It’s Not About Your Hair. It’s About Your Heart.

Guard Soldier Uses Part-time Modeling Career to Help Others with Alopecia

SPC Imani Gayle of the New Jersey Army National Guard poses for a portrait in Irvington, N.J., her hometown. (Photo by MSG Matt Hecht.)

SPC Imani Gayle of the New Jersey Army National Guard poses for a portrait in Irvington, N.J., her hometown. (Photo by MSG Matt Hecht.)

IRVINGTON, N.J. – At just 22 years old, Specialist (SPC) Imani Gayle balances college, serving in the Army National Guard, a fashion career, and charitable work assisting girls with alopecia: a condition that causes hair loss.

A native of Irvington, SPC Gayle also has alopecia, and has marketed her signature look through working with various clothing and jewelry designers in the New York City area.

Her passion for helping people with alopecia goes beyond charitable work. She’s also getting a degree in biology pre-med, with the hope of one day becoming a dermatologist.

“My reason for joining the Army National Guard was to help me pay for school,” says SPC Gayle, an 88M Motor Transport Operator with New Jersey’s 2-113th Infantry Regiment.

SPC Gayle has put school on hold as she prepares to deploy with the New Jersey National Guard supporting Operation Enduring Freedom – Horn of Africa.

Ever since she was a child, she had worn some type of hat to cover up her alopecia.

“Growing up with alopecia was very hard. I went to a Catholic school, and I used to wear a uniform. My grandma made special hats to match my uniform,” she says. “My eyebrows would fall out, so I would wear my hats low, and kids would question it. It was difficult. I had to ignore them. It really affected me. Kids used to pull my hats off.”

When SPC Gayle went to Basic Training, she wore a hairpiece. The heat and time limitations made wearing it difficult and time-consuming. Finally, she decided to take it off.

“I was a little shy, but it was so hot, I took my hair off. I had this crazy tan line, a lot of people stared, and a lot of drill sergeants were curious.”

She attracted the negative attention of one female drill sergeant.

“I had a drill sergeant yelling in my face, ‘You think you’re cute, you got a weave on, you think you’re cute, I think she wants to be cute.’ I didn’t break down at that moment, but as soon as the shark attack was done, I just broke down crying. My male drill sergeant pulled me aside, and said, ‘She didn’t know.’ I think she felt really bad, and later she apologized to me.”

SPC Gayle’s drill sergeant wasn’t the only one who came to her defense. Her fellow Soldiers also embraced who she was.

“Initially, I always wore my wigs. So, when I got back, it was just, hmm, if these strangers who don’t know me and never met me could come to my defense and do everything that I felt people at home could do, then why couldn’t people at home do it?” she says.

“So, once I came home I stopped wearing my wigs, and I got a lot of attention. I got a lot of offers from people locally who do fashion shows, who make clothes, who make jewelry, different makeup artists, different hair stylists. I’ve done hair photo shoots and everything. It kind of helped me build a platform for young girls in New Jersey with alopecia.”

The money she gets from her modeling shoots goes to her Alopecia Awareness Foundation, and so far, she has given out three college scholarships to girls in Nevada, Texas, and New Jersey.

“They’re so overwhelmed with joy. When you’re young it’s hard to find someone you can relate to. I think I give them a lot of comfort, and I still talk to them. It makes me feel so good.”

Thinking back to her school days, SPC Gayle realized her hats were cute, but she always preferred to “have her head out there.”

“It’s not about your hair, it’s about your heart. Embrace your alopecia and be accepting of yourself. It’s important that you accept yourself for who you are, and not what people see you as.”

The Army National Guard gives you the flexibility to serve part-time while making a difference in your community. If you’re passionate about helping others and want to pursue your dreams, explore more than 130 career options on our job board and answer the call that speaks to you. Contact a local recruiter today to learn more!

From an original article by MSG Matt Hecht, New Jersey National Guard, which appeared in the news section of NationalGuard.mil in February 2019.

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Guard Soldier’s Father Forges Tokens of Appreciation for the Nation’s Heroes

Since the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, Randy Dack has made more than 4,000 “lucky” horseshoes for military service members worldwide. Randy made his first “Soldier’s shoe” for his son, Adam, prior to his first deployment in 2002 with the Nebraska Army National Guard’s 1-134th Cavalry. (Photo by SGT Jessica Villwok.)

GRAND ISLAND, Neb. – Randy Dack still remembers every detail from Sept. 11, 2001.

Randy, the blacksmith at Grand Island’s Stuhr Museum, vividly remembers hearing, “they just hit the World Trade Center.”

