California Officer Balances Guard Service with Teaching the Next Generation of Medicine

KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan – To the Soldiers assigned to Train, Advise and Assist Command-South (TAAC-South), Major (MAJ) Nathan Wall, with the California Army National Guard’s 40th Infantry Division, is simply the deputy logistics and medical operations officer for the unit.

However, back home in Loma Linda, Calif., he goes by Dr. Wall, especially with the students of Loma Linda University School of Medicine, where he is a professor.

“I teach molecular genetics and biochemistry to first- and second-year medical students,” MAJ Wall says. “I am also the program director for the Ph.D. programs in biochemistry and in cancer biology for the Ph.D. students.”

MAJ Wall also leads a research group within the university that studies the biochemical and genetic issues associated with cancer.

“We focus on the understanding of how cells undergo a process called apoptosis, or programmed cell death, in hopes that by understanding this process we can design experimental therapeutics that will induce this phenomenon in cancer cells,” he explains.

Balancing Civilian/Military Roles

With a very active role in the university, MAJ Wall manages to balance life as a professor and a California Army Guard Soldier.

“MAJ Wall is a caring and thorough officer,” says Army MAJ Erik Underwood, logistics officer for TAAC-South. “He truly embodies what we call a Citizen-Soldier®; he is exactly the type of leader and Soldier the [Army] National Guard looks for.”

MAJ Wall says he was motivated to enlist after watching the fall of the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York on 9/11.

“It was heart wrenching, and I knew then that I wanted to join Army.”

At the time, he was at Yale University completing a post-doctoral fellowship, and chose to complete his original plans before joining the Army.

Following Yale, he moved with his family to Massachusetts to complete his second post-doctoral training at Harvard Medical School. Only after moving to California to work at Loma Linda University was he able to commission with the California Guard.

“I have been in the Army for 10 years now, and I can say I have never had a bad day in uniform.”

During his time with the Guard, MAJ Wall has served in medical, logistics, and operations specialties. While each required a different focus, the officer has been able to make transitions easily.

“[He] has transitioned from the medical side to logistics very well, and has been able to tie in both branches,” says MAJ Underwood, a native of Yorba Linda, Calif. “His desire to learn, as you can see from his educational background, I believe, has made him successful in his transition.”

MAJ Wall gives credit to his wife and kids for his successes as both a professor and Soldier.

“I would have never joined [the Army] if my wife wouldn’t have joined with me,” he says. “Even though I am serving [in Afghanistan] now, they are serving back in the States in my absence.”

Though he and his family have to deal with separation during deployments and training as part of military life, it’s something the family has experience with from MAJ Wall’s time in graduate school.

MAJ Nathan Wall, of the California Army National Guard’s 40th Infantry Division and the deputy logistics officer for Train, Advise and Assist Command-South in Afghanistan, works in his office in Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan. (Photo by Army SSG Neysa Canfield, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division.)

MAJ Nathan Wall, of the California Army National Guard’s 40th Infantry Division and the deputy logistics officer for Train, Advise and Assist Command-South in Afghanistan, works in his office in Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan. (Photo by Army SSG Neysa Canfield, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division.)

Serving in uniform and educating others in the classroom complement each other, he says, adding that he doesn’t consider himself only a professor or only a Soldier – he’s both.

“For me, one makes the other better. As a Soldier, the skills that I am able to develop affect who I am as a professor, as a father, son, and spouse, and vice versa.”

Nearing End of Deployment

As his nine-month deployment at TAAC-South nears the end, MAJ Wall says he is excited to see his family and his students back at Loma Linda.

“Whenever I get an opportunity, I take some time to put some of my lessons together in preparation for my return to the school,” he says. “I am very thankful for the university and their patience and their ability to let me be a Soldier.”

MAJ Underwood says he feels grateful to have had the opportunity to have MAJ Wall as part of his team during the deployment.

“I think our unit made a great decision in picking MAJ Wall for this deployment,” MAJ Underwood says. “He has done a lot of good for Afghanistan and TAAC-South. The fact that he has a very successful career in his civilian life shows how patriotic he is and how much he wants to serve his country.”

So, if you are interested in having a civilian career and serving your country and community, both of these things can be done simultaneously when you join the Army National Guard.

Guard service is part-time, which gives Soldiers the flexibility to pursue a career outside of the military. Plus, with the Guard’s education benefits, paying for college or a trade school is easier than you might think. Guard Soldiers also receive training in a career in fields like engineering, aviation, infantry, transportation, and more. Check out all of the options on our job board, and contact your local recruiter to learn more.

From an original article by Army SSG Neysa Canfield, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, which appeared in the news section of NationalGuard.mil in August.

