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The Soldier Behind The Rank
by U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Tina Villalobos
January 19, 2018

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Citizen Soldiers bring with them an abundance of diverse talent, skill, and education. And many times, these attributes are reflected in transferable work skills that enrich both their military and civilian careers. Citizen warriors can bring a higher level of sophistication than required by their military occupational specialty (MOS). At times, Guard and Reserve Soldiers hold leadership or subject matter expert positions as civilians, but their Army ranks don’t reflect the same level of requirement. Civilian careers may be compatible with an MOS, or may vary widely.

These differences among Guard and Reserve Soldiers as compared to their active duty counterparts make it particularly important for Army leaders to take the time to get to know their troops and discover what hidden assets could be on the team. Unlike many civilian jobs, Soldiers can sometimes be tasked to do work outside of their MOS as mission dictates, and civilian experience and education may prove useful to aid their command to complete a special project or task.

“One of the biggest things to know is what your Soldiers are doing in the civilian world, because you never know what is going to come up,” explained Capt. Jason Price, headquarters support company commander, 35th Infantry Division. “The Soldier might be a mechanic for the Guard, but might be a financial advisor at home and that knowledge may become useful to help everyone out. You definitely want to tap into those resources. I can think of a few times here where we have asked for specific civilian career skills to help alleviate a problem. I think that’s something that the Guard and Reserve Soldiers have that no one else does.”

Some of these Soldiers enjoy the differences between their civilian and military work. Others have identified how to incorporate their civilian education, skill, and experience to benefit their unit, and enhance their own capacity to complete a mission. Still others may do the same work on both sides and have the opportunity to enrich their ability to contribute all around.

Here are just a few of their stories.

Managing Money, Resilience Of A Monk

Sgt. 1st Class Sokly Lach, an intelligence analyst and B Co. First Sgt., 35th Infantry Division, is passionate about both of his careers and the contributions his civilian experiences provide to enrich his work within the unit.

December 3, 2017 - U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Sokly Lach, intelligence analyst and B Co. First Sgt., 35th Infantry Division, Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, discuses his military career and civilian life. (U.S. Army photo by Master Sgt. Mark Hanson)
December 3, 2017 - U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Sokly Lach, intelligence analyst and B Co. First Sgt., 35th Infantry Division, Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, discuses his military career and civilian life. (U.S. Army photo by Master Sgt. Mark Hanson)

“My civilian skills and education have definitely been a backbone to my success,” said Lach. “Everything I have learned on the civilian side has improved everything I do on the intelligence side, because a lot of it is computer type of work, such as data base management and networking.”

According to Lach, as an intelligence analyst, a great deal of his work is computer-driven, and having in-depth technological capabilities allows him to contribute at a higher level than would have otherwise been possible.

“In my civilian job, I am the lead data storage engineer," said Lach. "I was fortunate, in that I already had a security clearance. That was a requirement for my civilian job. I have also earned multiple certifications."

Lach’s parents fled Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge regime (1975-1979), in which more than a million people were mass murdered across Cambodia. They walked from Cambodia to Thailand, and subsequently found themselves in a refugee camp. In a turn of good fortune, the family was sponsored by a church group to move to America. Although born in Thailand, Lach was raised in the U.S. and became an American citizen in 2004.

“My military training has helped me, because I really had a tough time growing up,” said Lach. “We didn’t have a lot. We struggled every day trying to survive. I didn’t have my father at home.”

Lach’s father passed away when he was four years old, leaving his mother to fend for herself and her five children. With a ready smile, Lach explained that his fascination with numbers began when he was just five years old and tasked with filling out checks for his mother to sign. She did not speak English fluently at the time, and relied upon her son to help her with completing these important tasks. He gained a sense of responsibility, accountability, and leadership in the process.

As a teen, Lach longed to communicate fluently in Cambodian. He went to visit with cousins in California and hoped to improve his Cambodian language skills. Interestingly, although now Catholic, Lach became a monk at 17 years old through the urging of a cousin during a visit to California. He decided to become a monk as a way to honor his father. He explained that there are many misconceptions about being a monk—chiefly that it is a life-long commitment. Rather, according to Lach, it provides the individual with the knowledge to properly perform cultural and ceremonial rites. He explained that his monk training taught him patience and the ability to deal with a variety of situations.

“It was pretty difficult. You have to go to prayers all day. I was 17,” said Lach. “The days were very regimented. You had to wake up early in the morning and eat breakfast. You could only eat between breakfast and lunch. You had to fast the rest of the day. It was a tough 6 months. I was isolated. We just stayed in the temple.”

Given that the temple was an environment where only Cambodian was spoken, Lach attained his goal of learning fluency in Cambodian.