As terrible as the attacks were, Randy admits that his most immediate thoughts went to his son who had recently joined the Nebraska Army National Guard.

“Adam had been in boot camp about two weeks on that day,” he says.

Adam made it back home to Nebraska from Basic Training, but he didn’t stay there for long. Shortly after his return in 2002, Adam, who now serves as a Sergeant First Class in Hastings’ Troop A, 1-134th Cavalry, began preparing for a peacekeeping mission to Bosnia-Herzegovina.

After hearing the news that his son was heading overseas as part of a major mobilization of National Guard Soldiers, Randy, who began his career as a farrier, remembered the story of Dunstan the Blacksmith, the devil, and how a horseshoe came to be lucky.

In the story, a blacksmith named Dunstan was working in his shop when the devil walked by and became intrigued by the sound of a pounding anvil. When the devil realized the blacksmith was making horseshoes to protect a horse’s hooves, he thought that as a cloven-hoofed animal himself, that he, too, should have horseshoes to protect his feet.

So, the devil made a deal with the blacksmith to make him shoes. The blacksmith, realizing whom he was dealing with, ensured that every shoe he put on to the devil’s foot was still red hot from the fire while driving the nails down deep into the devil’s feet. After all of the shoes were on, the devil paid the blacksmith and left. Knowing it was bad luck to do business with the devil, the blacksmith threw the money into the fire.

Later, as the devil walked down the road, the nails drove deeper into his feet. Finally, unable to take any more pain, the devil stopped alongside a well and tore the shoes off, throwing them down the well.

To this day, it is a blacksmith tradition to ring one’s anvil three times at the end of the day to drive the devil out until the next morning, or, if the devil sees a horseshoe, he turns and runs away from it, remembering all the pain and torture the shoes had caused him.

“That is the reason a horseshoe is supposed to bring you good luck,” Randy says.

With that story in mind, Randy decided to make a miniature horseshoe for his son to carry in his pocket during his deployment. It would soon come to be known as the Soldier’s shoe.

Before leaving for Bosnia, Adam went to visit his dad at the museum one more time. He listened to the story as he looked at the keepsake. “That way you can carry your luck with you on the field,” Randy told Adam after the story.

Randy recalls, “Adam just stood there for a minute and looked up at me and said, ‘Every guy in my troop needs one.’”

“So, I made 65 more to give to every Soldier from his troop to take with them to Bosnia.”

All 65 Soldiers and horseshoes made it home safely, but they didn’t stay home for long.

Soon, the unit was notified of another deployment to Iraq, and a few years later, they were off to Afghanistan. Before the Afghanistan deployment, Randy once again made horseshoes for the entire unit, but this time at the request of Major General (MG) Judd Lyons, Nebraska adjutant general at the time. After MG Lyons learned about the keepsakes from Adam’s commander, he wanted to make sure all Soldiers could carry their luck with them in the field.

Randy gladly made enough horseshoes for every Soldier.

After that request, Randy began keeping horseshoes with him to give to any service member he came across. He has passed out horseshoes at gas stations, restaurants, and the Stuhr Museum. He also continues to tell recipients the story behind the symbol.

“It has just become a tradition, and working here at the museum, I have seen a lot of Soldiers come through. You can always tell a Soldier.”

He could even see the Soldier in an old friend he hadn’t seen in years. It turns out one of Randy’s high school classmates had chosen the Army as his career path.

Frederick Drummond, who at the time was a Major with the 82nd Airborne Division, came by the Stuhr Museum one day. Randy continued his new tradition of telling the story of Dunstan while he made his old friend a horseshoe to take home.

The next summer, MAJ Drummond came back to the museum while home on leave. He told Randy he thought he had lost his horseshoe which he later found. The close call made MAJ Drummond realize how much the tiny horseshoe meant to him and that he wanted all of his 500 troops in the 82nd to have horseshoes for their deployment.

Randy filled the order and just a month later, he received a phone call requesting more.

“It turns out one of the guys from the 82nd had been talking to someone in the 101st Airborne,” Randy says. “The 101st ordered 500 shoes.”

“We recruited friends to help with that,” laughs Sarah Dack, Randy’s wife.

It’s easy to see the pride Sarah and Randy have, not only in their son, but for all the men and women serving their country.

“Since 2002, my wife and I have given out well over 4,000 horseshoes,” Randy says. “I’ve got horseshoes under the ocean in submarines, in the Air Force, Army, and Marines. All branches.”

Randy and Sarah are all smiles as they talk about the service members and families they’ve touched, and hope they are making a small difference, even for those they’ve never met.

There have also been some tough memories created through their efforts.

“This story is hard to tell,” Randy says, his voice choking up.

