HAMPTON, Va. -- When Staff Sgt. Monisha Braxton was 17, her main goal was to go to college. Her financial situation made that goal extra challenging and while other students her age were making college plans, she was busy working in the food service industry.
Braxton graduated high school with honors and looked into taking some classes at a local community college. The tuition was still more than she could afford so, she joined the U.S. Army, largely because the Army recruiter was the first to return her call.
“I would have joined the Marines, but they waited a week later to return my call,” she said. “I also did not do a lot of research. I didn't know the National Guard even existed.”
Her recruiter told her that her only option was to join as cook and continue work in food service.
“But I'm cooking right now, I work at McDonald's and I'm working at Popeye's,” she said at the time. “I did not want to do that, but I did it anyway. I mostly wanted a better way of life.”
After serving three years on active duty in the Army, she decided it was time for her to move on from military life. Her sergeant major talked to her about other options, like U.S. Army Reserve, and eventually she settled on joining the National Guard.
Before joining, she knew she wanted to jump into a different career field, so she started studying and taking classes to improve the score on her Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, or ASVAB, test. Then, a food service specialist position opened in the National Guard’s aviation battalion and Braxton decided to take it, even though she improved her ASVAB score.
“Immediately at my first drill there, I said to myself, ‘I'm going to retire in the National Guard,’” Braxton said. “When I came to the aviation unit, there were 18 people and the only meals we had to cook were lunch on Saturday and Sunday. I’m like, ‘this is heaven, I don’t need to switch my job, I can do this.’”
After two years in the National Guard, Braxton extended her enlistment, qualified for a bonus, earn a promotion and moved into a more senior position within a unit based in Norfolk. She was the only noncommissioned officer in her section, with 14 Soldiers assigned beneath her.
“They had leadership there, but no food service leadership,” she said. “Eventually everything started to fall into place and overall, it helped me grow.”
Braxton said she felt like she was doing more with her career and she welcomed the challenge. She also said she had a great readiness NCO who was eager to help Soldiers with courses or school seats.
“I remember sitting in his office and he says, ‘Braxton, you ready to learn how to drive a bus?’,” she said.
The bus course took two weeks to complete and afterward she became one of the unit’s designated bus drivers, a role she enjoyed so much that she decided to get her Class B Commercial Driver’s License on the civilian side. Due to her training in the National Guard, the road test was waived and she was only required to take the written exam.
With her new license in hand, Braxton found work delivering fresh produce, often delivering up to 300 packages a day by herself, some weight upwards of 50 pounds.
“I had just had a baby,” she said. “It definitely helped me get back in shape.”
A year later, Braxton was given the opportunity to drive a truck for a recycling company. She took the job and was excited about the position. She loved the hydraulics on the truck and what the machine could do.
“The arm actually comes out and grabs the can,” she said. “The kids in the neighborhood would show up and it would become a game. You’re just hitting the cans left and right and picking them up and shaking them, then bringing them down, it’s boom, boom, boom!”
Braxton had to learn how to drive several different trucks for her role with the recycling company, but within two months, she was training other employees.
Most recently, over the summer, Braxton accepted a job as a recruiter with the Virgijnia Army National Guard in the Hampton and Newport News areas. She said she’s very passionate about her role as a recruiter and loves getting to work with people interested in joining the National Guard.
“I believe in the National Guard and what we do,” she said. “I believe in what we offer, how we help people and how we build them up.”
She said the most important thing is for people to know what they want when they join.
“When I came in, I knew what I wanted,” she said. “I wanted to go to college and I knew I didn't have any money. I didn't have a scholarship. My parents didn't want to sign any student loan documents.”
Braxton said sometimes people get sidetracked and forget to keep their commitments to their commitments. They get caught up in life and their main reason for joining gets side-lined, she said, explaining that that’s exactly what happened to her.
“I had forgotten the reason I put this uniform on every day,” she said. “College was the reason I was passionate about everything. So, right before I started working with R&R, I decided to finish working on my degree.”
Ultimately, being a recruiter gives Braxton the chance to share her own story and to help motivate others.
“I want people to know great opportunities are there for them in the National Guard,” she said. “Where you start is not where you end.”