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STEM Careers in the Guard: A Spotlight on Science

This fall, On Your Guard is taking a look at STEM, or Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, careers offered by the Army National Guard. These are jobs that require problem solving skills and a strong desire to figure out how things work. They are also typically high paying jobs that are in demand in the civilian workforce.

So why is that important? Because Guard service is typically a part-time commitment, many of our Soldiers make the most of their skills training and the Guard’s education benefits to build successful full-time civilian careers.

This week, we’ll take a look at Science careers.

If you’re good at analyzing complex problems and finding ways to solve them, you may be interested in one of the Army National Guard’s science careers. These can range from jobs in medicine to biology, chemistry, physics and environmental science.

First Lieutenant (1LT) Michelle Warner-Hersey, who joined the Guard after college, applied her dual degree in the science-related fields of athletic training and sports management – and a minor in coaching – to become a 74A Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) Officer in the Ohio National Guard.

Chemical Units are trained to defend against weapons of mass destruction that could involve chemical, biological, nuclear, or radiological agents.

1LT Warner-Hersey and her team, the 155th Chemical Battalion, are trained on how to use personal protective gear to enter a contaminated area, and how to use detection equipment that allows them to assess and understand the environment, “knowing whether we’re entering an area that is suitable for life or not suitable for life, whether it can be mitigated by our protection equipment, or we need to get back out and get something at a higher level.” 

1LT Michelle Warner-Hersey of the Ohio National Guard

1LT Michelle Warner-Hersey of the Ohio National Guard

The team’s objectives are contamination avoidance, determining what contaminants they might be dealing with, and conducting decontamination to ensure that the team is not bringing anything hazardous outside, thereby expanding the contamination area.

“The mission, in general, is to save lives, mitigate human suffering and prepare for follow on forces.”

So far, 1LT Warner-Hersey has not had to respond to any disasters.

“We learned a lot from 9/11. Luckily all of our information is kind of in the what-if world, because we haven’t had to deal the hazards of mustard gas or Agent Orange and things that used to be used,” she explains. “Even things like 9/11 when there wasn’t a specific hazard, but everyone was affected by the dust, smoke, and asbestos, those are things we could have responded to and maybe will in the future.”

Or, as she and members of her Unit like to say, “We train really hard to hope to never do our job.” 

To be able to do this kind of job, 1LT Warner-Hersey says Soldiers will have to be able to understand how chemicals, radiological material, and biological agents react. This requires an aptitude for science and math. And while 1LT Warner-Hersey always liked science, she says math was not her strong suit.

Her determination solved that problem. 

“I just studied a lot and got a lot of help, mainly because I was so interested in the science part that I didn’t have a choice but to figure out how to learn the math side.” 

A CBRN Soldier will also have to be able to make quick decisions, says 1LT Warner-Hersey. She notes that protective gear can make communication difficult because it can inhibit motor function, and masks can make it more difficult for speech to be understood.

Those obstacles, too, are overcome in training by acclimatizing the body to the protective gear.

“You really have to figure out how to handle yourself in a really stressful, fast-paced environment when you’re limited on how you function normally.”

That includes things like speaking differently to be understood through a mask and using hand and arm signals.

For more on what the equipment and a training exercise look like, check out this video, which features 1LT Warner-Hersey and her former Unit. 

Training in the CBRN field can also translate to civilian careers, especially in working for HAZMAT teams or providing HAZMAT training. 1LT Warner-Hersey says she knows of Soldiers who’ve applied their skills to work in crime labs, lab testing and drug testing on the civilian side.

So if you have the aptitude for, and an interest in, a career in science, be sure to visit our job board to check out these Military Occupational Specialties (MOSs):

74D Chemical Operations Specialist

12Y Geospatial Engineer 

68A Medical Equipment Repairer

92L Petroleum Laboratory Specialist

94H Test, Measurement and Diagnostic Equipment Maintenance Support Specialist

Guard careers in closely related fields, like Engineering, Math, and Technology might also be of interest to you. One way to narrow down your options is to contact your local recruiter.

 

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9/11: Never Forget, Even if You Don’t Remember

We Remember_Army National GuardOn this Patriot Day, On Your Guard salutes every hero who responded and all family members whose lives were changed forever on that tragic day 14 years ago. We especially honor the thousands of National Guard Soldiers who mobilized in New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C., to assist in emergency, recovery, and security operations.

Many reading this blog post were in preschool or kindergarten at the time. You are now in high school or college and considering a career in the Army National Guard. For that, we say thank you. But we also ask that even though you don’t remember much, if anything at all, please never forget. Learn what happened that day and understand that when you join the Guard, you join in our mission to serve and protect the community.

Whether you are young or old, these links offer reflective reading, photos, videos, and more on this day of remembrance:

https://dmna.ny.gov/wtc/

http://www.911memorial.org/

http://washington.org/DC-guide-to/pentagon-memorial

http://www.nps.gov/flni/index.htm

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