One busy summer afternoon as Randy worked in his museum blacksmith shop, he noticed a young man standing in the back of the crowd wearing a Marine Corps shirt, missing part of one leg and standing on crutches. The man waited for the crowd to leave before he approached the blacksmith. “I hate to ask,” Randy recalls saying, “but did that happen overseas?”

The Marine replied yes and began telling his story.

The young man had joined the Marines out of high school. Shortly after finishing training he was deployed to Iraq, and was in country for three weeks when his vehicle was hit by an improvised explosive device. When he woke up, he was at Landstuhl Medical Center in Germany.

A nurse approached the wounded Marine and they began talking. She told the Marine about the vacation she and her husband took before she left for deployment. They had gone to a little museum in Nebraska that had a blacksmith who told the story about the Devil and the horseshoe. The nurse pulled a little horseshoe out of her pocket and handed it to the recovering Marine. She told him to take it because he needed it more than she did.

Then, as he stood in the blacksmith’s shop balancing on his crutches, the young Marine veteran dug into his pocket and pulled out the horseshoe.

“‘This shoe hasn’t left me since that day,’” Randy recalls the Marine saying. “‘I just got out of Bethesda (Naval Hospital) and I wasn’t going to go home to San Francisco without going through Nebraska and finding that museum and that blacksmith to say thank you.’”

After hearing the story, Randy made the Marine another horseshoe and asked him if he knew the nurse’s name and address, to which the Marine replied yes. Randy gave the Marine the second horseshoe and told him to send it back to her.

“That story of the Marine,” Randy says with watery eyes, “I still about lose it every time I tell it. When he left, I had to close the shop in the middle of the afternoon.”

“I cry every time he talks about that,” says his wife.

After discovering a miniature horseshoe similar to the ones Randy makes himself at a gun show in Hastings, Neb., it turns out the gesture has been practiced by blacksmiths for decades. Randy looked at the horseshoe – almost identical in every detail to the ones he makes – and then turned it over. On the back was the date – 1942. In 1942 there was a blacksmith in the Cavalry at Fort Hood, Texas, who made small horseshoes for every Soldier in his troop before they were sent overseas.

Randy now encourages other blacksmiths to do the same for service members.

“I’ve presented at one of the national blacksmithing conventions about doing this and sending these over,” Randy says. “Hopefully there are a lot more blacksmiths who are doing it.”

Randy and Sarah say they know what sacrifices military members and their families make. The horseshoes are just small ways to say thank you, to let them know they are not forgotten, and that they appreciate the fact that service members are missing birthdays, anniversaries, ball games, and family gatherings to serve.

“We just want to say thank you,” Randy said. “When they reach in their pockets and feel the horseshoe, it reminds them that there are people back home thinking of them.”

It takes a special person to promise to defend the American way of life at any cost. The Army National Guard has been defending grateful citizens of the State and the Nation for 382 years, making this branch of the U.S. military older than the country itself. If you want to be part of a proud legacy of serving part-time in your community during a crisis like a natural disaster, or protecting your fellow citizens overseas when your country needs you, contact a local recruiter to learn more.

From an original article by SGT Jessica Villwock, 11th Public Affairs Detachment, Nebraska Army National Guard, which appeared in the news section of NationalGuard.mil in January 2019.

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The Year in Review: Guard Members Reflect on a Busy 2018 and Look Ahead to 2019

Soldiers with the North Carolina Army National Guard’s 690th Brigade Support Battalion assist North Carolina Department of Transportation personnel with recovering snowplows and assisting stuck drivers during a winter storm, Dec. 9, 2018. (Photo by SGT Joe Roudabush.)

ARLINGTON, Va. – The Army National Guard closed out a busy year that saw its members deploy overseas, take part in international training exercises, and respond to emergencies and large-scale natural disasters at home. 

Those natural disasters included two back-to-back hurricanes, starting with Hurricane Florence, which made landfall in mid-September along the North Carolina coast. After coming ashore, the storm moved slowly across the region, causing massive flooding and isolating many communities in North and South Carolina.

“We’ve dealt with this before, but not at these record levels,” said MG Bob Livingston, adjutant general of the South Carolina National Guard.

Ultimately, more than 6,600 Soldiers and Airmen from nearly 30 states supported civil authorities in response to Florence. The Guard was still responding to Florence when Hurricane Michael slammed into the Florida Panhandle in early October.

Within hours of the storm making landfall, the first elements of the Florida Army National Guard’s Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 124th Infantry Regiment, arrived in affected areas, providing not only security, but also general assistance to citizens.

