LeKandra Griffin applied to Stephen F. Austin State University wanting to be a photographer. She had no real back-up plan, and she certainly didn’t have any ideas about joining the military.
Now, a decade later, she is a 1st Lt. serving the United States Army as a military police officer.
“Here I was my second year of college. I’m getting B’s and C’s, I’m skipping class, I’m out of shape,” Griffin said.
“I was asking myself: ‘What am I doing here?’”
Griffin had graduated high school cum laude, on the honors roll with perfect attendance. She wasn’t going to get used to anything less.
With a plan to join her school’s ROTC program, she paid a visit to the ROTC building, where she ran into a Texas Army National Guard recruiter. Shortly after, she took her ASVAB, got her score, and set a date for basic training.
“I did my oath, and I didn’t tell anyone. So one day I go home and I’m like, ‘I joined the Army and I leave in two weeks.’ And that’s how that happened,” Griffin recalled, laughing.
“I was just ready to reinstill that discipline.”
What is the Guard?
There are a lot of misconceptions about the Guard. Many people don’t know the difference between the Guard and the Reserve, or the Guard and Active Duty Army.
When Griffin went into basic training in January 2010, she didn’t know the difference, either.
The short answer is: time commitment. Guard members have more “part time” duties within the Army or Air Force. What those duties are depends on the member’s MOS and unit.
“I used to see those Army National Guard commercials with the helicopters, and people doing water rescues, and feeding the needy — humanitarian stuff. And I thought that’s what the National Guard was about. I thought that’s why I was joining,” Griffin said.
“Then I get to basic training, and we’re watching a video of all these gruesome things that took place while people were deployed, and I’m sitting there like…”
“‘Oh crap, I joined the real Army.’”
Joining the Army National Guard is joining the Army. It’s even possible to see deployment, though it’ll probably be in-state. However, Griffin was able to serve her country while also going to school full time and pursuing her civilian career.
The Guard advertises that their members spend one weekend a month, and two weeks out of a year actually serving. This time commitment can be different depending on the unit, but there’s no question that the Guard serves an integral role in our military.
“We’ve been criticized, saying ‘You’re not real Army, you’re just National Guard,’” Griffin said.
“But what really stands out about the Guard is that we go in and take care of things in two days that active duty spends all week on.”
Becoming an MP
After completing her basic training, Griffin did AIT (Advanced Individual Training) for military police. She was then assigned to the 702nd Military Police Company in Lafkin, TX.
“I didn’t really know what I’d be doing,” Griffin said. “I thought maybe I’d get to ride around and give people tickets on post or something like that.”
Though she didn’t end up giving out tickets, Griffin developed a passion for the Military Police Corps. She was already working toward a degree in criminal justice, and her experience in the 702nd MP Company only further solidified her future in the Army.
In 2013, Griffin commissioned as an officer and became Platoon Leader of the 712th MP Company in Houston. During her time there, she was promoted to Executive Officer, and also served as a battle captain for Operation Strong Safety.
“Military Police is well-rounded,” Griffin stated.
“We support other units in the battlefield; mobility support, internment and recon. We go out into the community overseas and build a rapport. You get a little action, and you also get to build relationships.”
Griffin got to build relationships with the members of her platoon as well.
“The comradery was amazing. You only see them once a month, so we all got out there and we hit the ground together. We got dirty together. We might disagree, but we’re still doing what we need to do to complete the mission.”
Going From Guard to Active
After moving to the 136 Maneuver Enhancement Brigade (MEB) in 2017, Griffin switched to active duty in April 2018.
Going from Guard to Active Duty Army is a great way to kick off a career in the military. It allows you to dip your toes in — see if you like it or not — and maybe get an education, before deciding to pursue active duty or not.
If you don’t have a set direction, the Guard can give you the time and flexibility to figure it out.
“Being in the Guard was a great experience. It was great to get me started with my career. Now, with active duty, it’s like a regular job. A Monday through Friday job. I get to be more involved with people than I was on the Guard,” Griffin said.
“The biggest culture shock is getting a work out five days a week, getting up early — all that good stuff.”
For new recruits, or people considering joining the National Guard, Griffin has some advice:
- Volunteer for every mission you can volunteer for.
- Go to every school that’s offered to you.
- Remember that you are in charge of your career.
- You have entitlements; learn them, and request to use them.
- If you take care of others, others will take care of you.
Today, Griffin makes sure to keep in touch with all her old Guard buddies. She says the comradery of the Guard was her favorite part of it, and still is.
“Military is more than just a job,” Griffin said. “Unexpected relationships happen, and we become family.”