergencies. (Photo by Sgt. Brandon K. Anderson)

A rescue team member from Ohio's Federal Emergency Management Team prepares to deliver a simulated casualty to a team of Soldiers from the 381st Military Police Company, Indiana National Guard. The Vibrant Response 14 exercise tests the abilities of multiple agencies to respond in the event of an actual chemical, biological, radioactive, or nuclear incident or other emergencies. (Photo by Sgt. Brandon K. Anderson)

Shortly after a 911 call is placed, a team of amphibious rescue firefighters arrive on the scene of a lake where a family member is frantic about a loved one who has failed to return after swimming in the lake.

This was the scenario being played out on the shoreline of Brush Creek Reservoir in early August, when Soldiers from the 381st Military Police Company, Indiana Army National Guard, and members of Ohio Task Force 1 conducted joint training as part of a Vibrant Response 14 exercise held near Muscatatuck Urban Training Center.

Ohio Task Force 1, the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s water rescue team for Ohio, made the trip to join in the multi-agency training exercise.

Ray Smith, a hazardous material and water team manager for Ohio Task Force 1, said the lake shore operation was meant to simulate what would happen if a team was called to search for a possible drowning victim.

“Our team is conducting this mission as part of a search-and-rescue scenario,” Smith said. “We’re launching four boats with two-man teams in them to search the shores of the reservoir and use GPS to mark the location of each victim.”

The “victims” are then delivered to Soldiers on the shore for evaluation and possible evacuation for further treatment, he said.

Although this is part of the Vibrant Response 14 exercise, everyone on the rescue teams is a firefighter in Ohio and trains for this type of scenario.

“Any time there would be a flood in their local jurisdiction, these guys would be involved in this kind of operation,” Smith said.

Army PFC David Ladd, the 381st Military Police combat medic charged with administering first aid for the simulated casualty, said working with the rescue team has been a great experience for him.

“I just got out of advanced individual training and having this type of experience is great for me,” Ladd said. “I’m hoping to get a job as an emergency medical technician, and I think this kind of training will help me in my job as a combat medic.”

Having the ability to train alongside different agencies like FEMA is a one-of-a-kind opportunity, Ladd said.

One rescue team member, Josh Compton, agreed with him.

“I’ve been with the task force for seven years now and have been a firefighter for 13 and have noticed that over the years we’re doing more and more with the military,” Compton said. “When I first got on, there was very little interaction between the two groups, but now it’s pretty common.”

Compton, who has deployed in response to numerous hurricanes in the past, said the water rescue team is a new concept for FEMA, and he sees the benefit.

“You never know when you’ll be in a situation where you’ll not only need this type of team but also will be working with the military, and this training will go a long way for preparing them and us,” he said.

If you have what it takes to respond to search and rescue missions, a career in the Army National Guard may be a great option for you. Check out the Guard’s jobs board and contact a recruiter today.

Original article by Army SGT Brandon K. Anderson, 13th Public Affairs Detachment, appeared in the news section of

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