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Three Paths to Excellence

Should you be an officer, an enlisted Soldier or a warrant officer? To help you get a better sense of what it’s like in these roles, Guard leaders share stories of their chosen careers.

The opportunities available to you in the National Guard are limitless, so think about the future if you want to spend a career in uniform. What’s the best path for you? Here’s what three highly experienced Guard leaders had to say about their work, what challenges them, how they’ve grown and what they get from their calling.



Command Sergeant Major Susan Shoe enlisted in the South Dakota Guard in 1990, switched to the Army while she was completing AIT, then returned to the South Dakota Army Guard six years later, ultimately becoming its senior enlisted member—the first woman to be the highest-ranking NCO in the 151-year history of the South Dakota Guard. She is responsible for making sure the force of the state’s Army Guard is primed and ready for duty.

The Foundation

To me, integrity is a value Soldiers need to abide by in order to succeed as a senior leader. When people know you will do the right thing and they can count on your word, you earn trust and respect needed to be a successful person and leader. The Army Values are in place as a foundation for Soldiers to live by and to use in order to succeed through the ranks. When you become a senior enlisted leader, those seven values as well as our Warrior Ethos and the Creed of the Noncommissioned Officer truly define us as the backbone of the Army.

The Dedication

I had an interview not so long ago, and someone asked me what my hobbies were. I’m the G4 [logistics and quartering] sergeant major, the state command sergeant major, I go to college, and I’m helping my husband run a business! I don’t have time for any hobbies! The military is my hobby. It requires a level of dedication to succeed. To get where I’m at, you have to make sacrifices. If you want to be successful in this organization, it means you’re going to miss birthdays and holidays and other events because it’s an intense and extensive career. But you get double back for what you put in.

The Camaraderie

I advise young Soldiers to develop their connections by getting involved with enlisted associations. This can definitely make a difference in your career and is a terrific way to make valuable connections, both inside the military and out. Making connections in the Guard gives you a sense of family and a sense of being. Soldiers have a hard time sharing with others about their experiences in uniform because their friends and family typically have no idea what they are talking about. Soldiers need to make sure they stay connected with other Soldiers. And they need mentors, someone that’s older and that’s been around the military for a while.

The Motivation

The pessimists of the world are always going to tell you that you can’t do something. Look at that as a challenge. I learned early on, when anybody told me I couldn’t do something, I’d say, “Watch this!” That’s been a driving factor in my whole career, proving to people that I can do anything I put my mind to. And every time I face a challenge head on, it just gives me the drive to keep putting one foot in front of the other and keep marching on.



Command Chief Warrant Officer David Smith enlisted in the Florida Guard as an artilleryman in 1981 while in high school. He later became an aviation mechanic in 1985, and then completed flight school in 1990. Now, he sits in one of the highest levels of leadership in the Florida Guard, sharing his experience with the 248 warrant officers in his state.

For more on becoming a warrant officer, go to

The Role

The definition of the warrant officer has changed over the past few years, and the latest definition, basically, sums it all up. Everybody likes to think warrant officers are technical experts, and we are. But we are also considered commissioned officers, and we are combat leaders, even platoon commanders. So not only will you be that technical expert that knows your craft inside and out, but you are expected to lead, too. Officers really depend on their warrants down in the formation to maintain, operate and integrate all of the Army systems that make up the Army unit.

The Challenge

The biggest challenge with being a warrant officer is technology changes constantly. So if you’re not able to keep up with the emerging technologies in your field, how we use them and how they’re implemented, you’re going to quickly fall behind. When I look back to when I became a warrant officer in 1990, it’s almost like technology doubled every year. I learned to fly in a UH-1 Huey, and then all of a sudden we were flying UH-60 Black Hawks, and that was a huge leap in technology. So you have to keep up with technology on a constant basis.

The Sacrifice

If you want to be a warrant, you’re going to go into a specific area of expertise, and with each assignment, you’re going to be the subject matter expert that the commander depends on for advice. But with rank comes responsibility. You see, as a warrant officer, you have the responsibility to mentor those around you, and you have to find a mentor for yourself, too. With this rank and responsibility, I don’t get to fly anymore, but that’s a sacrifice that I accepted in order to make our Florida Army National Guard warrant officer corps better.

The Payoff

It all comes down to one question: What level of leadership do you want to serve at? The warrant officer corps is a great avenue for someone who is technically minded, tenacious and likes to be responsible for things running smoothly. So, you’re a Soldier first, an officer second and technical expert third. It’s all in the eyes of the beholder. Being a warrant officer in the military is really about what you put into it. I guarantee you will get back tenfold.



Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Hollister has spent his entire career as an officer in the Tennessee National Guard and has “loved every minute of it.” Serving with the 117th Regional Training Institute (RTI) in Smyrna, TN, Hollister is able to share the lessons of his 27 years of service while training the next generation of Soldiers.

For more on becoming an officer, go to

The Responsibility

I love being a leader. It’s not the ego rush of being in charge, but it’s about working as a team to accomplish a common goal. When you come up with a plan and work with people to execute it, there’s a certain level of satisfaction in that. And I like to be able to help people build their career. When I was a young officer, there were certain folks that mentored me and helped me, so I try to do that for the young leaders today. One of the perks of leadership is being selfless and being able to identify the folks that you think are going to make the greatest contribution to the National Guard.

The Pressure

There are always two sides to every story, and often in the heat of battle or in a tense situation, it’s easy to hear the first report and base your decision on that information. But as an officer, you have to gather all of the information you can and make a judgment call in a timely manner. There’s often a lot of pressure in making that decision because people’s lives can be in the balance. This means you have to be a good listener and do the right thing no matter what.

The Advisors

Young officers need to learn to completely trust their NCOs. I have always developed a working relationship with my NCOs. I give them my vision of what I’d like to see done, give them the resources and tools, and then sit back and watch those guys do amazing things. Some leaders get fearful and micromanage, they get in the way, they don’t have the institutional background or knowledge to learn to trust their people. Leadership can be an ego trip, but you’re nothing as a leader without a solid, trustful relationship with your people.

The Building Blocks

I think understanding the failures you make and how you recover from those failures is important for young officers. When you fail badly, you either wallow in it or you change your approach. That’s hard to do when times are tough. But sometimes you just have to dig deep within yourself. You can’t make those mistakes again because in our business, people start getting hurt when you make mistakes. Some of the folks and senior leaders that I admire will be the first to tell you that they’ve made mistakes. We all do. So learn from your mistakes so you’ll never make them again.