– A service member is often born with a strong desire to help others. Whether
it’s coaching a child’s sports team, cleaning up the neighborhood, or any
number of other community activities, public service is frequently a common
trait of those serving in the military, specifically the Army National Guard.
in the South Bay community of Olympia, Washington, SFC Van Kirk lived down the
street from the South Bay Fire Department.
wanted to be a volunteer firefighter for a while, giving back to the community
I grew up in,” he recalls. “Being a full-time active Guard member, I wasn’t
sure if I would have that chance.”
He got his
chance three years ago when his Unit switched from a five-day workweek to a
four-day, 10-hour-a-day schedule.
schedule switch gave me the opportunity to go for it, and the leadership with
the Civil Support Team supported it.”
firefighter and emergency medical technician (EMT) takes time and requires the
individual to volunteer a certain number of hours to earn required
certifications. However, being a full-time member of the 10th Civil Support
Team and responding at a moment’s notice to support local law enforcement and
first responders also requires a lot of time and energy.
training for both firefighting and EMT is time-consuming,” says SFC Van Kirk. “My
command supported everything about me volunteering with South Bay.”
with South Bay hasn’t hindered SFC Van Kirk’s work at the CST.
volunteers 40-50 hours a month with the fire department,” says CST First
Sergeant (1SG) Paul Gautreaux. “He never misses a day of work with us though.
He is even there on Mondays getting our folks and gear ready for the week
Fourth of July, SFC Van Kirk put his training, both with the fire department
and the CST, to use during a critical situation. That morning, he and other
members of the South Bay team responded to a call involving a driver missing a
turn and hitting two small children who were playing on the shoreline.
“We got to
the scene first and the two children were injured pretty bad, so we immediately
called for additional EMTs, contacted the hospitals, and got everything
organized quickly,” he explains, adding the two children were rushed to a local
hospital at the time, and “are doing great today.”
SFC Van Kirk
received praise from his station leadership for his work.
our only volunteer who stayed on for the additional shift,” says John Clemons, medical
service officer with the South Bay Fire Department. “He organized the sub-units
to the incident and helped save the lives of two little ones. He is a real
asset to our station.”
dedicated Soldier is also an asset to the CST. “He [SFC Van Kirk] is like so
many in the organization,” says Major (MAJ) Wes Watson, commander of the CST. “They
are the quiet professionals, volunteering their own time to help others. It’s
just the spirit of the National Guard.”
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Tiara Puro was 17 when her father handed her a recruiting brochure for the Army National Guard. She remembers a feeling of excitement as she flipped through the pamphlet, especially when she read about the education benefits. She had been trying to figure out a way to pay for college, and the Utah Army National Guard was offering the equivalent of a full-ride scholarship for six years of service.
“When I enlisted, it was peacetime,”
Tiara says. “There was nothing going on, and it was actually why I felt so
comfortable agreeing to enlist. What’s six years of an enlistment during
peacetime, especially if I get a college degree out of it?”
Tiara enlisted in 1999 as a 27D paralegal specialist. Once a month, she drove to the armory in Vernal to train until she finished high school. A week after graduating, she shipped to Basic Combat Training at Fort Jackson, S.C.
Tiara is the oldest of five sisters.
Her four younger sisters are Tambra, Tayva, and twins, Taryn and Ty’lene. They
all grew up in Roosevelt and graduated from Union High School. Their parents
had met on the University of Utah ballroom dance team. All five sisters grew up
singing and dancing. Four of the five sisters have placed in the Miss Duchesne
County and Miss Uintah Basin pageants.
While large, musically inclined
families are not uncommon in Utah, the Puro sisters are unique in that they are
all currently serving in the military, with decorated careers spanning the
Army, Air Force, and Navy.
“I don’t think any one of us thought
that we would serve in the military,” says Tiara.
Tambra was 14 years old and a freshman
in high school when Tiara left for basic. “It was a little scary, a little
nerve-racking to think about her going off and doing all those things,” Tambra
recalls. “But I just thought, ‘wow, that’s pretty awesome.’”
A few months later, Tiara returned home
– the experience had changed her.
“I came home super excited about being
in the military and what that meant,” she says.
As Tiara described the experience to
her family, Tambra thought, “That will never happen in my life. It’s not
something I’m interested in. Who wants to be yelled at by drill sergeants and
do push-ups? I can’t even do a push-up, let alone pass a PT test. So, no thank
you. I’ll do something else.”
Even at 12 years old, Tambra knew she
wanted to do something important with her life.
“At the time, I was really interested
in being a nurse, so I went and asked the hospital if I could volunteer.”
Tambra was the youngest volunteer the
hospital had ever seen. She formed a group of young hospital volunteers called
the Junior Pink Ladies. As a sophomore in high school, she started working on
her Associate of Science degree in Pre-Health Sciences.
“Caring for others is a common thread
in my life,” Tambra says. “That’s really what I’m passionate about.”
On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001,
Tiara was at the University of Utah, when her father called her and said, “You
need to turn on your TV.”
