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    Strength behind National Guard’s best

    Strength behind National Guard’s best

    Photo By Sgt. Alicia Brocuglio | (From left to right) Sgt. Mark Fuggiti, Army National Guard's Solider of the Year of...... read more read more



    Story by Spc. Alicia Brocuglio and Spc. Jasmine Jacobs

    130th Public Affairs Detachment

    LONG BEACH, Calif. — A wise man once said that behind every strong man is a strong woman, so it almost goes without saying that behind the 2012 Best Non-commissioned Officer and Best Soldier of the Year for the Army National Guard are two strong support systems: their wives.

    The National Guard Best Warrior Competition happens in three phases: state, regional and national level competitions. All three phases test the competitors’ military knowledge of history, common warrior tasks and drills, and physical and mental strength. The competitions were not only difficult for the soldiers participating, but also for their wives who stayed home with their children while their spouses trained to represent their state, region and the National Guard. soldiers are often recognized for their effort and courage, while those who stand behind them may be overlooked for the support they provide and for the special bond of marriage required to stay strong through it all.

    “Families are core to having a strong National Guard,” said Chief Master Sgt. Denise M. Jelinski-Hall, the senior enlisted leader to the chief at the National Guard Bureau. “Service members need to focus solely on their mission. Knowing the spouse and families are strong, with an equally strong support system to help them, allows our soldiers and Airmen to focus and execute their mission successfully. The encouragement, support and strength from families is essential for our citizen-warriors.”

    Sgt. Matthew Howard, Army National Guard’s Best NCO of the Year, and his wife Jennifer have one daughter, Julianna, 18, and reside in Clarksville, Ark. They met more than 20 years ago at a summer camp and dated long distance mostly through letters, tapes and the occasional visit.

    “I think the fact that we have been married almost 19 years is amazing because we’ve been together most of our lives, and have made it work because of our faith and his discipline,” said Jennifer. “I truly think we were made for each other.”

    Jennifer took the role as an Army wife with open arms at the beginning of their marriage when Matthew joined in 1995.

    “That’s my job and I married him knowing that my primary function was to be his support no matter what, to be his biggest cheerleader,” said Jennifer. “And that is a role, that as we have gone through each level, I have been excited to accept.”

    Accepting the responsibility of marriage is a big commitment, but to also accept the idea of your spouse not just protecting the family, but the country as a whole, is something entirely different.

    “That’s what I realized my role was in this, to support him. Because I don’t think that a soldier can be truly successful with a wife at home who doesn’t truly believe in his mission. Who is not constantly saying, I am proud of you, good job, thank you for what you are doing,” said Jennifer.

    Jennifer accepts the challenge and stands right there to push him through his military career, through deployments and long training weekends. She was used to him being away because that was his job. The Best Warrior competition was a volunteer position that she didn’t expect to come down the road but when it did, she stood by her husband for the past year that he has been training to be the Best NCO of the Year.

    “It really hit me when he was going to the state level, and we started seeing the training, and he had the book, and we would study and that was a big deal. He would print out flashcards when he was preparing for nationals and we would quiz him on the way to church,” Jennifer said.

    Jennifer also researched how your typical Army board is set up, and prepared Matthew for the competition by taking turns asking questions on a variety of subjects in rapid-fire succession, as they assumed the Best Warrior board would do.

    Beyond helping him through each step, there was a lot of time spent apart. Jennifer was used to this because of her husband’s deployment, but this was not the case for Ashley Fuggiti, wife of the Army National Guard Soldier of Year, Sgt. Mark Fuggiti.

    Mark and Ashley have been married for five years, and have a 16-month-old son, Josh. They now reside in Orwigsburg, Penn., where Ashley teaches 9th grade English and Mark is a recruiter. They are high school sweethearts that met at ages 14 and 16, after which they both attended Penn State and then joined the civilian work force.

    “He always loved his job but I think he always felt the pull to serve,” said Ashley of Mark’s decision to join the military in 2010.

    Mark’s decision to join the military was in his blood. He wanted to serve his country as his family had and follow in their footprints.

    Before volunteering for the Best Warrior Competition, Mark was expected to go on to Officer Candidate School shortly after Josh was born. An unexpected turn of events occurred when Josh was born early and diagnosed with Down’s syndrome and pulmonary hypertension, requiring an at-home nurse.

