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Why did these four Soldiers choose to stay in the Guard? Life just wouldn't be as rich without it.
The reasons for extending service in the National Guard are as varied as the reasons for originally joining. But often, there’s a striking difference between the two.
When men and women first join the Guard, they are often motivated by the many ways in which the Guard can help them, either with job training or educational benefits. In the words of one Soldier, Guard benefits are “astronomical,” and of course, being a Soldier is both challenging and fun.
But look closely at the reasons that Soldiers extend their service, and you will see clearly the metamorphosis that occurs in the transformation from civilian to Soldier. People enlist as individuals; they re-enlist as enthusiastic and loyal members of a team. Here’s a look at what drove four Soldiers in their recent decisions to remain with the Guard. Here’s why they won’t quit.
THE ADVENTURE NEVER ENDS
SSG Rainer Schmidt
Unit: 1/141st FA BN, 256th IBCT, LAARNG
MOS: 13B (cannon crewmember)
Location: Jackson Barracks, LA
Everything that Staff Sergeant Rainer Schmidt loves about his life is because of the National Guard. He’s a competitive runner, thanks to the Guard. He’s a world traveler, thanks to the Guard. And of course, he’s a Soldier, thanks to the Guard, and so when it was time to extend his service, he did so with enthusiasm and gratitude.
“I know I must sound like a commercial, but the Guard has done so much for me, I think everyone should enlist,” says Schmidt, 34. “How many people get to learn to shoot guns and throw grenades and get paid for it? And the bonds you form, you never forget.”
A native of Nicaragua, Schmidt moved to the United States at age 2 with his parents, who were starting over after they lost everything in the revolution. He initially joined the Guard after graduating from high school in 1997 to get funding for college. But, ironically, when he enrolled in college, he found he wasn’t that interested in it. What he loved, it turned out, was military life.
His first activation was for the Super Bowl in New Orleans in 2002. After six years, Schmidt left the Guard to focus on his business, Precision Tile and Plaster, which was just getting off the ground. But he missed the Guard. “I missed the camaraderie, missed the chance to do the things that most other people can’t.” So he re-enlisted, and was happy to go with his comrades when they deployed in 2010—on his birthday. “I was boots-on-ground in Iraq the day I turned 31,” he says.
For his R&R during the deployment, Schmidt decided to book a ticket to Europe, where he bought a rail pass and spent two weeks touring cities he’d seen only in pictures until then: Rome, Barcelona, Paris, Frankfurt, Munich, Salzburg. “It was awesome,” he says. “That trip changed my life, and I wouldn’t have taken it if it weren’t for the deployment. My perspective has changed completely.”
Now Schmidt travels internationally every year and has visited 16 countries. (Up this year: Venezuela, Colombia and Peru.)
Also, he’s back in school, studying for a degree in cinematography and communications. He’s a partner in a company that builds and renovates swimming pools. He runs 25 to 35 miles a week and competes frequently in races. And yet he found time to recently extend his service for another three years. “The Guard has incredible opportunities,” he says. “I think every single young person should take advantage of them.”
A SECOND FAMILY THAT'S SECOND TO NONE
SPC Kayla Boone
Unit: 138th Quartermaster, INARNG
MOS: 88M (motor transport operator)
Location: Brazil, IN
With both a father and uncle who are Army Veterans, SPC Kayla Boone couldn’t wait to enter military service. She joined the Guard soon after graduating from high school, in October 2006.
“It sounded fun, and a good career to start in, and to this day, this was one of the best choices I’ve ever made,” says Boone, 25, an enthusiastic member of the Indiana National Guard, who has twice extended her service.
Being from a military family, she had grown up hearing exciting stories about her father’s service, and her family’s experience even influenced her choice of MOS. “My dad used to deal with heavy equipment, and my grandfather and great-uncle were truck drivers, so I looked forward to learning how to drive those big trucks,” she says.
Boone went to Basic Training at Fort Jackson in South Carolina, then learned to drive trucks at Fort Bliss in Texas. So far, all of her service has been stateside, which has been a help to her family life. She has two sons, ages 1 and 3, and she had a brief interruption in service when the first one was born—but vows never again.
“My unit is so much like a family, and when I was gone, I missed them,” she says, adding that it was a relief to reunite with her unit when she rejoined. “They are always there for you, no matter what. Whether you’re in civilian clothes or in uniform, they’re there for you.”
