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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Planning Pays off for Colorado Army Guard’s First Female Infantry Officer

Second Lieutenant (2LT) Wednesday Nelson is big on having a plan.

In fact, her advice for anyone who’s joining the Army National Guard like she did is to plan ahead, because it can be challenging to finish Guard training, line up a civilian job, and be able to take time off from that job for annual training.

So far, her ability to strategize is paying off.

2LT Nelson joined the Guard in 2014, finishing out her junior and senior years at Arizona State University in the Reserve Officers’ Training Program (ROTC), where she drilled with a National Guard unit and ROTC at the same time in the Simultaneous Membership Program. ROTC is a college elective that allows students to earn a commission as a second lieutenant in the National Guard straight out of college.

2LT Nelson had considered joining active duty components of the military, but the criminal justice major also knew she wanted to pursue a career in law enforcement. Joining the Guard, where military service is a part-time commitment, was a way to do both.

“Not only would I get amazing training out of being in the Guard, but also, it would teach me time management, teamwork, and a lot of things I don’t think I could have gotten with just being a college student.”

There was also a financial benefit. 2LT Nelson earned a full-time Guard scholarship that paid for her last two years of college in exchange for her service.

By the time she was getting ready to receive her commission, the restrictions barring women from combat roles had been lifted, and 2LT Nelson commissioned as the first female 11A Infantry Officer in Colorado.

2LT Wednesday Nelson at her commissioning ceremony.

2LT Wednesday Nelson at her commissioning ceremony.

That part hadn’t been planned in advance, but it was lucky timing, she says. As the first woman in her State to serve as an infantry officer, “It was important to me to set a good standard for people to follow. I wanted to do the best that I could, and show that it wasn’t a mistake to have integration in the combat arm branches, infantry and armor.”

She chose infantry because of the challenge.

Of the four others in her class who chose to commission infantry, “all of the guys were studs, they were all pretty much the top of the class, very motivated and very dedicated, and they gave me an idea of what the branch was going to be like. I wanted to be competing with the best.”

Although 2LT Nelson was offered a position as an infantry officer in Arizona, she chose to join the Colorado Army National Guard and relocate there because it’s geographically halfway between where each of her parents lives, plus the Denver Police Department was her No. 1 choice for an employer. After she decided to move, she was accepted to the Denver Police Academy, where she starts next month.

In the meantime, as an infantry officer, her job is to train Soldiers who serve as the main land combat force in the military. She also hopes to be a role model for other women.

Her advice for women going into combat-related jobs, because integration is still new, also goes back to having a plan.

“You have to carry your own weight, plus more. You have to go into this prepared,” she says. “There are people who don’t want you there. There are people who do want you there. But regardless, you have to be consistent. You have to train up for it.”

So if you’re interested in training up to be part of the Army National Guard, one of the decisions you’ll make as you plan your future is what to choose for your Military Occupation Specialty (MOS). The Guard offers more than 150 options in fields like mechanics and maintenance, administration, intelligence, transportation and infantry or another combat specialty.

Explore careers on our job board, and for personalized assistance, contact a recruiter today, who can also explain benefits like tuition assistance and the GI Bill.

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Women Soldiers Get More from the Guard

Lieutenant Colonel Says Opportunities and Benefits for Women Growing Steadily

In honor of Women’s History Month, On Your Guard takes a look at 21st century changes that are providing more opportunities for female Soldiers through the perspective of a West Point graduate who is now a leader in the Florida Army National Guard.

Fresh out of West Point in 2000, Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) Elizabeth Evans chose Fort Hood, Texas, as her first duty station. As the largest Army installation in the country, she expected to find the widest range of opportunities for a female civil engineer like herself.

But out of 10 engineering battalions there, 9 were combat mechanized engineering battalions, restricted to men only, with women allowed to serve only in support roles within each headquarters company. The other was a construction battalion that was open to both men and women serving as an engineer platoon leader, but it had a waiting list more than two years long.

LTC Evans decided to request assignment to the 1st Cavalry Division’s 20th Engineer Battalion, knowing she would be able to serve only in a support role. It was here that she served as a support platoon leader within a support company, handling logistics for her male engineer peers and friends from West Point, but her heart was in commanding a combat or construction unit.

She was later told that 80 percent of the Army’s construction formations, which were 100% open to women, were in the Army’s reserve components – the Army Reserves or Army National Guard, causing her to question if the opportunity for a female engineer officer to lead engineer Soldiers would ever truly exist for her or others on Active Duty.

