Citizen-Soldiers Use Unique Talents to Excel in Guard and Civilian Careers
Guard Soldiers bring with them an abundance of diverse talents, skills and education. These attributes are often reflected in transferable work skills that enrich both Soldiers’ military and civilian careers. At times, Army National Guard members hold leadership or subject matter expert positions as civilians, though their Guard ranks may not reflect the same level of requirement. Civilian careers may be compatible with an MOS or may vary widely.
“You see people doing jobs in the Guard that have nothing to do with their civilian jobs,” he said. “A lot of them have professional degrees. It’s all very interesting.”
This difference with Guard Soldiers, as compared to their active duty counterparts, gives Army National Guard leaders the unique opportunity to discover hidden assets that may exist on their teams. Soldiers may at times be tasked to do work outside of their MOS as missions dictate, and Soldiers’ civilian experience and education may prove useful in aiding 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,” said CPT Jason Price, headquarters support company commander, 35th Infantry Division. CPT Price and the 35th ID are on deployment at Camp Arifjan in Kuwait in support of Operation Spartan Shield.
“A Soldier might be a mechanic in the Guard, but a financial advisor in their civilian job, and that knowledge may become useful,” CPT Price continued. “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 Guard and Reserve Soldiers have that no one else does.”
Some Soldiers enjoy the differences between their civilian and military work. Others have identified ways 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 examples of such Soldiers:
Managing Intelligence, and the Resilience of a Monk
SFC Sokly Lach, an intelligence analyst and B Company first sergeant of the 35th Infantry Division, is passionate about both of his careers. He notes how his civilian experiences have served to enrich his work within his Guard unit.
“My civilian skills and education have definitely been the backbone to my success [in the Guard],” said SFC Lach. “Everything I have learned on the civilian side has improved everything I do on the intelligence side.”
According to SFC Lach, as an intelligence analyst, a great deal of his work is computer-driven, and having in-depth technological knowledge allows him to contribute at a higher level than would have otherwise been possible.
“In my civilian job, I am a lead data storage engineer,” SFC Lach noted. “I was fortunate, in that I already had a security clearance. That was a requirement for my civilian job.”
While SFC Lach’s civilian job training has had an undoubtedly positive impact on his performance in the Army National Guard, it could be said that it was his civilian life training that most prepared him for the disciplined life of a Soldier.
SFC Lach’s parents fled Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge regime (1975-1979), a brutal period in which more than a million people were murdered in the country. They walked from Cambodia to Thailand, and subsequently found themselves in a refugee camp. In a turn of good fortune, the family was able to move to America after being sponsored by a church group. Although born in Thailand, SFC Lach was raised in the U.S. and became an American citizen in 2004.
SFC Lach’s father passed away when he was 4 years old, leaving his mother to care for her five children on her own. With a ready smile, SFC Lach explained that his fascination with numbers began at the age of 5, when his mother gave him the job of filling out checks for her to sign. She did not speak English fluently at the time and relied on her then-young son to help with translating and writing in English for her. SFC Lach said that experience taught him a sense of leadership, responsibility and accountability.
“I really had a tough time growing up,” SFC Lach commented. “We didn’t have a lot. We struggled every day trying to survive.”
Although he’s now a Catholic, Lach became a Buddhist monk at 17 after urging from 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, SFC Lach said, 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 – a skill he would certainly put to good use later in life as a Soldier and intelligence analyst.
“The days were very regimented,” he said. “You could only eat between breakfast and lunch. You had to fast the rest of the day. It was a tough six months. I was isolated. We just stayed in the temple.”
SFC Lach is now a husband, a father of two young boys and a seasoned Soldier, 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 SFC 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 being shot at. Ultimately, I’m still here today.”
As SFC Lach has his eyes set on the future, he is currently wrestling with a decision to either retire at 20 years of service or apply to become a warrant officer and continue serving.
“I am grateful to everyone I worked with and to the Soldiers who lost their lives. I want to keep that and carry it with me. There were people who sacrificed themselves so we can keep doing what we’re doing.”
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.
CW3 Billie Hancock, human resources officer, 35th Infantry Division, has not only proven, but also demonstrated these skills and more. With just five courses left to complete his master’s degree in criminal justice, CW3 Hancock brings not only an innate ability to understand laws and regulations, but also to conduct solid research.
“I work in administration, mainly to do with the officer promotion packets, boards, evaluations, transfers, discharges – it’s all administration,” said CW3 Hancock. “My [military] job requires a good understanding of written and oral communication abilities, and a lot of research.”
A former active duty Marine, CW3 Hancock draws from that and other experiences to excel at his current military duties.
“During my last year in the Marine Corps, I was in the Criminal Investigation Division (CID),” said CW3 Hancock. “The investigatory process in researching is probably one of the main ways I use my education in my work. 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.”
CW3 Hancock credits his civilian experiences with the majority of his military successes. He grew up on a ranch, and his father mentored him on dealing with livestock, people and finances.
