Soldier Praises Guard for Benefits and Opportunities

The decision to join the military can be based on a number of factors – for some, the benefits alone seem worth it, while others feel it’s their duty to serve their country. For Specialist (SPC) Sychelle Gonsalves, it was a combination of both that influenced her to join the Army National Guard.

“At the time, I was 20 and I wanted to stay in Alaska,” she recalls. “The recruiter told me that they’d send me to basic training, and I’d only be there for a couple of months. Then I’d come back to Alaska and serve part-time.”

SPC Sychelle Gonsalves is a 31B Military Police Officer in the Alaska Army National Guard, stationed at Fort Greely with the 49th Missile Defense Battalion.

SPC Gonsalves was a bank teller at the time she enlisted. Being able to serve part-time while continuing to work in her civilian career was one of the main benefits that drew her to Guard service – the education benefits were an added bonus. She’s currently utilizing the Guard’s tuition assistance to pursue a degree in logistics.

In 2016, SPC Gonsalves began her Guard career as a 92Y Unit Supply Specialist as part of a Military Police unit in Anchorage. Logistics is her passion, but once she heard about the wealth of opportunities at Fort Greely, she reclassed into a new MOS so she could relocate. Now serving full-time as 31B Military Police, she’s stationed at Fort Greely with the 49th Missile Defense Battalion.

SPC Gonsalves says that enlisting in the Army National Guard has enhanced her interpersonal skills, decision-making abilities, and problem-solving techniques, as well as helped her discover her strengths and weaknesses, so much so that she competed in the 2019 Army National Guard Best Warrior Competition.

When she was approached to compete, she didn’t know anything about the competition and was nervous – but she participated anyway to see how far she could push herself.

“I just wanted to compete,” she says.

SPC Gonsalves first competed in the Battalion Best Warrior Competition, which is the local-level event in July of 2018. She took the title and went on to compete in the State-level competition, taking home the victory for that event as well.

She then went on to represent the State alongside one of her colleagues in the regional competition this past spring. While she didn’t win, her ability to excel against her competitors earned her Soldier of the Year (Battalion and State), Service Person of the Year from the Armed Services YMCA (ASYMCA), and Missile Defender of the Year (Missile Defense Alliance Advocacy).

She was the first female to win Soldier of the Year in the Alaska Army National Guard.

SPC Gonsalves is a proud Guard Soldier who finds gratification in her everyday routine. Whether she’s called to maintain traffic control points, assist with natural disaster relief, or aid other parts of the country, she’s always prepared and ready to fulfill the mission at hand, alongside a team of 300 Soldiers.

“You are part of a team of 300 that protects 300 million,” she says proudly.

SPC Gonsalves has sound advice for those interested in joining the Army National Guard: “Consider what line of job you’d like to do and go for it! Know that there are a lot of opportunities in the Guard, and the Guard will not let you down.”

If you’re looking for your dream job with benefits like education assistance, insurance, and the ability to serve close to home, explore available opportunities in the Army National Guard today. Whether you’re into technology, logistics, or ground forces careers, you’re bound to find the one that’s right for you. Browse the job board and contact a recruiter to learn how you can make a difference in your country and your community.

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Rising from the Rubble

Staff Sergeant Michael Byers of Missouri Army National Guard’s HHC, 203rd Engineer Battalion, 35th Engineer Brigade, has deployed twice and seen his share of combat, but nothing prepared him for the day when a tornado ripped through his hometown of Joplin and he needed to rescue a man who was impaled on a steel beam. This is his story, as told to GX Magazine.

SSG Michael Byers stands on remaining rubble at the site of Joplin High School. The new high school (seen in the background) is scheduled to open by August 2014. Photo by Mark Neuenschwander.

SSG Michael Byers stands on remaining rubble at the site of Joplin High School. The new high school (seen in the background) is scheduled to open by August 2014. Photo by Mark Neuenschwander.

On May 22, 2011, my cousin, Brian Hamlet, my wife and I, my sister and her [now husband] were getting ready for dinner at a restaurant in Joplin. We were under a tornado warning, though, so we weren’t going to leave the babysitter. Instead, we watched the TV to get an idea of where the tornado was.

We do get a lot of warnings where we are. The tornados usually travel up the I-44 corridor here, so we were thinking, “They never hit; why did this have to happen when we’re trying to go out to dinner?” But when we saw transformers blowing up all across the city on live TV, instantly my heart dropped.

Seeing the tornado’s path, I knew it hit our armory. As the supply sergeant, the idea of weapons scattered across Joplin came to my mind, so I immediately grabbed my uniform, bandages — whatever I could — as I rushed out the door.

I asked my cousin to go with me and we drove as fast and as far as we could. The tornado had ripped a large path between my home north of town and the armory on the south side of town. Huge trees were down every few feet. And as we were driving, the tornado was still ripping through Joplin, so you could see the black storm raging in the distance.

We got to where the tornado had been and got out of the truck, walking. Everything was leveled. There was nothing. The scene was surreal — like a movie set. Not a tree, not a house standing for half a mile.