At 37 years old, Lach is now a seasoned military veteran, currently in the midst of his third enlistment and fourth deployment. He has experienced challenges in his personal and professional life that have tested his resolve and built his strength.

“In Iraq, a lot of stuff changed,” said Lach. “It was a different type of warfare that we were not used to. It was an eye opener. There were a lot of scary moments with IEDs, RPGs, and getting shot at. Ultimately, I’m still here today, and I am grateful to everyone I worked with and to the Soldiers that lost their lives. I want to keep that and carry it with me. There were people that sacrificed themselves, so we can keep doing what we’re doing; whatever that is.”

As a husband and father of two young boys, Lach has his eyes set on the future. He is currently wrestling with a decision to retire at 20 years of service, or perhaps to apply to become a warrant officer and continue serving.

Criminal Justice and Cowboy Sense

Essential to almost any high-level job is the ability to communicate well, analyze situations, and think outside the box.

Chief Warrant Officer 3 Billie Hancock, human resources officer, 35th Inf. Div., demonstrates these skills and more. And with just five courses from completing his master’s degree in criminal justice, he brings an innate ability to understand laws and regulations, and an ability to conduct solid research.

December 3, 2017 - U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer 3 Billie Hancock, human resources officer, 35th Infantry Division, Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, discuses his military career and civilian life. (U.S. Army photo by Master Sgt. Mark Hanson)
December 3, 2017 - U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer 3 Billie Hancock, human resources officer, 35th Infantry Division, Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, discuses his military career and civilian life. (U.S. Army photo by Master Sgt. Mark Hanson)

“I work in administration, mainly to do with the officer promotion packets, boards, evaluations, transfers, discharges—it’s all administration,” said Hancock. “My job requires a good understanding of written and oral communication abilities, and a lot of research.”

A former active duty Marine, Hancock draws from those and other experiences to excel at his current military duties.

“When I was in the Marine Corps, I was in the Criminal Investigation Division (CID) during my last year,” said Hancock. “The investigatory process in researching is probably one of the main ways I use my education in my work. It doesn’t correlate exactly, but it is a transferrable work skill. Many times people will pose questions to me that require me to do a great deal of investigation and research to determine the answer. I sometimes have to go through regulations and histories of assignments to piece together the puzzle.”

Hancock, an avid hunter and outdoorsman, has also found an outlet for his creative side. As the published author of multiple magazine fiction articles, he has the ability to draw his audience into his outdoor experiences and allow them to vicariously experience the wilderness he enjoys. His notable Texan drawl, lively articulation and quick wit, make it easy to envision him hunting in the Texas countryside, and then effortlessly writing about his adventures.

Hancock credits his civilian experiences with the majority of his military successes. He grew up on a ranch, and his father mentored him in dealing with livestock, people and finances.

“I gained 99 percent of my leadership skills in the civilian world,” said Hancock. “When you spend hours upon hours on horseback or out on these ranches, you really put your leadership skills into play. It was the leadership skills and experience I got on the civilian side that worked so well for me in the military and actually propelled me up to where I am today.”

Hancock touts the value of Guard and Reserve troops in augmenting the modern military.

“The Guard and Reserve components play a valuable role in enabling the active military to complete their missions,” said Hancock. “If you look at brigades, they’ll have a battalion of National Guard, a battalion of Army Reserve people, and a battalion or two of active duty Army. They all fit in, they all mesh together, and they get their mission accomplished. So, I think it would be very hard, especially to carry on a long campaign like we’re doing now, without the Guard and Reserve.”

These Citizen Warriors enrich their ranks with specialized skills, diverse educations, and vast experience, according to Hancock.

“We have an E-5 in my section right now,” said Hancock. “He’s actually got a degree in education. He taught high school physics and science. And he’ll probably go back to that. He’s a pretty smart guy! And, my barracks neighbor is actually a lawyer at a firm in Alabama. His military duties have nothing to do with his law degree. He’s in the logistics section here. You see people doing jobs in the Guard that have nothing to do with their civilian jobs. A lot of them have professional degrees. It’s very interesting.”

Patriotism, Patience, and Perseverance

Tenacity, drive, and a heartfelt appreciation for democracy, have propelled her forward as 1st Lt. Liyue Huang-Sigle, legal assistance attorney, Command Judge Advocate, 35th Inf. Div., pressed on throughout her journey to become a Citizen Soldier. As an immigrant from China, Huang-Sigle is happy to have left what she describes as an oppressive regime, for the blessings of experiencing true freedom.

