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.
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.