Guard Soldier’s Service Inspired by Dad, Destiny, and Girl in a Grocery Store

Not long after immigrating to Indiana from her native Honduras, a young Arely Elrod encountered a “beautiful girl in a uniform” at a grocery store.

It wasn’t a military dress uniform, just your everyday fatigues, but the pre-teen was transfixed. She hadn’t realized that girls could be Soldiers.

Initially, Arely’s mother dismissed her daughter’s interest in the military as a phase. No – her daughter was destined to be an attorney, a doctor, or an engineer. But Arely felt a stronger pull toward a career in discipline that never really let go.

Now 32, Corporal (CPL) Elrod proudly wears a uniform as part of the Indiana Army National Guard.

“When I put that uniform on I feel alive. I feel like I belong somewhere.”

That somewhere can be elbow deep in an engine compartment – she’s a 91L Construction Vehicle Repairer – or singing in front of a crowd of thousands as part of the Indiana National Guard’s ceremonial unit.             

Before joining the Guard, CPL Elrod had enlisted in the Army in 2008 after trying to make it in L.A. in modeling, acting, and music.

“I wanted to get out of my comfort zone. Modeling is easy for me. I wanted to do something that was unexpected. I wanted to explore the world and see what I have to offer this earth, what I have to offer this country.”

CPL Arely Elrod (formerly Rosario) of the Indiana Army National Guard.

CPL Arely Elrod (formerly Rosario) of the Indiana Army National Guard.

Working as a mechanic on heavy machinery like bulldozers was both an unexpected choice for the 5-foot-1, self-described “girly” Soldier, and far outside her comfort zone.

“The only thing I had done to a car before was drive it, and I barely knew how to put gas in it.”

After a tour in Afghanistan, where she lost some friends, CPL Elrod came back to the States, got the therapy she needed to deal with her combat experiences, got married, moved to Florida, left the Army, and had a son.

When her marriage ended, she moved back to Indiana to go to law school, but found out it wasn’t for her. Plus, she missed the camaraderie of being in the military.

She signed on with the Guard on March 7, 2016 – a date she knows by heart.

“It’s the day I decided to take my life into my own hands and into my destiny,” she says. “I wanted to remind myself how strong I was. I picked up what I remembered and joined the National Guard. It has been the ride of a lifetime.”

As part of the Indiana Army National Guard’s ceremonial unit, CPL Elrod, pictured with her husband, John, and her son, Louie, has sung at many high-profile sporting events including an Indianapolis Colts game.

As part of the Indiana Army National Guard’s ceremonial unit, CPL Elrod, pictured with her husband, John, and her son, Louie, has sung at many high-profile sporting events including an Indianapolis Colts game.

 

CPL Elrod takes satisfaction in knowing that her mechanical expertise keeps her fellow Soldiers safe, but what she really loves is performing in the ceremonial unit. She has sung at events ranging from retirement ceremonies for 30 people to sporting events like the Indianapolis 500, and Indianapolis Colts and Indians games.

“It’s my passion and being able to combine both things – what I love to do with music, and being able to support my State and country – that’s the best combination to me.”

The flexibility of serving part-time with the Guard also gives her time to pursue other interests. CPL Elrod and her husband recently started a maintenance, cleaning, and landscaping business, and on the side, she does makeup and microblading.

CPL Elrod says she felt destined to do something in a field that involves discipline and to be of service, traits instilled in her by her father who had passed away before the family left Honduras.

“My biological father was so loving, so selfless. He did more for others than he did for himself.”

Besides volunteering in Indianapolis to impress upon her son how blessed their family is, she wants to serve her community in a new way by becoming a police officer.

She’ll find out in December if she’s accepted by the academy.

“Because of the skills I’ve learned in the military, I’ve passed everything with flying colors – my physical, my written exams, and my oral exams.”

If it doesn’t work out, she wouldn’t mind exploring a medical career instead and moving up the ranks in the Guard.

“I’m always looking for things I can do,” she says.

So, if you’re looking to leave your comfort zone behind and serve something bigger than yourself, consider joining the Army National Guard, which offers great education benefits and careers in fields like engineering, aviation, armor and field artillery, and transportation. Contact your local recruiter for more information.

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Kentucky Guard Member Lets Strength and Courage Define Her

Newly appointed Warrant Officer Natalie Wamsley salutes her husband, Chief Warrant Officer Ronald Wamsley, during a commissioning ceremony in Frankfort, Ky., March 19, 2019. Wamsley completed Warrant Officer Candidate School while battling cancer. (Photo by SFC Scott Raymond).

Newly appointed Warrant Officer Natalie Wamsley salutes her husband, Chief Warrant Officer Ronald Wamsley, during a commissioning ceremony in Frankfort, Ky., March 19, 2019. Wamsley completed Warrant Officer Candidate School while battling cancer. (Photo by SFC Scott Raymond).