December 3, 2017 - U.S. Army 1st Lt. Liyue Huang-Sigle, legal assistance attorney, Command Judge Advocate, 35th Infantry Division, Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, discuses her military career and civilian life. (U.S. Army photo by Master Sgt. Mark Hanson)
December 3, 2017 - U.S. Army 1st Lt. Liyue Huang-Sigle, legal assistance attorney, Command Judge Advocate, 35th Infantry Division, Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, discuses her military career and civilian life. (U.S. Army photo by Master Sgt. Mark Hanson)

“I am originally from Shanghai, China,” said Huang-Sigle. “I came to the U.S. eight years ago. I grew up in China until I was 30 years old. As a teen, when I was just about to graduate high school, and I was accepted into college in China—the student movement, Tiananmen Square protests, of 1989 happened. I had been admitted to college, but because I participated in the protest, I was banned from ever going to college. During the Tiananmen Movement in 1989, we were asking for democracy, basic human rights, and separation of power—the western ideals of a democratic society. In the beginning, we thought it was a good cause. But then the government declared it illegal.”

Huang-Sigle went on with her life. She married and had a child. Later, a business trip led her to Malaysia, where she met her current husband. That trip was the catalyst that changed her life forever.

She moved to Malaysia in 1999, and remarried in 2005. Although she is now bilingual, when Huang-Sigle first immigrated to Malaysia, she did not speak English. Rather than sit idle, she started learning English at 33 years old. During her 10 years of living in Malaysia, Huang-Sigle completed high school for a second time in English, in order to be able to go to law school and earn her law degree through the University of London.

Although she had participated in the Tiananmen Square protests, because she had never truly been exposed to democracy, Huang-Sigle said the conceptual depth of meaning was not clear to her until she attended law school.

“Now, these words came up again the second time, and the concepts were explained in our law school classes,” said Huang-Sigle. “It really got me thinking. It opened my eyes and my mind. It opened a whole new world to me. I could not stop reading those books. I can’t tell you the shock that I experienced when I started understanding those concepts!”

Toward the end of 2009, Huang-Sigle and her husband (a U.S. citizen) decided it was best for their daughter to be educated in the United States. Although her husband’s job kept him in Malaysia, Huang-Sigle and her daughter moved to the U.S.

Eager to embark on her legal career in the U.S., Huang-Sigle was quickly disappointed when she could not find work.

“I wanted to be a lawyer and I started looking for law firms and doing research,” she said. “Then I realized nobody was going to hire me and I could not practice law unless I went back to law school a second time.”

Undeterred, Huang-Sigle earned her second law degree at the University of Kansas, School of Law in 2013.

“In the United States, it’s different,” said Huang-Sigle. “Law school is a graduate program. The standard is much higher. I am glad I did go the second time. It reinforced the knowledge I acquired. I improved a lot and I can tell the difference every day. It made me much better prepared for a legal career. I am glad nobody hired me, because I would have been a lousy lawyer if I didn’t go to law school the second time.”

In the midst of her second journey through law school, Huang-Sigle decided that she wanted to join the military. She wanted to serve and to do something for America.

“Thinking about it was not good enough,” she explained. “Doing some volunteer work—I didn’t think that was enough. I wanted to do something that was tangible and physical, and I decided to join the military. I wanted to contribute whatever I could to protect the lifestyle of the United States and its people. I am grateful to be here and to be an American citizen.”

At 43 years old, Huang-Sigle went to a recruiter to join. She was turned away due to her age, and the fact that she was not a U.S. citizen. Although the average person might accept that door closing, Huang-Sigle steeled her resolve and took action. She attained her citizenship in 2013, and again went back to the recruiter. Her age was still an obstacle to overcome—but seeing her determination, the recruiter submitted a request for an age waiver.

“My husband didn’t like the idea of me joining the military,” said Huang-Sigle. “He knew I wasn’t fit and I didn’t exercise at all. I was a bookworm and I liked sitting and reading books, and that’s all I’d do all day long. My husband said I would regret putting myself in that situation—but I was just determined to serve.”

Now, nearly 44 years old, her age waiver was approved, and she was sent to boot camp. She reflected on her boot camp experience with a knowing grin.

“It was really hard. My husband was right,” she said. “There was so much running and marching every day. It was killing me. I never ran so much in my entire life. I made it through, thank God. I finished my JAG training in February, and then they told me I was going on this deployment.”

With her husband’s recent work transfer, the Huang-Sigle family has relocated to Texas. The end of her current deployment will mark the beginning of a new chapter for Huang-Sigle. She has become a partner in a law firm in Texas with another female attorney, and she has attained a niche of her own in the legal profession as well. She serves the legal needs of Chinese communities and others, and has broadened her field and knowledge base to a general practice of law.