    “When Mark was going through all of this, Josh was dealing with a lot of things. The fact that he is doing all of this and has achieved all of this with everything going on at home says a lot,” Ashley said about the achievements that Mark has accomplished with the Best Warrior Competition.

    Ashley works full time, supporting her husband and adjusting to the needs of their newborn child. She talks about how it affected Mark and his training, but stays strong and never discusses how it may have been difficult for her.

    Neither of these women had any idea how far their husbands would go; they just supported them as they worked hard to be named the best.

    “I know he’s awesome, and I know he’s great, but you think about how many guys he beat either directly or indirectly to get to each level,” Jennifer said of her husband. “It just reaffirms my belief in him and shows just how dedicated he is.”
    “It makes you proud to see the incredible soldiers that they’re competing against and knowing that your husband is one of them makes it a huge honor and really humbling and exciting,” added Ashley.

    When the soldiers were announced as the winners at Fort Benning, Ga., in July, the wives had no idea until they got the phone call. They were unable to attend the competitions at all levels, for it is not a spectator event. The wives were however, able to see pictures and videos on the Internet so they got a taste of what their husbands were really doing all this hard training for.

    “I so enjoyed watching the [Best Warrior Competition] videos, to be able to see it firsthand as it happens was just really awesome,” said Ashley.

    As part of the recognition for the amazing efforts of the Best Warriors, the soldier were sent to Washington D.C. for a week and then onto Long Beach, Ca. as part of a two-week tour to be honored by their senior enlisted and commissioned leadership of the National Guard. The soldiers were asked to bring their wives along for the exciting events.

    Ashley and Jennifer, each terribly nervous about what was going to be expected of them, reached out to one another for support. From two different lifestyles and parts of the country a friendship evolved.

    “After they both won we were texting and comparing notes and information on the trip and it was just nice to have someone to go through that experience with who really got it,” said Ashley.

    The ladies exchanged girl talk about what they were going to wear, how to address military leadership and what they had heard was going to happen. The text messages continued until they met in Washington D.C. and there the friendship grew as they spent time together during the week; tours, award luncheons, ceremonies and banquets.

    Each member of leadership took the time to recognize these ladies for the time they each put into the competition, as well as the support provided to their husbands.

    “All the soldiers who competed in this very challenging event received tremendous support from their spouses or family members. They studied and ran together, they picked up extra household duties. They did many important things that allowed their soldier to train and prepare,” said Jelinski-Hall.

    The ladies truly felt a part of the Army National Guard family when the Command Sergeant Major of the Army National Guard, Command Sgt. Maj. Richard Burch, honored them with the tradition of a handshake in which a coin of recognition is passed from the senior leader to the soldier.

    “We got our first challenge coin and that was really cool, because our husbands have a ton from the competition, and at home they are always bringing home ones they’ve earned, so for Command Sgt. Maj. Burch to give us our own was awesome,” said Ashley.

    While visiting the nation’s capital Ashley and Jennifer attended award ceremonies and a formal banquet in which they stood next to their husbands and were mentioned in speeches and introductions.

    “You’re not used to the limelight being on you,” Ashley said. “I mean they competed the whole way through and its about them, and the military is amazing in the sense that they always mention family and they always mention your role [as a spouse], but its not like you were really there, so this is the first time we have been involved directly in the competition.”

    At times during their trip, the soldiers were pulled aside for meetings or professional development. Instead of being alone, Jennifer and Ashley were able to have each other to share meals, opinions and advice.

    “The friends that we have made throughout the process with everyone and their families have been awesome. We really are families, and we may not move around necessarily as much as active duty soldiers do, so we have gotten that chance to form lasting bonds,” said Jennifer.

    These ladies are just two of the spouses and family members of Guardsmen. They stand next to the Best Warriors of the Army National Guard with pride and support for what their loved ones represent. It is with their support and loyalty that the country is able to have soldiers like Mark Fuggiti and Matthew Howard defend their States and Country.

    “We just try to keep the focus on them and the reason for us being here, which is to represent the National Guard. It’s not really about us, it’s about the Guard and their units, and their states,” said Ashley.



    Date Taken: 08.30.2012
    Date Posted: 08.31.2012 15:53
    Story ID: 94109
    Location: LONG BEACH, CA, US 

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