JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – If I'm being honest, I didn't even know
what the National Guard was three years ago.
I was a college
sophomore finding my way through a degree in photography at the
University of Central Missouri and the only thing I knew about the
National Guard was that they had a billboard in the football stadium
on campus and they did pushups in the end zone when the team scored
a touchdown (I soon learned those weren't even National Guardsmen,
but ROTC cadets - a whole different type of confusing).
forward to today and I'm about as involved as a National Guard
solider can be without being full-time staff at my unit. Instead of
a confused photography student, I now call myself a military
photojournalist. I'm pursuing a minor in public relations and I work
for the university's ROTC department as the public affairs manager.
I jump at every chance I get to take photos of military or veteran
events on campus or in the community.
Pfc. Samantha Whitehead works in her office at her civilian job as the public affairs manager for the Military Science and Leadership department of the University of Central Missouri, Warrensburg, Missouri, on Dec. 18, 2015. Whitehead, a member of the 70th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, Missouri
National Guard, uses her civilian education to enhance her military career as a public affairs specialist. (U.S. Army photo by Pfc. Samantha J. Whitehead)
But how did all of that change so quickly? How did my job
become so intertwined with my education and everyday life?
The answer: the opportunities available to Guardsmen. I'm
not talking about the G.I. Bill or tuition assistance. I
mean the opportunity to see your military career and
civilian education run so closely, so parallel to one
another that they mesh. That is the power of a
The beginning of my military career is sort of like the
old adage, “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” in
that I'm not sure if my genuine interests in public affairs
or the military sprung up first. All I know is they are both
building blocks for the other. And somehow that works for
I started working on a public relations minor
around the time I had learned about the National Guard from
a few close friends. Money for school and a commitment of a
weekend a month for a few years didn't sound too bad to me.
When I tried to join as a public affairs specialist, my
recruiter told me there weren't any positions available, so
I agreed to enlist as a satellite technician at an armory
close to my home. I wasn't able to enlist right away so the
process was temporarily put on hold.
first public relations class was a writing and editing
course that required students to work with a client
throughout the semester. I chose the Missouri National
Guard. I still wanted the photographer job and figured I
could learn more about the unit I wanted to join through
working on projects.
I sent some emails, left a
voicemail or two, and within a few days I received a
response saying they'd love to work with me for the
semester. I first tackled a news release with the help of
the military history detachment and a few days after that I
got another phone call, this one from a major in the public
affairs unit. My emails had gotten passed around and the
word was out that I was planning to enlist, but not as a
public affairs soldier. Her name was Maj. Spicer, the
commander of the 70th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, and
she was offering me a job.
This was my first lesson
in the National Guard. There are hidden opportunities out
there and you'll likely only find them through the network
of service members that will help guide you through your
Trial by Fire
A few weeks later, I
raised my hand and enlisted in the Missouri Army National
Guard as a public affairs specialist with the 70th MPAD and
went to basic training.
During my advanced
individual training at the Defense Information School in
Fort Meade, Maryland, the other students called me a cheater
because I already knew how to write in the inverted pyramid
style and work a camera on manual mode. It was true – I knew
how to do these things, but definitely not the Army way. And
we all know there's an Army way for everything.
worked hard and earned distinguished honor graduate award of
my class, “cheater” or not. I flew home, awaited my first
drill with my unit and starting back up on my college
classes in the spring. Little did I know I would be
activated for state emergency duty, even before I met anyone
from my unit, and stay in that status for a month.
State emergency duty allowed me to use every skill I had
learned so far in college and the military. It was
real-world, real-life stuff and no one cared if I had
learned it from the Army or not. They didn't care that I had
that leg up on other soldiers at DINFOS. All they cared
about was that I could do my job and I did it really well
for a brand new soldier.
This was my second lesson
in the National Guard. Your dual experiences in the military
and your civilian life will give you an advantage. Others
might see that as unfair, but it is up to you to capitalize
on it and continue to grow because there will always be
someone who will need your skills – and genuinely appreciate
it when you can deliver them in a time of need.
After a month on state emergency duty, I
returned home and prepared to go back to a normal life of
attending college classes and not waking up at 4 a.m. I
enrolled in my first crisis communication course and a
public relations strategic planning class. In both of those
courses we covered things I learned in the Army – how to
conduct a press conference, write follow-up news releases
during a crisis – and I got called a cheater again because I
had an advantage over the other students because of the
Through all of this, I grew in the public
relations program because of my experience in the Guard and
I grew in the Guard because of my experience in school. Two
things, that at one time had been so separate they were
foreign, were now so perfectly joined together that it was
almost like drill weekends were just another college class
and classes were just another drill weekend.
Longer Just “Weekend Warriors”
I understand not every
story can be like this. The military cook might not be a
restaurant chef in his civilian career, the mechanic might
not even like changing the oil in his own car, and the
supply sergeant might not even work in an office.
Every Guardsman, however, can take something from that one
weekend a month and apply it to his or her civilian life.
The platoon sergeant might be stuck in corporate middle
management, needing to get ahead of the competition for the
next promotion. Military leadership will provide
opportunities to develop those needed skills. Even just
using the military as a networking tool can be powerful
enough to change a path, change a career, or change a life.
If you look close enough, the National Guard can
hold powerful opportunities for everyone. I look forward to
helping others in the same way I have been helped. The Guard
is a family - one that will help you grow beyond what you
ever thought possible.
By U.S. Army Pfc. Samantha J. Whitehead
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