FRANKFORT, Ky. – In late March of 2018, Natalie Wamsley was finishing up Warrant Officer Candidate School (WOCS), maxing her last Army Physical Fitness Test, and taking another successful step in her 16-year military career. On April 6th, she found out she had cancer.

While at WOCS, she felt a lump, but disregarded it as muscle soreness from the intense physical fitness. A couple weeks after she returned home and many sleepless nights, she went to her doctor. After an ultrasound and a biopsy, her doctor called her in for an appointment.

“I knew immediately what that meant,” she says. “All they would tell me was I had cancer; not how bad, how big, nothing like that. When you don’t know facts, your mind tends to spin out of control.”

What Natalie did know was how torturous the week was before speaking with a surgeon. She was told she had an aggressive form of cancer that had spread to her lymph nodes and that it had developed three months prior.

“I thought, ‘I am too young for this. I have a lot more life to live. I have a husband and two very small children. I have a lot to live for. But he said I was curable, so I continued to stay positive.’”

Thanks to recent developments in science, doctors said she had a fighting chance. And fight she did.

Natalie enlisted in the Army National Guard while she was still in high school in 2003. She joined because of her grandfather’s military service and her involvement in Junior ROTC. She comes from a long line of veterans but was the first woman in her family to join. She served as a 42A Human Resource Specialist at the company and brigade level, including a deployment to Iraq in 2011.

When she took a job at the State’s personnel office, she was mentored by Chief Warrant Officer Larry Arnett, who told her she would make a great warrant officer. She already knew about warrant officers because her husband, Ronald Wamsley, is one and serves as a network engineer with the State information and technology office.

“She was already looked upon as an expert in her field,” he says. “She has excellent PT scores and shows good leadership skills.”

Natalie says that mentorship and the desire to be a better version of herself drove her to the warrant officer path.

“I hope that I can be a role model for my children one day and show them they can do anything if they work hard and have the right people to guide them.”

That aggressive nature runs through Natalie in all she does. Less than two weeks after learning she had cancer, she started a high dose of chemotherapy. After six rounds, the doctors were not satisfied and began a more intense regimen – eight more rounds, followed by surgery.

“I was told I had a ‘stubborn’ cancer, and the surgery didn’t get it all, so they decided on more rounds of chemo.”

There were good days and bad, many laughs and cries. Mentally she remained strong, but physically, it was a different story. Days when she couldn’t pick her children up broke her heart, but not her determination.

“I was so scared I would lose her,” her husband recalls. “But we focused on one thing at a time. She made things so much easier by being so resilient. She would apologize to me because she was too sick to help with the kids, but I said, ‘Don’t worry about it, I got this.’ When she lost her hair, it didn’t even phase her. She still went to work and didn’t even cover up her hair loss. She always maintained a positive attitude.”

She was then prescribed radiation therapy, which she currently receives five days a week – all while preparing to be commissioned as a warrant officer.

“I was unsure how my appointment would go. I kept telling myself, if it is not my time, it’s not my time. There will be other opportunities. But working out throughout my treatments helped my spirit, along with the strength and love of my husband, children, and my Guard family.”

Natalie came off chemotherapy in January and took her fitness test in order to commission. She passed, impressing herself with her score. She was commissioned in March in front of a large crowd of friends and colleagues, all inspired by the woman standing in front of them.

She was pinned by her husband who said he had never been prouder of Natalie. Together the Wamsleys are the only warrant officer husband-wife pair in the Kentucky Army National Guard. Both remain so grateful for the support they both have received from their Guard family.

When you ask those friends, Guardsmen, and civilians to describe Natalie, you get “hero,” “fighter,” and “inspiration.” Her husband calls her a beast for her consistently solid PT scores. She doesn’t see or think of herself as a hero at all, saying “Everyone has their battles, this is just part of my fight and my story.”

Lieutenant Colonel Travis Carpenter, Deputy Director of Personnel for the Kentucky National Guard, says a hero is someone who you wish to emulate and someone who has attributes you wish you had, like superpowers.

“Everyone has their idea of a hero,” he says. “[Natalie] Wamsley is a personal hero of mine. She not only succeeded in a time of adversity, she excelled in a time that others may not.”

Natalie recalls her mantra during treatment: “Your illness does not define you, your strength and courage does. Everyone has their own fight, it’s how you come out of it. I hope that I am a better person going through this, and I hope through my story I can encourage someone to fight because this life is worth living.”

Natalie’s Guard family has played an important role in helping her overcome defeat. If you’re looking for a strong bond, a lifetime of adventure, and a place to call home, consider joining the Army National Guard. With more than 130 career opportunities in fields like aviation, engineering, and armor and field artillery, you can find your fit and reap the benefits of part-time service close to home. To learn more about how you can make a difference in your community and country, contact a local recruiter today!

From an original article by SFC Scott Raymond, Kentucky National Guard, which appeared in the news section of NationalGuard.mil in April 2019.


 

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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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