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A Grateful Nation

Volunteers from California's Operation Gratitude show their appreciation for the Guard. Photos by Mary Lou Sandler
Volunteers from California's Operation Gratitude show their appreciation for the Guard. Photos by Mary Lou Sandler

As a Soldier in the Guard, you’ve changed people’s lives—directly or indirectly—wherever you are. Whether it’s deploying overseas to defend a country or placing a sandbag to protect a neighbor or helping a stranger simply because you could, you’ve made everyone around you safer and stronger.

Typically, we shine a spotlight on one Soldier who has done the extraordinary for someone else. This time, we thought we'd emphasize that there are nearly 260,000 such individuals in the Guard who fit that description.

Your fellow Americans certainly recognize that, and they continue to need you. We’ve gathered a few tributes from civilians across the country that detail how the Guard has touched them. Some single out states, a few single out individuals, but all of them speak to the skill, dedication and fearlessness that’s in every Citizen-Soldier.


Saved From Attack

Markus L. Horner
Sachse, TX

I live in a small town named Sachse, TX. One afternoon earlier this year, I was riding my bicycle, and as I turned the corner into a local subdivision, I heard some dogs barking. At first I did not see them. As I rounded a corner of the street and approached a stop sign, I saw what was barking. I don’t mind telling you that I suddenly felt like I was about to die. As I looked up, I saw three grown Rottweilers headed right at me. They all weighed more than 100 pounds each, and they were not in a playful mood.

I immediately got off my bike and tried to use it as a barricade between me and them. All three of them came to within 6 to 8 feet of me, and just as I started screaming my head off for someone to help, a brand-new black Chevy pickup pulled up beside me. The driver rolled down the passenger side window and told me to jump up on the bed cover where I would be safe. I stayed on the bed cover, while the driver called the Sachse Police. After they showed up and got the dogs rounded up, I heard the driver tell the police that he was a sergeant in the National Guard. I owe that man a debt of eternal gratitude.


Our Community Is Their Community

Patty Butterfield
Colorado Springs, CO

On June 11, my husband and I, who live in Colorado Springs, CO, near Black Forest, had seen a little bit of smoke up in the forest, and by the time we got home we thought they had things under control. But five minutes later we heard sirens and were told to evacuate immediately.

We grabbed our cat and left quickly without any clothes or anything. As we evacuated, we saw the National Guard at all the checkpoints. They were always friendly, but they took their jobs very seriously. They didn’t let vehicles come through or media or anybody who had no business being there, and that made us feel safe. The firefighters who are Guard members were up here working the whole time the forest was burning. Luckily, our home was spared. The Guard Soldiers are all our heroes, and even the Soldiers who aren’t from around here looked on our community as their community and did everything in their power to save our homes and property.



One Humble Act

Shaunna Coit
Twin Falls, ID

Ever since I had surgery on my thyroid gland in 2011, I have suffered from occasional seizures, usually when the calcium in my blood gets too low. My hands and fingers start to tingle before a seizure, and I know my muscles are going to cramp up. Usually, this has happened at home, where someone in my family could get me my medication. But one night in January 2012, as I was driving alone, the tingling started.

I tried to take myself to the hospital, but couldn’t make it. At this point the muscles in my eyes had started to cramp so I couldn’t see well, my jaw muscles had clamped shut so I couldn’t scream, and my hands had curled up like a claw so I couldn’t reach my cellphone. I passed a car and stopped in front of it, hoping the driver would call 911 and get me help. I never in a million years thought that this driver would stop and take me to the hospital.

Later on, I learned that this was Army National Guard Sergeant First Class Jesus Gonzalez. The hospital staff told me he carried me into the emergency room, made sure I got help and left without saying a word. Someone noticed him leaving in a yellow Mustang, and I was determined to find him and thank him for saving my life. My friend posted on Facebook about this hero with the yellow car, and the next day we found him at the armory where he works as a recruiter. I arranged to meet with him a few days later. When I walked in, I just threw my arms around him and started crying. The whole experience of what SFC Gonzalez did for me has made me realize how much of an impact you can make if you take a second to see what someone else might need. It’s been great for my kids. They really see SFC Gonzalez and all the folks at the Army National Guard as heroes. I really appreciate everything he did to save my life, and am impressed by how humble he is about all of it. He doesn’t think he did anything at all.


