- Second Lieutenant Jennifer Ponce was torn between her desire to serve her country and to pursue an education.
- After discovering the Army National Guard, she realized she didn't have to choose between the two.
- The Army National Guard gives students like Ponce opportunities to serve part-time while continuing their studies full-time.
For as long as she can remember, Second Lieutenant Jennifer Ponce had a strong desire to serve her country. But as the child of immigrants who encouraged her to focus on her career, she was concerned that joining the military would force her to delay her education. Luckily, shortly after Ponce started college, her sister told her about the Army National Guard, a unique part of the US military that allows Soldiers to serve part-time while attending school or working full-time.
"My parents have always encouraged my sisters and me to go out and pursue good, solid careers that will allow us to have comfortable lives in comparison to what they grew up with," she says. "The Guard gave me the opportunity to serve in the Army and also continue my studies."
Before she'd finished her first semester of college, Ponce had fulfilled her dream of joining the military by becoming a Soldier in the Army National Guard. Fast-forward to 2021, and Ponce has graduated from George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, with a B.S. in information technology, concentrating in web development.
It's because of the Army National Guard, Ponce says, that she's been able to accomplish so much so quickly. "I really do love the organization, the lifestyle, and the discipline of being in the Army National Guard," she says. "It's a very flexible lifestyle, and it helped get me to where I am today."
She's also had the opportunity to be a part of something bigger than herself and have a positive impact on her community. "I get to collaborate with other people and work toward a common goal to make a difference together," she says. "It just means so much more because I'm not doing it on my own. I'm doing it with other people."
Gaining skills, contacts, and friends
Many young people like Ponce have a desire to serve their community and make a difference, but that desire can seem incompatible with their dreams of getting an education or starting a career. But in the Army National Guard, Soldiers serve a minimum of one weekend a month and two weeks out of every year. And because Soldiers get to choose their jobs in the Army National Guard, they can receive training and experience that helps them pursue their private-sector goals.
For Ponce - who has long had an interest in computers and coding - Army National Guard service has meant getting trained as an IT specialist and working with people who are highly accomplished in the field. "The officers I'm surrounded by aren't just military intelligence or cyber officers or signal officers. They're also professionals in the civilian world … so it's been a really good networking opportunity."
And her fellow Soldiers are more than professional contacts. They've become friends and a lifelong support network. "I think the biggest surprise about the Guard has been the people that I got to meet and the friends that I've made," she says. "In the Guard, you just never know who you're going to meet or how much you'll have in common with them."
A future with many paths
While still a student at GMU and a Soldier in the Army National Guard (as well as a cadet in her school's ROTC program), Ponce began an internship with a local technology company that became a full-time job after she graduated. And Ponce has so enjoyed her six years in the Army National Guard that she recently signed up for another eight-year commitment.
Now that she has graduated, Ponce is deciding between pursuing her civilian career in IT and serving in the Army National Guard full-time. Whichever direction she chooses, she's confident that her future is secured.
"I'm very grateful that I ended up in the Guard because of all these different opportunities that I've been able to have with a civilian career and continuing my education," she says. "I am looking forward to what comes next."
This post was created by Insider Studios with the Army National Guard.