America’s Heroes Group honors millennial National Guards

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CLIFF KELLEY, Vietnam Veteran and host of America’s Heroes Group is pictured with members of the Illinois National Guard while enjoying dinner at Leona’s on 53rd Street in Hyde Park.

Private First Class Ashley Campbell, who is an Illinois National Guardsman, joined the military with her sister to benefit from the education programs, as well as to follow in the footsteps of one set of their grandparents. The grandparents made a career of military service in the U.S. Army.

On Saturday, February 16 Campbell and Illinois National Guard Specialist Sierra Shelby were guests on the America’s Heroes Group radio talk show. Vietnam Veteran radio talk show host Cliff Kelley and talk show panelist Sean Claiborne joined the two in an engaging conversation about millennials and the National Guards.

SITTING AT THE roundtable is host Cliff Kelley joined by (from left to right) Illinois National Guard Unit 92W Specialist Sierra Shelby, Private First Class Ashley Campbell, Panelist Sean Claiborne, and (standing) Website Producer Manny Corazzari.

A pack with her sister to one day join the military after high school led to Campbell recently celebrating her one plus year service anniversary. She said one day their mother told them she had made an appointment with a recruiter for them. Although Campbell met with the recruiter a week before her sister, her sister was sworn into the military first. Campbell enlisted 10 days after her.

Basic training was fun for Campbell because she identified the experience with attending summer camp. She really enjoyed meeting people from different cultures and regions of the United States.

Both Campbell and Shelby are water treatment specialists. Described in military terminology as MOS 92 Whiskey – they call themselves water dogs. These Military Occupational Specialists (MOS) are responsible for purifying water in combat. After the basic training and the Advanced Individual Training (AIT), which is also 12 weeks, they learn how to assemble machines used to purify the water.

“I have never been a chemistry person, but I learned skills that I could use at a water company. A person could take what they have learned and qualify for a $80,000/year managerial position at a water company,” said Shelby who holds an E-4 level.

When Cliff introduced the 30-year-old specialist in the military, Sierra Shelby, she said, “The army was a reset for me.”

After separating from her husband and graduating from college she wanted to use her hands and do something different. She enlisted and says, “It’s been amazing ever since.” Shelby also received her basic training at Fort Jackson in South Carolina.

Shelby’s goal is to continue her education. She plans to go back to school to pursue a master’s degree in counseling and, eventually, become a counselor. With her Bachelor’s in Education she came in with a specialist rank—a leadership role. Typically, a specialist has 10-16 years of military service. A lot was required from her and she is trying her best to live up to those expectations.

She was not aware coming in that her education would provide so many opportunities.

When talking with people Shelby volunteers her age because she wants people to know it’s not too late to join the service in most cases. In particular, the U.S. Army enlists recruits up to the age of 35, and in other branches of the service the age is higher. Shelby said, “You can do it even into your 30s—don’t be intimidated by these babies.”

Her philosophy is that you have to be able to learn from anybody. It really means learning to respect the rank because some of your superiors will be younger than you—around 26-28 years old. “Most of my counterparts were 18, 19, or 20 years old,” said Shelby.

Claiborne wanted to know if Shelby saw coed basic training as a benefit? For Shelby coed training is a microcosm of life outside of the military. It makes people, especially women, more competitive to prove they can do it too. “I think it is good. That’s how the world is made up—men and women. And, you are competing with men and women so why not be in the midst of who you are competing with in the world,” said Shelby.

With respect to education benefits in the National Guard, Shelby spoke from her own situation. Shelby is doing what is called a “Certificate Program.” She joined the U.S. Army with student loan debt and a degree so the military will pay back her student loans for each year of service.” In her program, she also receives a stipend and other benefits on top of her monthly drill pay.

Ashley, who is currently a second semester freshman at Chicago State University, is using her GI Bill and Post 9-11 GI Bill benefits. For one of the bills, “As long as I am a reservist attending a state school and I don’t interrupt my education to take a break, tuition and educational expenses are paid,” said Campbell. Room and board is not covered unless you are married but don’t live on campus you get a stipend. According to the two ladies, there are many more incentives in the National Guard.

When asked why they thought other millennials don’t take advantage of the education and skills opportunities available in the military they had this to say. “I just want our generation to understand you don’t have to be on the frontline. You can be cooking, you could be doing anything in the military. They want others to know there are hundreds of jobs.

According to Shelby and Campbell, the millennials don’t like uniforms and that’s just where we are. “Our generation we are turned away from uniforms, we don’t like uniformed people, we don’t like the police or the military. Although we have gone away to the military when we return home we are lumped in with other uniformed people — the stereotype of the government.”

The most frequent question the two are asked is whether or not they are ready to be deployed? Sierra Shelby said she is ready to deploy because “you trust the person next to you.” Campbell said although we may be deployed at any moment, we may not be actively engaged in combat because there are hundreds of jobs in the services to be done.

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