When she heard his unsettled tone, she
went into the living room of her college apartment and switched on the TV. She
watched the second plane collide with the South Tower of the World Trade
“I knew in that moment my life would
never be the same,” she recalls.
Tiara told her dad she loved him, but
she needed to go. She hung up and immediately called her unit to find out what
she could do to help.
The 2002 Winter Olympics came only a
few short months after 9/11. Approximately 2,400 athletes from more than 80
countries, and even more spectators, were headed to Utah. Under the looming
shadow of terrorism, the burden of law enforcement augmentation fell to the
Utah Army National Guard. More than 4,500 Guard members were called up to
provide security for the games, and Tiara was among them.
Tambra was a high school senior on the
first anniversary of 9/11. She listened to a speech by President Bush as she
was getting ready for school and thought to herself, “Where am I going in life?
How will I pay for things? What’s my next step?”
“For members of our military,” President
Bush said, “it’s been a year of sacrifice and service far from home.”
Tambra immediately reflected on her
own sister’s sacrifice and service, and said to herself, “That’s what I want to
do. Tiara did it, I think I can do it. I’m not very aggressive, I don’t do
those physical things, but I can try.”
The same recruiter who worked with
Tiara three years earlier happened to see Tambra at school that day and asked,
“Have you given it any thought?”
Tambra replied “Yes,” and two weeks later, she enlisted in the Army National Guard to be an administrative specialist, assigned to the same unit as her sister.
“I really wanted to be a combat medic,” Tambra says, “But I also really wanted to start college as soon as possible. I chose the shorter occupational school.”
At the time, the Utah National Guard
offered an orientation course called Non-Prior Service Support which helped
prepare future Soldiers for Basic Combat Training. The course was conducted by
a retired Marine drill instructor and designed to be physically grueling. Today,
this same program has been expanded into the Recruit Sustainment Program.
“It just about killed me,” recalls Tambra.
“I couldn’t sit up on my own for two full weeks.”
Realizing she had a lot of work to do,
she started doing push-ups and sit-ups and went running every single day until
she graduated high school. She was headed to Fort Jackson in March 2003.
Around that same time, Tiara’s unit
received a mobilization order.
“In the Guard we’re always ready. We’re
always exercising and training, so we were ready when the call came,” she says.
In April of 2003, Tiara’a unit headed
to Iraq while Tambra was in the middle of basic training.
“The training felt very real to me because
my sister was already in Iraq,” says Tambra.
Tambra would see newspapers in display
cases outside the dining facility where she ate each day, headlining the
toppled Saddam Hussein statue. As she donned her gas mask and entered the gas
chambers, she imagined Hussein’s chemical attacks on innocent civilians and
thought, “Wow. This is why we do what we do.”
When Tambra returned home from basic
training, she immediately enrolled in Utah Valley State College using her new
military education benefits, and joined the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC). Even before enlistment, she had considered becoming
an officer, but wanted the added experience of
Tambra graduated in the spring of 2005,
with a degree in community health and military science. She was assigned to the
144th Area Support Medical Company as a medical services officer. As soon as
she finished Officer Basic Course, she was headed to Fort Bliss, Texas, where
her unit was preparing to deploy to Iraq.
Meanwhile, Tiara had returned from her
own deployment and decided to reenlist, but this time in the Utah Air National
Guard as a personnel specialist.
Then in 2010, the twins, Taryn and
Ty’lene, graduated high school.
“I wanted to be a veterinarian,” says Ty’lene.
“I kind of had it in my mind that I wanted to be an Army veterinarian, but I
wanted to wait about a year after graduation to make sure the military was
actually something that I wanted to do for myself, not just following in my
She went to Weber State University
with a music scholarship. One year after graduation, she met with the recruiter
on campus and decided to enlist. The officer who administered the Oath of
Enlistment was none other than Ty’lene’s older sister, Tambra, who had recently
returned from her Iraq deployment.
Ty’lene joined under the Simultaneous Membership Program, planning to return to Weber State’s ROTC
program after completing basic training, but
plans changed when she had her first taste of the military.
“I fell in love with the Army mindset,”
While still at Advanced
Individual Training, Ty’lene applied
for several full-time positions in the Utah National Guard. Two weeks later,
she was working as an admin assistant in the Guard. Not long after that, she
joined the Utah Guard Biathlon team and brought home two second-place medals
from her first regional competition. She would go on to take first place in the
2015 Utah Best Warrior Competition, to become the Soldier of the Year.
Today, Tambra and Ty’lene serve in the
Army National Guard, Tiara and Tayva serve in the Air Guard, and Taryn serves
in the Navy.
“We’re intertwined,” Ty’lene says.
“Even though we all have such different military careers, we’re all still
“My parents raised us to know our strengths
and to always try our hardest, to tell the truth and be brave,” says Tiara. “To
do things that scare us. To eat the food that’s put in front of us, whether we
like it or not. If you look at the way my mom and dad raised us, those skills
are what helped us to adapt to serve in the military.”