Success Guaranteed

Cynthia Bach
Dream Center Supervisor, Society of St. Vincent de Paul
Phoenix, AZ

Last year, the Arizona National Guard helped us by setting up preparations for a Humana/KaBOOM! playground build at our food bank here in Phoenix. We just appreciate their commitment. Without them being here it wouldn’t have been done, and the park would not have been built. Thanks from the bottom of our hearts for making this community event so successful. You know if the National Guard is going to do it, it is going to be done.


Maximum Multitasking

Carol Walton
Operations Branch Manager
Arkansas Department of Emergency Management

Because I work in the State Emergency Operations Center in North Little Rock, AR, I am typically not in the field with the Guard. But there was one specific incidence when I did get to go out, in May 2011. We had record flooding throughout the state and almost simultaneously we were going to participate in the National Level Exercise of 2011, which was an earthquake-scenario-based exercise, so we had a lot of National Guard troops out doing multiple things like transportation of commodities, filling sandbags and directing traffic in the areas that were flooding.

One of the jurisdictions that was heavily hit asked us to do a lot of sandbagging. The Guard took me out in one of their vehicles and because they had already been working in that jurisdiction, they knew a lot more places that had been damaged than I knew about. There was a little dirt road that had several brick houses on it, and the water had risen significantly and was getting close to those houses. The people were still in their homes as the Guard worked along with residents and other local volunteers to put sandbags in place. The Guard was taking a leadership role, directing placement of the bags. They were so terrific and doing such a great job.

Later in the day, we were driving down a street that was flooded, and every person outside stopped and waved or yelled “Thank you!” It was amazing to see.



Massive Disaster, Massive Success

Jack Schaller
Assistant Public Works Director
Joplin, MO

Following the tornados in May 2011 here in Joplin, MO, the Guard was assigned to us from the governor to help with the cleanup, and right off the bat we were a little bit skeptical because we wanted to be running the cleanup ourselves. They sent down Colonel Bill Ward and Major Joe Leahy, and they couldn’t have sent two better people to do the job. They brought to the table the organization, the know-how and the manpower to get the job done.

We set up meetings and went through the issues we were facing every single day, and they assisted us at every turn. They didn’t run the show; they just made it way easier for us to run the show. We set up meetings with every invested entity and all of the federal and state agencies. If we had a need for security, the Guard would send out additional troops. If we had a need for getting reporting done for buildings that were damaged, they would send out crews. If we needed technical assistance, they were there to help with that. They were the best tool we ever had in our toolbox. Their logistical and organizational skills were fantastic; they just knew how to put the right people in the right place. They do this stuff day in and day out, and it was obvious. They were there to make sure that whatever we needed got done, from the smallest thing like traffic control all the way up to working with the governor to get paperwork pushed through faster. Very few, if any, organizations have that kind of reach.

We had roughly 3 million cubic yards that we cleaned up in about 65 days, which is unheard of. They stayed with us and gave us manpower until we got signs back up and had everything back in place. Without all of the pieces they were able to put into place and all of them working together seamlessly and flawlessly, we would have never, ever gotten it all done. We are extremely lucky to have the National Guard in our country, and I don’t think people fully recognize everything that they do. It was an honor to work with them.



Work That Glows

Matthew M. Hoidal
Executive Director
Camp Sunshine, ME

Camp Sunshine is a place where children with life-threatening illnesses and their families can escape for a week to have fun and find support. When our camp started in 1984 on Sebago Lake in Casco, ME, we knew it would be with the help and dedication of volunteers. A consistent part of that volunteer corps has been the Maine Army National Guard, which uses capital projects that we need done at our nonprofit camp as training for its troops.

This past year, the Guard assisted with much-needed tasks, including shingling the camp’s gazebo and repairing bridges. Another project was installing fencing around our 23-acre campus. We figured we would attack it, piecemeal, over the next three to five years. When the 50 or so men and women from the 133rd Engineer Battalion said they could come in and get it done in two weeks, we were ecstatic. By not having to spend precious financial resources from donations to pay for fencing, we are able to help more families.