“Our unit’s part was not only facilitating local agencies but [helping] the residents, so they can clean up, and at the same time feel like their stuff was secure when they were not home,” said SPC Victor R. Reyes-Soler.

Those storms were still yet to come when family, friends, and service members gathered in February for an award ceremony and remembrance of PFC Emmanuel Mensah, of the New York Army National Guard’s 107th Military Police Company. He died in an apartment fire in the Bronx, New York, after rescuing four people and heading back into the burning building to save others.

“Difficult though it may be, please think of this ceremony as an opportunity not to mourn, but to celebrate PFC Mensah, an unselfish Soldier of incredible bravery, who sacrificed his own life to save several others and while attempting to save more,” said LTG Timothy Kadavy, director of the Army National Guard, during the ceremony.

PFC Mensah, who died Dec. 28, 2017, was posthumously awarded the Soldier’s Medal, the Army’s highest award for bravery and valor outside of combat.

While LTG Kadavy and others remembered and honored PFC Mensah, other Guard members were responding to winter storms that clobbered many Eastern States during the early part of the year, helping stuck drivers and conducting wellness checks.

Winter weather also meant athletic competition, as Guard members took part in the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea. The Soldier-athletes, including four members of the New York Army National Guard, took part in the luge and bobsled events. CPT Mike Kohn of the Virginia Army National Guard served as the bobsled team’s assistant coach.

“I know that I can count on everybody on my team,” said SGT Justin Olsen, who competed in the four-man bobsled event. “Especially because they’re Soldiers. [The other team members] are extremely more accomplished in their military career than I am. So, whether they look up to me in the sport, I look up to them for what they’ve done off the ice.”

While none of the Soldiers received medals in the games, many will continue training for future competitions.

“Going to the Olympics isn’t enough for me,” said SGT Emily Sweeney, a luge athlete and military police officer with the New York Army Guard, who crashed during her final run in the 2018 games. “The work isn’t over.”

As winter faded into early spring, Guard members were called up to duty along the Southwest border, assisting U.S. Customs and Border Protection as part of Operation Guardian Support. Roughly 2,100 Guard members were on duty throughout the year at various locations along the border providing engineering, communications, vehicle, and logistical support.

In May, volcanic eruptions in Hawaii saw almost 400 Guard members from Hawaii and other States assist local authorities by monitoring air quality, evacuating affected areas, and providing security.

With summer heat came wildfires in many regions of California and other Western States, and Guard members responded.

California Army National Guard aircrews took on wildfire suppression duty, using UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters – the newest version of the venerable helicopter – to fight them. For aircrews, the new model made a difference.

“It’s a more efficient rotor system, particularly at the low airspeeds that we’re operating at with regard to firefighting operations,” said CW2 Doug Martine, a pilot with the California Army Guard’s 1st Assault Helicopter Battalion, 140th Aviation Regiment. “The engines are a little bit more unleashed, so we get some more torque and lift out of it.”

Guard members spent the fall months battling the Camp Fire, one of the largest wildfires in California history. For some, the wildfires proved to be extraordinarily challenging.

“It was definitely the most intense mode of flight that I’ve flown,” said 1LT Vincent Sherrill, another helicopter pilot with the 1/140th. “When you’re in a service mission like this, people’s homes are at risk, people’s lives are at risk, and you’re doing some pretty serious flying in some pretty serious conditions.”

While many Guard members were busy battling wildfires, others were battling cyber threats.

Cyber specialists throughout the Guard were not only on duty deterring cyber threats, but also took part in numerous training exercises throughout the year. That included Patriot Warrior, a training exercise held at Fort McCoy, Wis.

“These scenarios provide our Soldiers, and also the Airmen, with a very realistic outlook on what both entities could expect in the real world,” said MAJ Robert Bell, operations and plans officer with the Delaware Army National Guard’s 261st Theater Tactical Signal Brigade.

In addition to cyber exercises, Guard members also continued to participate in joint and multi-national exercises throughout the world.

More than 700 Soldiers from the Indiana Army National Guard’s 76th Infantry Brigade Combat Team took part in Pacific Pathways. The brigade served as the command and control element for the exercises, marking the first time a Guard unit has served in a leadership role overseeing the training event.

More than 18,000 service members from 19 countries participated in Saber Strike, held in Poland and the Baltic region of Europe. For Soldiers with the Michigan Army National Guard’s 464th Quartermaster Company, that meant running 24-hour operations to provide laundry and shower services for many of those taking part.

“We are here to help boost the morale of the Soldier,” said SGT Carlo Grier. “There is nothing better than a hot shower and clean clothes after a long day’s work.”