“I gained 99 percent of my leadership skills in the civilian world,” said CW3 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.”
CW3 Hancock touts the value of Army National Guard troops in augmenting the modern military.
“The Guard component plays a valuable role in enabling the active military to complete their missions,” he said. “If you look at brigades, they’ll have a battalion of Army National Guard, a battalion of Army Reserve and a battalion or two of active duty Army. They all fit in, they all mesh together and they get the 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.”
CW3 Hancock noted how Guard Soldiers enrich their ranks with specialized skills, diverse educations and vast experience.
“You see people doing jobs in the Guard that have nothing to do with their civilian jobs,” he said. “A lot of them have professional degrees. It’s all very interesting.”
Patriotism, Patience and Perseverance
Tenacity, drive and a heartfelt appreciation for democracy led 1LT Liyue Huang-Sigle, legal assistance attorney, Command Judge Advocate, 35th Infantry Division, to become a member of the Army National Guard. As an immigrant from China, 1LT Huang-Sigle said she was happy to experience the blessings of true freedom.
Originally from Shangai, 1LT Huang-Sigle moved to the United States eight years ago. “I grew up in China until I was 30 years old,” she said. “As a teen – when I was just about to graduate high school and I was accepted into college in China – the student movement, [the] 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, 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.”
1LT 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, she did not speak English at the time she moved to Malaysia. During her 10 years in Malaysia, 1LT Huang-Sigle learned English, completed high school for a second time in English, then earned her law degree through the University of London.
Although she had participated in the Tiananmen Square protests, she had never truly been exposed to democracy until her law school experience.
“The concepts were explained in our law school classes,” said 1LT Huang-Sigle. “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, 1LT 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, 1LT Huang-Sigle and her daughter moved to the States.
Initially eager to continue on her legal career in America, 1LT Huang-Sigle was quickly disappointed when she couldn’t 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 would not practice law [in the United States] unless I went back to law school a second time.”
Undeterred, 1LT Huang-Sigle earned her second law degree – at the University of Kansas School of Law in 2013.
In the midst of her second journey through law school, 1LT Huang-Sigle decided to join the military. She wanted to serve and do something to give back to America.
“I wanted to contribute whatever I could to protect the lifestyle of the United States and its people,” she said. “I am grateful to be here and to be an American citizen.”
1LT Huang-Sigle went to see a recruiter, but she was turned away due to her age. Although the average person might have accepted that, 1LT Huang-Sigle took action. She paid another visit to the recruiter, who was impressed by her determination and submitted a request for an age waiver.
Her waiver was approved, and she was sent to boot camp.
“It was really hard,” she said. “There was so much running and marching every day. I never ran so much in my entire life, [but] I made it through, thank God. I finished my JAG training in February 2017, and then they told me I was going on deployment.”
With her husband having recently received a work transfer, the Huang-Sigle family has relocated to Texas. The end of 1LT Huang-Sigle’s current deployment will mark the beginning of a new chapter for her – a new hometown and a new position in her civilian job. She has become a partner in a law firm in Texas.
“Although I have been here for a few years, even now, sometimes when I wake up in the morning, I just feel blessed and privileged to be in the United States,” 1LT Huang-Sigle said. “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
“In the Midwest, we’re about traditional values,” said CPT Jason Price. “I believe if we let those go, we’re losing a lot in terms of our heritage and our history. Once you lose it, you don’t really get it back.”
Tradition runs deep in the Price family. The family’s initial 200-acre farm was founded five generations ago, in 1889, near Marshall, Missouri. Since then, the farm has been modernized and gained an additional 700 acres. CPT Price learned Army values (which run parallel to his family values) riding on his grandfather’s tractor.
He said that he began to learn wisdom and work ethic from his grandfather when he was just a toddler, and up through the time when he was in the third grade – when his grandfather passed away.
“He taught me the value of hard work,” CPT Price said. “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 stable, loving environment, and the inherent structure that often comes with it, were not lost on CPT Price.
“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.”
CPT Price earned a college degree in agricultural education, then brought his knowledge back to teach at his local community high school. There, he inspired the next generation of farmers by teaching agricultural studies and farm management for 13 years. He also led the local Future Farmers of America (FFA) chapter.
The Price family has a demonstrated history of stability and resilience. The family farm has withstood the challenges of the dust bowl and the Great Depression, as well as the recession of the 1980s. Sound money management and an understanding of living within one’s means became second nature to CPT Price.
Now, serving his community in the capacity of community bank vice president, Price uses 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 CPT 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, CPT Price joined the Missouri Army National Guard. He initially 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 basic training, the program was no longer available.
“I don’t regret my decision to join,” CPT Price said. “I feel like I’m a natural born leader, and I like to help people. 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 Contributing Writer SSG Tina Villalobos
Kansas Army National Guard photos by MSG Mark Hanson