To see the skill these Guard Soldiers employed, the attitude they brought to Camp Sunshine every day, that positive hardworking spirit, and then when they would thank us for this opportunity to serve, that’s incredibly humbling.


A Young Life Changed

Alexander Ripley
Cadet, Sunburst Youth ChalleNGe Academy
Los Alamitos, CA

The Sunburst Youth ChalleNGe Academy changed the way I see things. The cadre have taught us useful things like drill and ceremony, how to be respectful when addressing people, and how to be professional. Over 30 National Guard members work the program. I was actually called yesterday and told I could graduate from the program. The academy has taught me that I was able to accomplish something that I didn’t think I could. Thank you for giving me your time and a spot in the program. It really means a lot. 


Winter Samaritan

Katie Kartak
Morning Show Producer
98 Country, WWJO-FM, MN

I come from a military family and am aware that we devote only a few days of each year to them, but they make sacrifices every day. That’s why last fall when our new morning show co-host suggested that we honor a different Veteran each month on the radio station, I said, “Let’s do it.” Our July Veteran of the Month was Army National Guard Specialist Justin Doerfler in Brainerd, MN. We found out that Specialist Doerfler goes above and beyond the average helpful neighbor. Whenever a snowstorm hits, he’ll head out in it in search of people who need help. One night he had to fill his truck’s gas tank twice, because he’d spent nine hours out helping people out of the snowstorm.

It’s not just SPC Doerfler we appreciate. The entire Minnesota National Guard, headquartered here in St. Cloud, takes care of the homefront in times of disaster and assists if there is a need overseas. In some ways their job is harder, because they essentially have to wear two hats, and we’re thankful because of their ability to do that.


Facing the Fire

John Winder
Assistant Deputy Director
California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection

Every summer for the last several years, we’ve activated Guard members for fighting wildland fires, and they can spend up to 14 days away from their families doing what can be a very dangerous mission. They’re dropping retardant at 150 feet above the fire, and this is usually done in mountainous terrain with very treacherous air and limited visibility. These Soldiers are heroic. They can and have made the difference in many fires by the actions they’ve taken.



Mountain Rescue

Mary Owen
Newberg, OR

I had been wanting to hike Mount Hood for more than three years and figured spring break of 2013 was the perfect time to do it. I had a crew of friends lined up to go with me, but then they all backed out. I decided to go by myself. By the end of Sunday, March 24, I’d climbed nearly to the summit, but there were whiteout conditions and it was getting icy. I knew I wasn’t in a good place, but I figured I could walk out of it. I walked all night, down into a canyon below the timberline. Early Monday morning, as I started to climb out of the canyon, I ended up slipping, and I fell about 40 feet down. That was when I knew I was in trouble. My leg was torn up pretty bad, and I was in the middle of the snow without a way to walk. Every night I dreamed about ways to get off the mountain.

I started on Sunday with six NutriGrain bars, six packages of peanut butter crackers, a package of ramen noodles and chia seed. By Wednesday, I was out of food. On Thursday, I moved into a more open place—one with earth instead of snow—where someone could see me. On Friday afternoon, I saw a search plane, and on Saturday morning, I heard the Oregon Army National Guard helicopter coming down the valley. A Guard Soldier came out of the helicopter and landed on the ridge above where I was. He motioned for me to come toward him. All I could do was crawl. The medic offered to drag me on the tarp I was carrying. I refused because I felt like I could crawl the distance. He got down on his hands and knees and crawled with me. In the helicopter, the medic started working on my wounds, and it was the first time I saw my feet. They had frostbite and were really gnarly-looking. I ended up spending 13 days in the hospital [above]. There were four Guard members in the helicopter, and I was just feeling very blessed and very grateful to all of them. That was something that didn’t leave me the entire time I was in the hospital.

Before my rescue, I wasn’t aware of the Army National Guard. This whole experience changed my view of the military. These men and women get to serve their country on a regular basis in ways that matter to people. I would just like to say thank you for the time they’re putting in to their training in order to be prepared for something like my rescue.

 Reported by Rachel Gladstone, Jennifer Graham, Emil Hirsch and Leah Ingram