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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Guard Soldier’s Desire to Do More Leads to Dream Job Training Dogs

They say, “do what you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life.”

For Sergeant (SGT) Giovanna Donofrio, this statement holds true as she moves into the sixth year of her military career. She’s turned her passion into purpose, and found a job that she truly loves waking up for in the morning.

At age 20, SGT Donofrio was attending school, but lacked the feeling that she was making an impact. With the desire to do something different with her life, she decided to join the military.

“I needed to do something that made me feel like I was helping people more,” she says. “When I joined, I was pretty excited to feel like I was actually contributing.”

Upon leaving active duty six years later, she knew she wanted to continue her service. She transitioned to the Connecticut Army National Guard, so she could serve close to home and work in the Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) she wanted.

“When I was getting out of active duty, I [kind of] didn’t want to because I was going to miss it so much. But now that I’m in the National Guard, I’m still able to do everything I love.”

SGT Donofrio started her military career as a 91B Light-Wheel Vehicle Mechanic, and two years later, re-classed as a 31K Military Working Dog Handler – an MOS she felt passionate about.

SGT Donofrio and Schurkje pose in front of the flag at the Newtown Military Working Dog Kennels in Connecticut.

Connecticut, home to the only National Guard kennel in the U.S., is the perfect fit for SGT Donofrio. She gets to do what she loves by working with dogs, and she’s a wife and mother of three children, so being able to spend time with her family is a priority. Serving in the Army National Guard gives her the flexibility to do both.

“It’s been very beneficial for me. I love what I do, and I love being able to wear the uniform,” she says. “I love my job and being able to go home every day and see my family.”

SGT Donofrio currently works full time alongside her furry partner, Schurkje (pronounced Shur-key), a 6-year-old Belgian Malinois, specializing in drug detection.

“You’re assigned a military working dog, and depending on what kind of dog it is, whether it’s a drug dog or explosive dog, you train with this dog, and you become a team,” she explains. “Then you go out on missions to either find explosives or drugs.”

To become a dog handler, Guard members must attend Military Police training at Fort Leonard Wood for 7 weeks, followed by K9 training at Lackland Airforce Base for 11 weeks, where they learn how to handle a dog. Once complete, they’re assigned a military working dog, and go through a certification process before being able to deploy. SGT Donofrio and Schurkje are currently working toward their certification.

To get certified, Soldiers and their K9s must go through 3 to 5 days of what’s called a Detection Lane – an exercise that tests a dog’s ability to sniff out a hidden training aid, either narcotics or explosives, depending on the type of dog. The handler watches for any change in behavior, indicating the dog has detected the items.

Then they have patrol, which includes controlled aggression, a scout, and a building search, followed by obedience training in an obstacle course, and an exercise featuring gunfire to ensure the K9 won’t act aggressively or shy away if it comes under fire.

SGT Giovanna Donofrio watches as Schurkje hurdles over an obstacle in the obedience course at the Newtown Military Working Dog Kennels in Connecticut.

“As far as Schurkje goes, he is great with gunfire, and just sits there next to me perfectly fine,” boasts SGT Donofrio.

Even though they can’t run missions just yet, SGT Donofrio and Schurkje are given opportunities elsewhere. This past March, in honor of K9 Veterans Day, the pair, alongside other members of the Connecticut Army National Guard’s 928th Military Working Dog Detachment, were presented with an official citation from the General Assembly at the State Capitol, recognizing them for their service. This, she says, has been one of her most fulfilling moments in the Guard thus far.

Not only does she love her job, she also enjoys all the benefits the Guard has to offer. With the Guard’s tuition assistance, she attends school full time, working toward her bachelor’s degree in accounting, and recently, she was able to purchase a new home using the VA loan benefit.

When she’s off the clock, SGT Donofrio enjoys hanging out with her Pomsky (half Pomeranian/half Husky), spending time with her family, painting, going to Zumba, horseback riding, and coaching cheerleading.

The Army National Guard offers the flexibility you need to live a well-balanced life. With more than 130 career options in fields like military police, medicine, and infantry, you, too, can find a job that you love, with benefits that help support you, your lifestyle, and your family. Contact a local recruiter to learn more today.

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Mission of Hope: Guard Soldier Wants to Do Good for Country, Community, and Foster Youth

CDT Christina Meredith is in the Florida Army National Guard’s Simultaneous Membership Program (SMP), which allows college students to serve in a Guard unit and ROTC at the same time.

CDT Christina Meredith is in the Florida Army National Guard’s Simultaneous Membership Program (SMP), which allows college students to serve in a Guard unit and ROTC at the same time.