“Although I have been here for a few years; even sometimes now, when I wake up in the morning, I just feel blessed and privileged to be in the United States,” said Huang-Sigle. “I am so lucky to be here. It was all luck.”

“There’s a Chinese saying,” said Huang-Sigle. “If you’re a frog in a well, you think the sky is only this big.” With hands outstretched, she gestures the size of a basketball. “The Chinese are like that—they don’t know what’s going on outside. And, I could have been one of them. So, my life would be completely different. I know how lucky I am, so I wanted to do something. I wanted to serve this country!”

Century Family Farm – Tradition, Loyalty, and Leadership

The making of an American Soldier can begin before conscious memories. Learning traditional values, strong work ethics and gaining an understanding of doing the right things at the right time tend to ensure that the seeds being sown will yield anticipated results. Grandfathers are good at imparting nuggets of tradition, with goodness as true, sweet, and fresh as peaches cut with grandpa’s pocket knife.

“In the Midwest, we’re about traditional values,” explained U.S. Army Capt. Jason Price. “I believe if we let those go, we’re losing a lot in terms of our heritage and our history, and once you lose it, you don’t really get it back.”

December 3, 2017 - U.S. Army Capt. Jason Price, headquarters support company commander, 35th Infantry Division, Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, discuses his military career and civilian life. (U.S. Army photo by Master Sgt. Mark Hanson)
December 3, 2017 - U.S. Army Capt. Jason Price, headquarters support company commander, 35th Infantry Division, Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, discuses his military career and civilian life. (U.S. Army photo by Master Sgt. Mark Hanson)

Tradition runs deep in the Price family. Their initial 200 acre farm was founded five generations ago, in 1889, just four miles west of Marshall, Missouri. Since its inception, the farm has modernized and gained an additional 700 acres. Price learned Army values (which run parallel to his family values) on the back of his grandfather’s tractor, where he rode and learned wisdom and work ethic during his toddler through 3rd grade years, until his grandfather passed away.

“He taught me the value of hard work,” said Price. “If you put your mind to something and you want to succeed at it, then you’ll do it. We would get up with the sun. We would go out and do chores. I had pigs and sheep that I fed. We had some cows and calves, as well as a feed lot that we took care of. When the chores were done with the livestock, then we started on whatever crop or other chores we had.”

The effects of a wholesome, stable environment and its inherent structure were not lost on Price. He’s a man that looks you in the eyes with sincerity when he speaks, and it’s easy to see that he means what he says.

“The little details and just the simple little things that we do in life sometimes really set us on the path to success if we really analyze it,” he said. “It was about getting up, getting to work, getting your work done, and then you got to rest a little at night. The next day, we did the same thing. As I’ve gotten older and I’ve tried to instill those same values in my kids, we can liken it to the Army.”

His early acquired work ethic and traditional values aided in earning a degree in just four years and bringing his knowledge back to teach at his local community high school, where he inspired the next generation of farmers by teaching agricultural studies and farm management as well as leading the local Future Farmers of America (FFA) chapter.

“My degree is agricultural education,” said Price. “I taught high school agricultural classes for 13 years. We had 80 members in the FFA organization to begin with, and I grew that to 160. In comparing our chapter to others across the country, we ended up being number one in the nation. There are over 500,000 FFA members nation-wide now, and our local FFA ended up being number one again. Success breeds success. Although I’m no longer teaching, I am pretty proud of them.”

The Price family has a demonstrated history of strength, wisdom, stability and resilience. Their family farm has withstood the challenges of the dust bowl, the Great Depression, as well as the recession of the 1980s, when interest rates were upwards of 18-20 percent. Sound money management and an understanding of living within one’s means became second nature to Price.

Now, serving his community in the capacity of community bank vice president, Price levies his agricultural and financial management knowledge to help others in his community realize their dreams and achieve success.

“I specialize in agricultural and commercial loans,” said Price. “I know both sides of the desk. When someone comes in, I know what they’re really wanting, and I can help. Anytime you can help someone go from point A to point B, and you know all of the trials and tribulations that are in between those two points, it absolutely does feel good.”

Eight years ago, at 30 years old, Price joined the Missouri Army National Guard. Initially, he wanted to parlay his agricultural knowledge to help the Army implement its agriculture business development program in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan. But by the time he had completed his training for the Army, the program was no longer available.

“I don’t regret my decision to join. I feel like I’m a natural born leader, and I like to help people,” said Price. “My current position as company commander is the most rewarding position I’ve had in the Army, so far. I am looking forward to even more challenging assignments in the future. Some people join for various reasons, but I think we all have one common bond, and that is that we want to serve something bigger than ourselves. I am proud to be an American Soldier.”

By U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Tina Villalobos
Provided through DVIDS
Copyright 2018

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