In her civilian life, Boone works for Great Dane Trailers, where she helps to build semis—another way in which her training with the Guard has helped her in civilian life. Most important, she believes the Guard is unique in the way it enables Soldiers to be parents while still having a military career.
“My unit is very family-oriented, and the Guard is very compatible for family life,” she says, adding that her new goal is to become a sergeant.
TWO LIVES, ONE AWESOME EXPERIENCE
SSG Justin Bakow
Unit: Company C, 1/110th Infantry, 2nd Brigade, PAARNG
MOS: 11B (infantryman)
Location: Connellsville, PA
Staff Sergeant Justin Bakow knew he wanted to be in the Army since childhood, “since I could walk, since I could put two thoughts together.” But it was 9/11 that ultimately turned desire to action.
“I was in the seventh grade when 9/11 happened, and we watched it unfold on TV, and it was a defining moment, something that would stay with me all of my life,” he says. “I was filled with a desire for justice, and it brewed in me and stirred me.”
Upon graduation from high school in 2006, Bakow signed up for Active Duty on his 18th birthday. He knew what he wanted— Airborne infantry—and he got it. He was Active Duty from September 2006 through February 2011, deploying to Iraq in 2007 and Afghanistan in 2009, all the while garnering an impressive set of skills. He is Ranger qualified and has worked in reconnaissance and as a sniper, sniper team leader, paratrooper and infantry squad leader. When he decided to leave Active Duty, there was no question he would become a part of the Guard.
“I joined the Guard while I was still on Active Duty, so I would have no break in service,” he says.
Bakow is an only child, and his parents worry about the “what-ifs,” he says. “But they know I’m doing what I want to do, and they know this is something that’s absolutely necessary, and it’s a calling. They know I believe in this enough to give my life.”
So, too, does his new wife: Bakow was married this year on May 24, just three days before he deployed to Latvia. There was no time for a honeymoon, but his wife, Cami, a nurse he met while on Active Duty, understood. After all, they’d first become friends after Cami sent him a care package in Iraq, and they had a long-distance relationship for three years while Bakow was stationed in Alaska.
Bakow extended his service in June while in Latvia, the month after his wedding. “I can never see myself not doing this. It’s who I am. It’s the biggest part about me, serving my country and being in the military.
“The reason I’m in the National Guard now is that I wanted to have a wife, and a life. The National Guard means I can have both; it’s a good compromise.
“In my head, I’m a full-time Soldier and a part-time civilian. The military comes first.
“It’s who I am.”
THE MISSION, THE TEAMMATES, THE MEMORIES
SGT Bethany Moore
Unit: 1072nd Transportation, CAARNG
MOS: 88M (motor transport operator)
Location: Chula Vista, CA
Like a lot of Soldiers, Sergeant Bethany Moore enlisted in the Army after high school for the benefits. “I thought the military would be a good foundation. They pay for education, you travel, you learn a lot of different skills,” she says.
But Moore, 27, recently extended her service for a different set of reasons. The main one: She can’t imagine her life now without military service.
“After I finished Active Duty, I had a break in service for six months, and I missed it. I don’t want to do it every day anymore, but I want to have that camaraderie, to be part of that team. That’s why I decided to go with the National Guard,” she says.
Moore is the first person in her family to serve in the military, and while her parents were apprehensive about overseas deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan, they’ve been extremely supportive , she says. Trained as a motortransport operator, Moore drives convoys, and through the Guard, she’s become adept at driving all sorts of formidable vehicles, from 5-ton trucks to M1 tanks. It can be grueling work, particularly if the air conditioning goes out on a 23-hour trek across the desert, but “you deal with it the best that you can,” she says.
“It’s challenging work, and sometimes I’ve joked, ‘I should be sitting in an air-conditioned office somewhere doing paperwork,’ ” she says. “But I felt like what I was doing was extremely important to the mission, and I loved it.” The Guard, Moore adds, offers amazing opportunities.
“You get the challenge of doing these exciting things, but then you get to come home,” she says. “And you have these incredible bonds that you couldn’t make with people in other circumstances.” This is why Moore has re-enlisted twice, even as she is studying anthropology at Southwestern College in Chula Vista.
“I’ve met a lot of wonderful people along the way,” she says. “I’ve learned a lot, and I wouldn’t trade my experiences, good and bad, for anything.”–Story By Jennifer Graham, Photos by Chris Granger, Cliff Ritchey, Harry Giglio, Alon David