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By Spc. Felicia Olmos and Sgt. Nathaniel Free
Public Affairs Office
Utahns continue to volunteer for military service despite increased restrictions on recruiting and in-processing during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to recruiting officials in the Utah National Guard, April 29, 2020.
“In the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, as we learned about how rapidly it spread and it's devastating effects, we in recruiting had to quickly adjust to the new environment,” said Lt. Col. Michael Kjar, commander of Recruiting and Retention Battalion, Utah National Guard. “It has been inspiring to see our recruiters and support staff quickly adapt to health and safety guidelines in order to help Utah's finest citizens answer the call to serve their nation and community by enlisting in the Utah National Guard.”
And with each enlistment, there’s a message of hope for the rest of Utah.
“The military has always been a thought in the back of my mind,” said Pvt. 1st Class Hope Torok, from St. George.
On April 16, 2020, Torok took the final step to join the Utah National Guard, during one of the worst weeks of coronavirus-related deaths in the U.S.
“I’ve worked in retail pretty much all of my working years,” Torok explained. “During Covid-19 in March, I was furloughed from my work since it is considered a non-essential job.”
As a furloughed, non-essential worker, Torok said she had more time to think about what she wanted in life. She decided to sit down with a recruiter.
“I was surprised to see things get as serious as they did, and as a worker in retail, I felt pretty useless,” she said. “It’s given me a different perspective on my life and meaning to my work. It was definitely the initial push to looking at the military as a new career change.”
Torok enlisted with the military occupational specialty of combat medic, assigned to 2nd Battalion, 222nd Field Artillery, 65th Field Artillery Brigade, Utah National Guard.
“I ended up enlisting because the Army National Guard gives me a sense of purpose in my life,” Torok said. “Becoming a Soldier makes me feel extremely proud and happy to be able to serve and protect my country.”
She’s not the only one to join during the pandemic.
“This whole situation makes things a little tough finding a civilian job or keeping a job for that matter,” said Pvt. Mason Schlick, from Midvale, who enlisted in the Utah National Guard April 21, 2020, with the MOS of wheeled vehicle mechanic, assigned to the 214th Forward Support Company, 204th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade.
“My main focus on joining was for my family,” Schlick said. “I’ve always had a passion for joining the Armed Forces.”
For Pvt. Porter Roth, from Tooele, enlisting in the Utah National Guard fulfilled a dream.
“It’s been a dream since childhood to serve and I wanted to follow in my great grandfather's footsteps,” Roth said.
He enlisted on April 7, 2020, with the MOS of interior electrician, assigned to the 116th Vertical Engineering Co., 204th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade.
“With the world in a panic, it’s important for us to stay calm and continue doing whatever we can to support the people around us,” Roth said.
Volunteering to serve in the Utah National Guard during the COVID-19 pandemic isn’t easy, but it hasn’t stopped Pvt. Derek Workman, from Richfield. He enlisted April 21, 2020, with the MOS of cannon crewmember, assigned to 2nd Battalion, 222nd Field Artillery, 65th Field Artillery Brigade.
“The pandemic has had a really big impact on my life because it has affected my work life, school life, and military life,” Workman said. “I was planning on going to [Basic Combat Training] this summer but because of this whole situation, it has been postponed until January 2021.”
As of April 30, 2020, before a soldier can process through the military entrance processing station (MEPS), in Salt Lake City, he or she is asked a series of health questions 15 days ahead of their processing date, according to Kjar. They are asked to self-isolate for two weeks. Regular checkups are conducted 72, 48, and 24 hours before their visit. Their temperature is taken twice prior to processing and there is a limited number of soldiers allowed in MEPS at any given time. The new soldier's oath of enlistment is streamed live via video teleconference to family and friends.
“I joined because it has always been a part of my life through my dad,” Workman said. “And now I just feel like it’s my turn to give back.”
His dad, Lt. Col. Cody Workman, is the military liaison officer assigned to the 4th Infantry Division, Main Command Post Operational Detachment. He’s been a member of the Utah National Guard for 26 years.
“It is awesome to think my son is now part of the family business,” Lt. Col. Workman joked.
On a more serious note, he added, “Swearing him in was one of the highlights of my career. I am very proud of his decision to take the Oath and put on the uniform we all love.”
According to Lt. Col. Workman, his son never had an interest in the military before.
“He went to Argentina for two years on a mission and returned with a deeper love for our country,” Workman explained. “He is a good kid and will make a great Soldier. I also know the organization will help to make him a better person in every respect.”
For more information about joining the Utah National Guard, visit ut.ng.mil.
“We have taken great care in ensuring the health and safety of our recruiters, the support staff, and our new soldiers,” Kjar said. “It amazes me how we've been able to sustain our recruiting efforts in these trying times.”
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