Christina Meredith believes that anything can be accomplished through hard work and determination.

The Florida Army National Guard Soldier, author, and non-profit founder, who is also on track to achieve her dream of becoming a military officer, isn’t wasting a single opportunity that comes her way.

“You can be offered the world, but if you don’t work, you’ll lose it, or you’ll waste it, and either one is a no-go.”

A survivor of years of abuse at the hands of her own family, CDT Meredith entered the foster care system as a teen, aging out of the system when she turned 18. While still in high school, this junior ROTC member and captain of her high school’s cross country and track and field teams became homeless, living in a car she was able to buy from working two part-time jobs.

It was in that car that she started reading the Bible and making lists of her goals. One of them was to tell her story so that other people would realize that they do not have to succumb to their circumstances. At an even younger age of 10, CDT Meredith vowed to herself after a beating by her mother that she would be nothing like the person who had just left her on the ground crying in pain.

She remembers telling herself, “You will be the antithesis of her. You will love people. You’ll be kind to people, and you will make a difference.”

CDT Meredith recognizes that her mother, too, had been a victim of abuse while she was growing up, and that abuse, without intervention, is often a cycle that can be passed from one generation to the next.

“The cycle of abuse and poverty is a real thing,” she says. “It takes a community of healthy families and organizations to wrap around broken families and children to rehabilitate them into society to the point where they’re giving back and not taking away.”

According to CDT Meredith, there are half a million U.S. children in foster care, 20,000 of whom age out of the system each year, and become homeless just like she did. Eighty percent of foster youth go into the prison system, she says, and many foster youth end up having babies themselves before they become adults.

“When I saw young people like myself giving in to the cycle of poverty, giving in to drugs, giving in to the welfare and prison system, it broke me,” she says.

She is hopeful that her story and her advocacy inspire people and effect change.

“My entire story is about hope, faith, hard work, achieving the dream and the purpose that you have been given in this life, and not allowing things to deter you, because circumstances change. With hard work and a little faith, you can make them change.”

And so when her dream of earning an ROTC scholarship for college didn’t work out, she moved to California and eventually got “discovered” by a pageant recruiter at a Whole Foods. Crowned Miss California United States in 2013, the title gave her a platform to talk about PTSD recovery via trauma therapy and foster care reform in its entirety.

“It really birthed this new chapter in my life where I always wanted to be: to travel, to speak, to share, offer hope and encouragement, and write my book.”

CDT Meredith’s memoir, “CinderGirl, My Journey Out of the Ashes to a Life of Hope,” will be released March 5.

CDT Meredith’s memoir, “CinderGirl, My Journey Out of the Ashes to a Life of Hope,” will be released March 5.

CDT Meredith’s memoir, “CinderGirl: My Journey Out of the Ashes to a Life of Hope,” will be released on March 5. The title is a reflection of how her life has been transformed.

“Growing up with nothing, being homeless with nothing, and then doing a national book tour is almost a Cinderella story.”

On her tour, CDT Meredith will be promoting the book and speaking on the issues that are also the focus of her non-profit organization: The Christina Meredith Foundation, based in Jacksonville, Fla. The foundation’s short-term plan is continued advocacy for foster care reform and mental health. Long-term, CDT Meredith envisions creating a facility where foster youth can live and have access to food, clothing, health care, and learn things like how to balance a checkbook, so long as they have a full-time job or are in school.

In the meantime, CDT Meredith is in school herself, working on a degree in international relations with a minor in psychology. She’s also in ROTC as part of the Guard’s Simultaneous Membership Program. When she earns her commission next December, she plans to become a 25A Signals Officer in the same unit where she currently serves, where her job is to provide secure communications for her fellow Soldiers.

“I love the structure, I love the discipline,” she says of the Guard. “I love the camaraderie. I love that I’m doing good.”

Part of that good comes from knowing she is part of a team that saved lives in her home state when Hurricane Irma swept through Florida in 2017.

CDT Meredith has yet another goal on her list, and that’s to translate her degree and Guard experience into politics. She’s planning to run for office someday.

The flexibility of serving in the Guard part-time is allowing her the time to work on all of her goals.

“I have my civilian job and still have that military experience and leadership, and I can really bring something to my country.”

With its dual mission to serve the State and the Nation, the Army National Guard is always looking for service-minded people to join its ranks. Besides the satisfaction of knowing that your service is making a difference, the Guard offers training in more than 130 different jobs in fields like military intelligence, aviation, infantry, mechanics and maintenance, and more. Contact your local recruiter to learn more.

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