The Balancing Act Between Citizen and Soldier
Established in 1636, the National Guard is the country’s oldest military branch and has fought in every major conflict in American history. Soldiers of the Army National Guard have always been citizens who served as the Nation’s first line of defense when duty called. Fast-forward to today and it’s the same: Everyone who becomes a Citizen-Soldier® still must find that balance between day-to-day life and military obligations.
Like Sergeant Brian Calhoun. Currently a photojournalist in the 108th Public Affairs Detachment, South Carolina National Guard, he has learned to master this balancing act for years.
“I initially enlisted in the South Carolina National Guard when I was a senior in high school,” said Calhoun. “I would go off and train on drill weeks, which made my senior year experience much different than my classmates’.”
Calhoun joined an Air Defense Artillery (ADA) unit that was brand new at the time and hadn’t even fielded its equipment yet. He trained to become an Air Defense Artillery Command and Control System Operator-Repairer and was assigned to Headquarters Battalion 1/263 ADA. When the unit was deactivated seven years later, Calhoun was at the end of his enlistment and decided to leave the National Guard.
“When my original unit deactivated, it was a good time for me to take a break from military service,” said Calhoun. “I had just completed mortuary college and was beginning my professional career as a funeral director. My new job would require me to work weekends, and I didn’t want weekend drill or annual training to interfere, so I decided to take a short break.”
Calhoun’s “short” break ended up lasting 16 years. “I never intended to be away from the Guard for that amount of time, and I always missed it. I think once you become a Soldier you never stop. A part of me was missing, and I wanted to get back in the Guard to fill that huge hole.”
When he decided to re-enlist in 2010, Calhoun turned to the Internet to find the perfect military occupational specialty (MOS) for himself. “I wanted my new MOS to be more like a hobby for me. I also wanted my new military skill to benefit my employer. When I found public affairs and photojournalism, I was surprised. I didn’t know the Army had this, and I was certain the South Carolina National Guard didn’t have this – or so I thought. I started making phone calls and the rest is history.”
Calhoun said he knew right away that being a public affairs professional skilled in writing, public speaking, photography, print layout and design, and managing social media would be an asset to his employer.
“Not only am I able to serve my Community, my State, and our Nation as a public affairs specialist, I am able to provide these same skills to my company and the families that we serve here in Charleston.
“I am very fortunate to work for a company that has embraced my desire to serve my country,” he added. “They have never hesitated when I have asked for time away to attend training or to answer the call.”
Like earlier this year when Calhoun attended and graduated from Warrior Leader Course (WLC) at McCrady Training Center in Eastover, SC. WLC is the initial leadership course for noncommissioned officers. During the month-long course, Specialists and Corporals prepare for the rank of Sergeant by learning skills to lead smaller groups of Soldiers.
“I knew my class would be full of young Specialists, or newly minted Sergeants, so I could not compare myself to them physically,” said Calhoun who is 43 years old. “But I went into the course and gave it 100 percent.”
As it turned out, Calhoun believes being older actually gave him an advantage.
“When it came to preparing a brief, giving a block of instruction, or being graded on leadership, I always received the highest marks because of my confidence. I believe my age and experience led to those qualities.”
On top of holding down a steady job, Calhoun also has a wife and two children. His family had as much to do with his re-enlistment as did his own personal desire to be back in uniform.
“I wanted my kids to witness, first-hand, me sacrificing time away from home for the benefit of the greater good. I wanted them to know that the benefits we have as Americans are not free and do not come to them without a cost.”
The National Guard responds locally to natural disasters such as floods, hurricanes, forest fires, search and rescue operations, and more. At the same time, the National Guard has a Federal mission to maintain well-trained units available for mobilization during war or national emergencies.
“There is no doubt that being a Soldier benefits me every day. It gives me pride and confidence as a person, and it reminds me that I am a part of something that is much bigger than myself.”
Original story by MAJ Jamie Delk was published in the news section of nationalguard.mil on Aug. 7, 2015.