New York Guardsmen Build STEM Learning Center During Training Mission

HALEIWA, Hawaii – While most New York Army National Guard Soldiers spent their 2019 annual training at Fort Drum, Fort Indiantown Gap, or Joint Base Dix-McGuire-Lakehurst, 45 Soldiers from the 204th Engineer Battalion did their training in Hawaii.

Soldiers from 1156th Engineer Company were selected to participate in an Innovative Readiness Training (IRT) rotation at Girl Scout Camp Paumalu in Haleiwa, Hawaii, this summer. IRT is a joint service program that began in 1993, providing real-world training opportunities for service members to prepare them for wartime missions while supporting the needs of America’s underserved communities.

Communities typically provide materials and basic services, while military units contribute personnel and resources. IRT is designed to produce mission-ready forces, civil-military partnerships, and stronger communities.

“The Hawaii Girl Scout Camp IRT is an outstanding program for New York Army National Guard engineers which will benefit the local community while fostering an environment for our Soldiers to grow, develop, and prepare for future missions,” says Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) Wing Yu, commander of the 204th Engineer Battalion.

Along with service members from other U.S. military components, New York’s engineers have been working at the camp to help build a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) learning center for the Girl Scouts.

Chief Warrant Officer 2 (CW2) Oliverio Hernandez explains that this was not a volunteer mission. Service members were selected by their chain of command because of their standings in the unit and their military job training.

“We were hand-selected for this rotation because they needed our specific skill sets,” he says.

The 23-year veteran with the Army National Guard has been through myriad training missions and environments across the U.S., but this was the first of its kind for him.

“This IRT is actually a large-scale project that we’re building from the bottom up,” CW2 Hernandez says. “This is more than just equipment familiarization; this is practical application in a real-world environment with a real-world impact.”

The IRT mission took Soldiers out of their normal home stations and forced them to adapt to a new, different, and challenging environment.

Another unique benefit of IRT is that it’s geared toward developing junior and future leaders.

PFC Jesse Velez, a plumber assigned to the 1156th Engineer Company, 204th Engineer Battalion, New York Army National Guard, measures a board before cutting it during an Innovative Readiness Training (IRT) mission at Camp Paumalu, Haleiwa, Hawaii, July 31, 2019. (Photo by SSG Michael Davis).

Lower enlisted service members are not only doing the hands-on training that wouldn’t normally occur in a drill weekend or annual training, they are also given the opportunity to teach and learn from their peers.

Most Soldiers on the roster have the rank of Private First Class (PFC) or Specialist (SPC), which is just below Sergeant (SGT), and will soon become non-commissioned officers (NCOs) with management responsibilities. This mission affords Soldiers the time and opportunity to practice training others, as well as learning the patience it takes to be an effective leader.

“Learning and instructing that happens at the lower levels builds a greater sense of team and unit cohesion, which all adds to the readiness for the force,” CW2 Hernandez says. “They’re getting to manage, teach, and learn during a real mission.”

Two of these future leaders who are an integral part of the mission are PFC Anthony Allen and PFC Jesse Velez. Both are members of the 1156th Engineer Company, and each has a civilian trade that enhances his military job and this mission.

PFC Allen has been in the New York Amy National Guard for two years. He’s a 12W Carpentry and Masonry Specialist for his unit, who was also assigned as the chainsaw trainer and team leader for the IRT mission because of his civilian experience.

He wasn’t sure what to expect when he arrived on the worksite, but he knew it wouldn’t be anything like what he was used to back home.

“We’ve had challenges, but our biggest one so far is definitely the weather,” he says.

Even though he’s only been with the Guard a short time, PFC Allen has the mindset and determination of a seasoned veteran.

“It doesn’t matter what we come across, we’re going to work through it.”

PFC Velez is a 12K Plumber on his very first mission with the Guard.

“This is the perfect place to test what the Army just trained me to do in Basic and Advanced Individual Training,” he says.

While being grateful for the opportunities the National Guard has already afforded him, he’s looking to contribute his skills to the mission and continue learning as much as he can.

“This is the true definition of one-fight, one-team. We’re building community relationships together – showing them they can count on us!”

Once the IRT portion is complete, the Girl Scouts will have only a fraction of the building to be completed before they can begin to teach girls and boys from across all the islands.