It was somehow noisy and calm at the same time. People were climbing out of shelters. Transformers kept blowing up. Alarms were going off as people climbed out of cars thrown hundreds of feet through the air. One house was completely on fire near a gas pipe that was spewing out something we thought could easily explode. We ran down to the worst hit area, jumping over power lines and avoiding the gas lines that were spraying everywhere. Everybody in that area was under rubble, screaming and moaning.

That’s where we found Mark Lindquist. He had been working at a group home, caring for three boys with Down syndrome. We came across the boys first. One we couldn’t help, but we gave aid to the other two. Lindquist was toward the top of a big shaky pile of rubble with a piece of metal like a steel guardrail impaled through his back. He had landed on it, broken bones galore and had lost a large amount of blood. He had suffered a head injury and was muttering the same moan over and over again, moving on the piece of metal he couldn’t get off of.

Impaled like that, he didn’t have much blood left, and the only way to be able to treat him was to get him off of the rubble. So we had to muscle him — he’s a big guy — off of the metal, then took off our shirts and used them to try to stop the bleeding. Eventually, we just had to drag him onto the ground and work on him.

I had gone through first aid training during mobilization on two different tours, to Afghanistan and Iraq. But when you actually have to use it, it really makes you want to pay attention more when those classes are going on. It’s definitely something I stress with my guys now.

After we had given him aid, eventually we got to that moment where we expected that ambulances and fire trucks would show up to take these people to safety. In reality, there was no help coming. So I left the mass casualty staging area we had set up and ran about four blocks to a major street, yelling for some guys with four-wheel drive trucks to get down there and help us out. We cleared the way, but some of them still damaged their trucks driving over huge downed telephone poles and all kinds of debris.

On my first tour in Iraq, I did primarily combat missions — security, escorting, that type of stuff. Eventually you get used to the death and destruction in combat, and learn to react to certain situations. But this was a lot worse than what I’d seen in combat, because we didn’t have a medevac helicopter to call. We didn’t have life-saving equipment on us. We didn’t just hold the wound and yell for help to come. You’re more prepared for it on a deployment. This, on the other hand, was a lot of casualties, and I didn’t have a platoon of people to help me.

Lindquist looked like the worst casualty — he was visually out of blood, gray in color. So he went out on the first truck we were able to get in. An older lady who was by Lindquist, the two boys with Down syndrome, another lady with a broken arm, and one or two other folks also got into the trucks that came. We had a system going — civilians were getting their trucks there hauling people out, while we continued to look through debris for people.

Eventually, fire trucks and ambulances showed up, so we headed to the armory, where we shifted into cleanup mode.

Later, after the mission was over, it was heavy on my cousin’s heart and my heart to go to the hospital to check on the two boys that we had pulled out. We found out they didn’t make it, but we saw Lindquist in the ICU — when he was still not supposed to live. Eventually, he surprised them all and made it.

For the next few months, as the cleanup continued, I went back to my job as a supply sergeant — getting food and water to the troops, working on basic supply functions.

That day, my cousin Brian got a taste of what we do in the Guard. So now he’s a 33-year-old private first class in my unit. And it turned out to be lucky we made that choice to stay home with the babysitter, because the restaurant that we would’ve gone to got hit directly, and people got killed there.

Looking back on the mission, I just feel like I did my job. I did help people that day, but to me I just did what I was brought up to do by my father, and what I was taught to do by my unit and my commanders. I did what was asked of me.

Editor’s note: After administering life-saving first aid, Byers and Hamlet sent Lindquist to the hospital but in the confusion didn’t find him again for three days. Lindquist was in a coma for seven weeks following the tornado, with only a 2 percent chance of living, but more than three years later, he is alive with only limited mobility of his arm. For his actions following the Joplin tornado, Byers received the Soldier’s Medal, the Army’s highest award for valor in a non-combat situation.

The tornado, rated EF5 (the most severe) was nearly a mile wide at one point, with winds peaking close to 250 mph. It killed 161 people, making it one of the deadliest twisters in the U.S. since officials began keeping records. Acres of the town were flattened, and 7,500 dwellings were destroyed. More than 9,200 people were displaced.

Army National Guard troops were immediate responders, rescuing people, providing first aid, and restoring order. Then they spent almost 20 months after the disaster rebuilding their city. The Guard oversaw the federal debris removal program, which cleared more than 1.5 million cubic yards of debris by late 2011 alone (the tornado generated more than 3 million cubic yards overall). The Guard also assisted the State with a program that created temporary jobs to aid in the cleanup. About 1,400 residents were employed.

If you have what it takes to be an immediate responder, visit our jobs board and contact a recruiter today.

Story, as told to Marc Acton, and photo by Mark Neuenschwander courtesy of GX magazine. GX magazine is an official publication of the Army National Guard. Below is a full-length video of the Army National Guard’s response to the Joplin tornado, which includes a segment on SSG Byers and Mark Lindquist.

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‘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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