So, in 2005, frustrated by the lack of options available, LTC Evans left the Army for the Florida Army National Guard, which has a dual mission of serving the Nation and responding to local emergencies, like extreme weather events.

“When I looked at the mission of the National Guard and the fact that they responded to states of emergency that the governor requests help on, I thought, ‘This is awesome. If a hurricane hits, we come in with our engineer equipment, and we get to help our citizens and neighbors restore the community that I will be a part of.’”

Because Guard service is part-time for the majority of its members, she also had the opportunity to pursue her engineering career in the private sector as a superintendent and project manager in residential and commercial construction. She is a certified General Contractor and serves as the Southeast U.S. Director of Construction for Source Refrigeration and HVAC, Inc.

Within 6 months of moving to Florida, she was asked to command a Horizontal Construction Company in Live Oak, Fla., finally having the opportunity to command engineers as an engineer officer. She is now Commander of the 53rd Brigade Special Troops Battalion outside of Tampa, a battalion that is comprised of a combat engineer company, signal company, military intelligence company, and a headquarters company.

“I had multiple opportunities for command which never would have happened had I stayed in the active Army,” she says.

Out of seven battalions in their Infantry Brigade within the Florida Army National Guard, two are led by women: LTC Elizabeth Evans, 53rd Brigade Special Troops Battalion Commander, left, and LTC Cindy Harkrider, 53rd Brigade Support Battalion Commander.

Out of seven battalions in their Infantry Brigade within the Florida Army National Guard, two are led by women: LTC Elizabeth Evans, 53rd Brigade Special Troops Battalion Commander, left, and LTC Cindy Harkrider, 53rd Brigade Support Battalion Commander.

Still, LTC Evans has seen a lot of progress as far as the Army allowing equal opportunity for men and women, and in attitudes of acceptance of female Soldiers as equals in her 17 years of military service, pointing to these signs of progress: women were accepted and have graduated from Sapper School, the combat engineers’ defining school for their field. Women have been accepted to and graduated from Army Ranger School, which is the Army’s premier tactical leadership course; female Soldiers were successfully attached to Special Forces in Cultural Support Teams in Afghanistan; and in 2016, the Department of Defense opened all military direct combat jobs to women.

LTC Evans, who led 300 missions in a combat zone in Iraq, during Operation Iraqi Freedom II, is a proponent of equal opportunity, but ultimately, the fit needs to make sense.

“If there’s a high-speed female Soldier that can throw on a ruck and march as long and as far and as well as her male peers, then she should absolutely have that opportunity,” she said. “I don’t think every male Soldier is right for some of the positions in the Army, just like I don’t think every female Soldier is right for every position in the Army. But, if you evaluate Soldiers as a person and put the best person in the job, then I think we’re going in the right direction.”

But even just last year, LTC Evans said she felt she had to plead her case as to why she was the right person to serve as a task force commander for a counter-narcotics mission training military components in three Central American countries.

“There was some hesitation: is a female going to get the same respect from these other countries because they don’t have females in leadership roles and because of the cultural differences between us?” she recalls. In the end, she was told by several high ranking officials, both in the U.S. and in Central America, “You proved to us that this can work. Women can do this and do it with record-setting results.”

For LTC Evans, that mission was a chance to inspire cultural change in other countries. In her own unit and within the Florida Army National Guard, she enjoys the opportunity to develop and mentor Soldiers.

“I think I’m extremely fortunate to be a female in the Army National Guard because of the opportunities I have to be a role model to others, both male and female. I have the ability to show younger Soldiers coming in that anything is possible regardless of your gender.”

Her advice for anyone considering joining the Guard is gender neutral.

“Go in all in. Push yourself. Don’t be scared. Challenge yourself to be more and do more because you will get 10 times in return whatever you put in.”

She looks at the Guard’s future as being full of possibilities.

“There are great opportunities. We could sit here and focus on the past where there were restrictions on females serving in certain roles, but let’s all move past that. Let’s appreciate where we’ve come from, but let’s focus on the opportunities all Soldiers have to lead our Army into the future.”

So, if you are curious about all the opportunities within the Guard, our job board is a great place to start. You can search Guard careers by keyword, location, or category. There are more than 150 options available in fields like armor and field artillery, intelligence, and logistics support, just to name a few. Contact your local recruiter for more information.

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