When asked about what it’s like having
five daughters serving in the military, Steve Puro says, “It’s the scariest
thing you’ll ever be proud of. My girls have grown in the military. As a dad, I
know they are going to be OK, because they have learned to stand on their own
two feet and take charge of their lives.”
Kansas – No one wants bad things to happen, especially in their communities.
However, for two Kansas
Army National Guard members, the devastation of recent floods was a rejuvenating
rains and thunderstorms hit Kansas in late May, and flooding became an imminent
danger for several communities downstream from levees and dams that were close
to overflowing. With the addition of a destructive tornado that hit Douglas and
Leavenworth counties, the emergency in Kansas escalated to disastrous
of the Kansas Army National Guard were asked to help. One of them was Staff Sergeant
(SSG) Michael Eicher of the 891st Forward Support Company, who had no problem
why I signed up to be in the National Guard,” SSG Eicher says, “to help people.”
not a Kansas native, his active duty service led him to the State when he was
stationed at Fort Riley in 1993. It was not long after he met his wife that he
decided to leave the military to raise a family.
9/11 happened,” he says. “My wife looked at me one day and said, ‘You miss it,
don’t you?’ I said ‘Yeah, big time,’ and she said, ‘You do what you (have) to
Eicher restarted his military career by enlisting in the Kansas Army National
Guard. However, as he closed in on completing 20 years of service, he had it in
his mind to finally retire from military life.
get to his 20 years, SSG Eicher would have to extend his enlistment another
year. His fellow Soldiers were trying to convince him to sign up for another
six, so he joked with his wife that he would do it. She gave him a response
that he wasn’t expecting: “At least you finally made up your mind.”
that month, the flooding began, and SSG Eicher was called to State active duty,
where he immediately started running missions to deliver supplies to multiple
communities in southeast Kansas. The tasks included dropping off pallets of
water and other supplies for water rescue.
those missions, he and his team went back to home base in Iola, where they
received their next mission to deliver 18 pallets of water to Coffeyville – a town
that was preparing for flooding if the Verdigris River levee should break.
we were done with the water, we got the word to go and start helping with the
sandbags. We did that well into the night,” he explains.
finally getting some rest when other Soldiers came to relieve them at around 3
a.m., SSG Eicher and the rest of the Guard members finished helping the
members with the sandbagging late that next afternoon.
whole experience reminded him of why he joined the Army National Guard in the first place, and
he began reconsidering his decision to retire. After completing his final
mission to Valley Falls, he told his commander he would re-enlist in the Guard.
been thinking about it for a while, but just helping others was what made me
decide,” SSG Eicher says. “I was there in the fire station in Valley Falls and
something clicked in my mind that said, ‘Hey, what are you doing? You love
this! Why are you getting out?’”
Eicher wasn’t the only one who felt that way. Lawrence resident Specialist
(SPC) Russell O’Neill of the 891st Forward Support Company, also realized it
was not quite time to let go.
O’Neill was coming to the end of his first enlistment and had already decided
to conclude his service at the end of his contract because he felt like he was
doing less and less of the job he signed up to do.
then disaster struck south of Lawrence when a tornado plowed through on its way
toward Kansas City.
O’Neill, who works for a landscaping company in Lawrence, says several of the
houses he worked on were damaged. Several of his family and friends who lived
in the vicinity of Linwood, Kansas, were affected and had damage to their
next weekend, SPC O’Neill would get the chance to help. One of the vehicles
used to deliver supplies broke down while his unit was drilling. His experience
working on those trucks made him the go-to guy to fix it.
these events were not the only reasons SPC O’Neill decided to stay in, they
helped him confirm he needed to continue his service. He also realized the benefits he would get for his three
children would outweigh the little time he would be away. The biggest reason,
however, was the realization that he didn’t want to let go of the camaraderie
he’s found while serving in the Army National Guard.
feel that with my fellow Soldiers it is a brotherhood that I haven’t had since
high school. The weekend drills, I get to go be around a bunch of guys that I
enjoy being around, and I’ve had a lot of them call me throughout my hardships
and ask how I’m doing.”
the end of the June drill, SSG Eicher and SPC O’Neill had reenlisted, standing
on pallets of water to be delivered for the flooding.
the State active duty stuff comes around and people need your help, that is
what we are here for,” says SSG Eicher. “If you are thinking about retiring and
you’re thinking about getting out, think about all these things that could
“Who knew that the
flooding was going to take place? Nobody – and that’s why you joined in the
If you’re passionate about giving back to your community, join the Army National Guard where you can serve part-time in your home State, and be the one your neighbors look to in times of need. With hands-on training in over 130 career fields including ground forces, logistics, and transportation, you can be part of a team that’s prepared to handle anything. Visit the job board to browse open opportunities today.
From an original article by the 105th Mobile Public Affairs
Detachment, Kansas National Guard, which appeared in the news section of
NationalGuard.mil in June 2019.