Exposure to military culture affects Guard member’s career outlook

After the experience of a deployment and several years as a soldier, Staff Sgt. Stephanie Wakeland has set a personal goal of making the Missouri National Guard her career.

After the experience of a deployment and several years as a soldier, Staff Sgt. Stephanie Wakeland has set a personal goal of making the Missouri National Guard her career.

For Jefferson City resident Stephanie Wakeland, the primary benefit military service was access to educational resources to help her attain a college degree.

But after the experience of an overseas deployment and immersion in the military culture, she is enthusiastic about completing her career with the Missouri National Guard.

A 1998 graduate of Blair Oaks, Wakeland received her introduction to the National Guard while attending college at University of Central Missouri.

“One of the friends I met through rugby had joined the Guard and told me about all of the educational benefits they had available,” Wakeland said.

Aspiring to finish her degree with little or no debt, she joined the Missouri Guard in 2000 and completed her initial training, becoming qualified as a supply specialist in April 2002.

She was assigned to an aviation unit at Whiteman Air Force Base and began attending her regular weekend drills.

“My unit was close to Warrensburg, so fortunately I didn’t have to travel too far to attend my drills,” Wakeland said.

In 2005, she graduated from CMSU with a graphic arts degree, and was hired as a temporary employee with the recruiting office in Warrensburg the following year.

“It was kind of a fitting assignment,” Wakeland said, “because I worked with potential recruits explaining many of the federal and state educational benefits they could use-many of the benefits which I had used.”

Later that year, she received the opportunity to apply her military-acquired skills and training when she was mobilized for service in Iraq with the 35th Combat Aviation Brigade from Sedalia.

“I was actually pretty excited when I got the notice,” she said. “I had seen a lot of my friends get picked up for a deployment and I was ready to go.”

Following a brief period of preparatory training, the unit arrived in Balad, Iraq, in late 2006 and remained there for the 11-month deployment.

According to Wakeland, the unit’s primary role was to transport equipment and personnel on aircraft. However, her individual duties included working in the supply service center and coordinating the disposal of hydraulic fluid and other hazardous materials.

Returning from deployment in October 2007, she began applying for jobs in Jefferson City so she could “get back home” and work in a position other than recruiting.

The next month, she received the opportunity to apply skills from her own educational pursuits when she was hired to serve in the Education and Incentives Section at the Missouri National Guard Headquarters.

Assisting in the management of the state’s tuition assistance program, Wakeland said she also works with schools in addressing issues they may encounter regarding the various G.I. Bill programs.

Having attained the rank of staff sergeant, the soldier said her initial plans of completing a six-year enlistment have now shifted to a more serious investment.

“You kind of become accustomed to the weekend drills and learn to embrace the military environment; it really becomes part of who you are,” Wakeland said.

“The genuineness of everyone in uniform is something you don’t find in a lot of jobs, and remaining in the National Guard until my retirement is now one of my personal goals.”

Jeremy P. Amick is the public affairs officer for the Silver Star Families of America.

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