Monday, April 6, 2009

What being a member of the Oregon Army National Guard means to me

Above: Oregon Army National Guard Spc. Donald Snyder negotiates an obstacle course during the Oregon National Guard’s 2009 Soldier of the Year/NCO of the Year competition, Feb. 27-March 1, at Camp Rilea, Warrenton, Ore. Snyder, of Tri-Cities, Wash., won the title of the Oregon National Guard’s 2009 Soldier of the Year. He is a medic with Detachment 1, 3rd Battalion, 116th Cavalry. Photo by Sgt. Eric A. Rutherford, Oregon Military Department Public Affairs.

Spc. Donald Snyder was named soldier of the year at the 2009 Oregon National Guard Soldier/NCO of the Year competition in late February/early March at Camp Rilea in Warrenton, Ore.

In addition to a grueling schedule of soldiering skill competition, the nearly week-long competition included a required essay on what it means to be a member of the Oregon Army National Guard. Here is Spc. Snyder's award-winning essay, in its entirety.

I never wanted to be in the Army. I never, ever wanted to go to war.

But when I needed money to get back to college and couldn’t afford it, the NG offered to help. So first, being a member of the ORANG meant an opportunity to develop as a person, but it was only a means to an end.

On October 26, 2007, I left my home in Richland, Wash., to begin Basic Combat Training at Fort Benning, Ga. Starting that day, my membership in this historic brotherhood began to take on a new meaning. By the time I graduated, as Soldier of the Cycle, I had learned the true value of the military, especially the National Guard.

At the risk of sounding trite, I will honestly say that the Oregon Army National Guard is my personal vehicle to realizing all my dreams by developing each of the Army Values in my own life.

Loyalty had never occurred to me until my entire platoon in BCT went to “the gravel pit” in support of Pfc. Brian Plant, who confessed to an infraction we all committed, and was being “smoked.” After an hour we quit for dinner chow and when the Drill Sergeant too Plante back to the pit afterwards we all followed . . . reluctantly and one by one. That day, a group of recruits had become a team.

At Fort Sam Houston, Texas, duty as a medic became a reality as I attempted to save the life of a wounded mannequin while Capt. Riley relayed in detail the true story of a single mother in Iraq who died of the injuries I was “treating,” while the medics made the same mistake I was making. This wasn’t a way to college anymore – I had a job to do, and people WILL die if I fail.

Respect has never come easy to me, but when the soldier on either side of you demonstrates his devotion to accomplishing the mission and being proficient to the best of his abilities, that is hard not to respect. And when that soldier takes twenty minutes to make a decision that could kill him, when he volunteers to deploy, to make a difference, there’s nothing more to say about respect.

Selfless Service is an easy one. The National Guard brought me to a place where it is too difficult to say “no.” Selfless service is the inevitable product of the other Army Values – easier to accomplish, but unilaterally imperative.

Honor, I believe, is giving respect to a person, group or organization which is due. Conforming to and upholding standards of excellence. To be in this room, writing this essay, is the result of not wanting to embarrass my unit. Professionalism, pride in your National Guard membership, and a desire to improve both the current state and the legacy of your unit are honors, which all soldiers are called on to demonstrate.

Integrity is the backbone of all the Army Values, the counterpoint of a successful life, an opportunity to prove yourself and the best opportunity to grow. The National Guard is a keystone to my integrity.

At any moment of weakness, where I fail to demonstrate integrity, it is a reflection on my soldier-friends, my unit, the ORANG and the Army. Knowing every moment that I am a soldier – a guardian of freedom and the American way of life – is an incentive for integrity.

One definition of integrity is an “overall cohesive strength.” So it is not a matter of being honest or dishonest. Integrity is building an entire existence on principles which make us good soldiers and excellent citizens.

The Oregon Army National Guard has made personal courage a matter of fact. There comes a point where a task is no longer intimidating, it is only a task. There comes a point where you can speak at any time or place in any company. Personal courage might have entered my mind as I felt, honestly calm and confident, just before I walked into a board with three command sergeants major.

But it did not occur to me until just now that volunteering to deploy could demonstrate that value. At the time, I only thought that if my good friend deployed, I was damned sure going to be the one watching his back. The National Guard took the courage out of it. They gave me Loyalty, Duty and Respect -- all of which prompted me.

Two years ago, I was a bit of a punk. A year ago, I thought I knew – and now I know I am only beginning to discover where I can go in my life. I am understanding the effects I can have on others and how contagious success is – as I see it in the NG. I am eager to fully comprehend how a system of values designed to benefit everyone around me will make this old skeptic realize his own potential.

The Oregon Army National Guard is a vehicle to greatness as a team and as an individual.
To see the original March 10th post on the 2009 Oregon National Guard Soldier/NCO of the Year competition, go here.

To read the article as it appeared in the Oregon Sentinel, go here. Click on the April 2009 issue.
Posted on April 6, 2009.

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