Guardsmen buck trend, decide to go active
EAGLE BASE, Bosnia and Herzegovina — Joining the Minnesota National Guard at 17 was the fastest way for Spc. Ryan Hallberg to get in the military.
The Coon Rapids, Minn., native wasn’t sure how he would like military life. But after serving with the 34th Infantry Division for nearly two years, he has decided the Army is right for him.
While Army officials must deal with the reality of soldiers leaving the service following long deployments, Hallberg and a handful of his fellow soldiers have decided to take another route.
They are planning to join the active-duty ranks.
Capt. Jason Good, 35, of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 34th Infantry Division, from Saint Paul, Minn., is ready to return to active duty after three years of teaching Reserve Officer Training Corps programs for the Minnesota Guard.
“I’m ready to train. I’m ready to soldier,” said Good, who spent 10 of his 17 years in the military as an active-duty soldier. He said he made the decision because he wants to be judged on performance and be assured of a stable job that is not dependent on state funding.
“There’s no guarantee in my future [in the National Guard job],” he said.
Good said he enjoys working with young soldiers and mentoring, and the full-time Army offers great opportunities for that.
“It’s really not about the money,” Good said. “It’s about the soldiers and what I can provide for soldiers where I am in my career.”
Good has been a mentor to Hallberg and Spc. Brian Wiltsey, 22, from his unit.
“There’s no personal satisfaction,” Wiltsey said of his civilian job, earning $60,000 a year running his own heating, cooling and ventilation business. “There’s no fun in that.”
The soldier living in Buffalo, Minn., has high hopes that the military job will provide what the civilian one failed to do. “The Army’s got some of the coolest stuff in the world,” he said, “and they pay you to use ’em.”
But all the pay he’ll be giving up as a military specialist? “I’d be fine with that,” Wiltsey said. “Money is not everything.”
Staff Sgt. Nathan Winzer, 22, of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 194th Armor Regiment, stationed at Camp McGovern, shares that opinion.
Winzer works as a manager for UPS in Minnesota. He said he has enough challenges, stress and a good pay, but his Army job in information operations has captured his imagination.
“I just want to stay active duty and stay in information operations,” Winzer said. “This is the only way I can do it. … I like information operations; it’s huge and it’s constantly progressing. I can keep myself very busy and active.”
Although his unit took over the mission at Camp McGovern in September, Winzer is already considering staying for another rotation, calling it his “best deployment ever.”
Whatever their motivation for switching to active duty, these soldiers say they are aware of — and taking advantage of — what the military has to offer.
At 19, Hallberg said he makes $35,000 a year, has housing provided by the military and good education opportunities are ahead.
“Kids my age, they can only dream of making that much when they step out of high school,” he said.
Hallberg and Wiltsey have been talking to Good about going active duty, and he does not hesitate to give advice.
“We’re not jumping into this totally blind,” Wiltsey said.
When asked about disadvantages of being deployed, they had few.
For Good, it was missing his children and things he is accustomed to. Winzer wishes he could spend time outdoors at his parent’s farm in Kansas, hunting and fishing.
But that does not make them enjoy the military any less.
“There is personal satisfaction of doing a good job and serving my country, seeing the world,” Hallberg said. “They’re paying me to do it.”