Shari Chang, Girl Scouts of Hawaii CEO and a fourth-generation Girl Scout, says she applied for the IRT program knowing she could partner with a skilled labor force that would have the capabilities and expertise to make the project happen.

The estimated completion date is September 2020.

“We are so thankful for the support from the military on this project,” says Chang. “The whole process is now coming to fruition, and it has been an amazing opportunity for both of us.”

Army National Guard Soldiers are dedicated to serving their communities, and an IRT is just one of the many opportunities to do so. If you’re passionate about making an impact, consider joining the Guard. Explore more than 130 exciting careers in fields like logistics, technology, and transportation on our job board, and contact a recruiter to learn how you can serve today!

From an original article by SSG Michael Davis, New York National Guard, which appeared in the news section of NationalGuard.mil in August 2019.

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Leading the Double Life of a Citizen-Soldier®

Fresh out of high school, Reanna Alvarez didn’t go off to college the following fall like the rest of her friends after graduation. If she wanted to pursue a degree, she was going to have to find a way to pay for it herself.

A friend mentioned that he was getting his school paid for through the Army National Guard, a branch of the military Alvarez hadn’t heard of, where Soldiers serve one weekend a month and two weeks in the summer.

The fact that Guard service was a part-time commitment carried a lot of appeal for Alvarez while she was mulling her options at age 19.

“You could be in the military, choose an MOS [Military Occupational Specialty] that you’re interested in, and then on the civilian side, you could do the same thing,” explains Alvarez. “You have the experience from the military that you could utilize as a civilian. Then, while you’re a civilian, you can be going to school.”

Now a specialist with the Maryland Army National Guard for the past five years, Alvarez’s MOS is 92A Automated Logistical Specialist. In her Engineering Unit, she is responsible mainly for vehicle dispatch, keeping track of keys and personnel paperwork. She also tests her Unit’s equipment, like gas masks, to make sure they are working properly. On the civilian side, SPC Alvarez says the job is comparable to working at a distribution center.

SPC Reanna Alvarez

SPC Reanna Alvarez

When she’s not at drill, at home with her two kids, or doing homework for college, where she studies psychology, SPC Alvarez is a waitress, where her co-workers marvel at her ability to stay calm in any situation.

“The Guard gives you so many traits you can use as a civilian,” she explains. “I’ve gone through Basic [Training], where you have so much going on, there’s people yelling, and so much thrown at you that it makes civilian life look like a piece of cake.”

SPC Alvarez had a harder time at Basic Training than others might. She was battling an eating disorder, and a Drill Sergeant had found out. That led to a meeting with the Commander who could have easily sent her home.

Instead, she received encouragement.

“He told me he saw a lot of potential in me and that I shouldn’t let [the eating disorder] define me, and he really wanted me to push myself.”

Part of the reason she’s chosen psychology for a major is because of her struggle with the eating disorder that started when she was 16, and partly because she wants to be able to help veterans someday.

In the meantime, she’s helped out at two major events close to home in her capacity as a Guard Soldier – the Baltimore riots, which took place in spring 2015, and more recently, the Presidential Inauguration last month.

“I think it’s very cool knowing that I’m going to be able to tell my kids someday, whenever they can understand, that I was part of that experience … not only at the inauguration, but pulling security for the inauguration.”

Another cool thing she can tell her kids is that she was in a National Guard commercial that tied in to the 2013 “Man of Steel” Superman movie. SPC Alvarez was one of about 20 Soldiers who were chosen out of thousands of applicants to fly out to Hollywood to shoot the commercial and meet the director of the film. You can spot SPC Alvarez walking on the sidewalk in a gray and black striped sweater at the 6-second mark:

SPC Alvarez says the connection between Superman and the National Guard is, that like Clark Kent/Superman, the Guard Soldier also leads a double life as part-time citizen/part-time Soldier.

Even in stressful circumstances, like the Baltimore riots that lasted for several days, SPC Alvarez says people were grateful to have Soldiers on hand.

“People were constantly telling us, ‘thank you for being here. Thank you for making us feel safe.’ At the end of the day, that’s all we try to do.”

So if you’re interested in keeping your community and the Nation safe, consider joining the National Guard, where you can train in one of 150 different career fields and take advantage of great benefits like money for college. Search our job board for descriptions of each career, or contact a recruiter for personalized attention. 

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