Other Army Guard Soldiers took part in brigade training rotations at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., or the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, La. Those and other training scenarios were part of Army Guard 4.0, which represents the next step in realistic, intensive training to prepare for deployment. As part of that, Soldiers spend more time in the field honing their skills, allowing the Guard to deploy more quickly and effectively to a variety of missions worldwide.

“Our high-priority units – such as armored brigade combat teams, Stryker brigade combat teams, attack-reconnaissance battalions, and critical enablers – must be ready on short notice for unspecified missions,” said LTG Kadavy, the Army Guard director of Army Guard 4.0. “We have to maintain the readiness of these units in order to respond to emerging demands.”

That increased focus was clear to Soldiers with the Kentucky Army National Guard’s 149th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, who, in June, took part in a two-week training exercise directly tied to the Army Guard 4.0 initiative.

“It definitely felt like we were on deployment,” said SGT Dustin Mullins. “The brigade trained much closer together, and the tempo was much faster.”

That focus on more intensive training was brought home to many Guard units that deployed this year. Many of those deployments were to Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait, and the Horn of Africa.

PVT Hayden Johnson, center, a cavalry scout with the Mississippi Army National Guard’s Troop B, 1st Squadron, 98th Cavalry Regiment, aims an FGM-148 Javelin anti-tank missile during a combined arms live fire exercise as part of Desert Observer II at the Udairi Range Complex near Camp Buehring, Kuwait, Dec. 12, 2018. (Photo by SPC Jovi Prevot.)

PVT Hayden Johnson, center, a cavalry scout with the Mississippi Army National Guard’s Troop B, 1st Squadron, 98th Cavalry Regiment, aims an FGM-148 Javelin anti-tank missile during a combined arms live fire exercise as part of Desert Observer II at the Udairi Range Complex near Camp Buehring, Kuwait, Dec. 12, 2018. (Photo by SPC Jovi Prevot.)

For about 220 Soldiers with the New York Army Guard’s 27th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, deployment meant serving in Ukraine to work with and mentor Ukrainian army units. Part of the Joint Multinational Training Group – Ukraine, the Soldiers focused on training based on interoperability with NATO elements.

The year 2018 marked significant milestones for the Guard.

In May, the Guard celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Department of Defense’s State Partnership Program (SPP), which pairs National Guard elements with partner nations worldwide. The SPP now includes 75 partnerships with 81 countries. The 75th partnership – the West Virginia National Guard and Qatar – was announced in May.

“I think it’s a testament to the men and women of the West Virginia National Guard, to our governor, to our [elected officials] who all came together to say we want to be a broader part of the Nation’s defense and take on an even greater role with the establishment of this partnership with Qatar,” said MG James Hoyer, adjutant general of the West Virginia Guard.

November 2018 also marked the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, a war that saw more than 103,000 Guard members killed or wounded.

“We remember the battles that raged here in the fields, the forests, and the towns,” said GEN Joseph Lengyel, chief of the National Guard Bureau, during a ceremony marking the occasion. “We also remember the sacrifice made in the cause of freedom – because the United States honors her war dead.”

The National Guard comprised 18 of the 43 Army divisions the United States sent to France in World War I.

While some reflected on the Guard’s part in the First World War, others looked to new roles the Guard took on in 2018. The headquarters of the 54th Security Force Assistance Brigade (SFAB) was activated this year as part of the Indiana Army National Guard. One of six such brigades throughout the total Army, the SFABs focus on training, advising, and assisting forces of partner and allied nations.

“When deployed, SFAB Soldiers will be the day-to-day experts combatant commanders need to train, advise, and assist [allied and partner security forces],” said MG Courtney P. Carr, adjutant general of the Indiana National Guard.

Training and preparation were among the key elements at play in early December when the District of Columbia National Guard took part in the state funeral of former President George H.W. Bush, who died in Houston on Nov. 30 at age 94.

“The goal is to make it look like it was easy,” said MAJ Mark Ballantyne, operations officer and mission planner with the D.C. Guard’s Multi-agency Augmentation Command. “Because then, that means we did our job right.”

As 2019 unfolds, the Guard is prepared to continue its legacy of taking on any mission – here at home or overseas.

As you look ahead in this new year, consider being a part of something bigger. With the opportunity to serve in your home State, learn lifelong transferrable skills, and make a difference in your country and community, the Army National Guard can be your ticket to a college degree and the adventure of a lifetime. Explore current opportunities on our job board or contact a local recruiter today.

From an original article by Tech. Sgt. Erich B. Smith and Sgt. 1st Class Jon Soucy, which appeared in the News section of NationalGuard.mil in December 2018.

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