RICHMOND, Va. –
Lt. Col. Juanita Rohler wears a lot of hats. She commands the Virginia National Guard’s vaccination support task force and the 529th Combat Support Sustainment Battalion, 329th Regional Support Group. She’s one half of a dual-military couple and a dedicated mom. These days, as COVID-19 vaccination efforts ramp-up across the nation, she’s pretty busy.
“I feel honored to be part of Virginia’s COVID vaccination operation. So many people have been affected from contracting the virus, losing loved ones, loss of jobs, and much more, and it’s humbling to be part of a helping people heal and getting back to life as we knew it,” Rohler said. “It’s a busy time and everyone is juggling so many responsibilities but I can’t think of a better way to use my time.”
Rohler explained that her team includes approximately 250 personnel tasked with supporting the Virginia Department of Emergency Management and the Virginia Department of Health.
“Personnel will support the sites in wrap-around administrative and logistics support positions,” she explained.
As the daughter of two pastors, the importance of hard work, independence and community involvement was stressed upon Rohler and her siblings from a young age.
“We were raised by parents who believed in serving the community,” she said, explaining that her family supported her hometown by helping with food deliveries, transportation support to homebound senior citizens, and ministering at jails and detention facilities.
The National Guard, she said, provided her a chance to continue that family legacy of service to others while paying for college and earning some extra income.
“That ability to serve is why I am still in today,” Rohler said.
Rohler started breaking through the glass ceiling early in her military career when, as a platoon leader, she became the Virginia National Guard’s first female officer to serve in combat.
“It was my 2003 Iraq deployment,” she explained. At the time, she was assigned to the Gate City-based 1032nd Transportation Company, 1030th Transportation Battalion, 329th Area Support Group while they were in Balad, Iraq. “It was hard, dirty and dangerous.”
The 1032nd moved supplies from Kuwait to various locations throughout Iraq, then hauled additional materials back to Kuwait. The mission required frequent convoys and trailer transfer points and Rohler said her company frequently encountered IEDs and ambushes.
“Our location in Balad took indirect fire nightly,” Rohler said. They were right next to an airfield, she explained, an obvious and frequent target of enemy attacks.
As tough as the mission was, Rohler said the experience was an educational one, and she said she learned a great deal from the noncommissioned officers and warrant officers who served alongside her, lessons she’s carried with her throughout her career.
“The Soldiers were amazing,” Rohler said. “I learned a lifetime of military lessons.”
One thing Rohler has learned in her years of service is the importance of listening.
“Listening to the right voices [is] even more important,” she said. “Take what you can from every encounter, but do not let the negative voices get through except to do a self-evaluation. If criticism applies, use it; if it is a negative voice, let it go.”
In the military, many things fall outside the control of any one individual. But, Rohler advises, Soldiers can control themselves and they can - and should - aspire to be the best possible version of themselves.
“Be the best professional you can be, develop yourself technically and tactically, maximize physical fitness, be highly proficient in the areas you are responsible for and always care for those in your charge,” she said. “You can't control what others think or feel. Don’t spend a career trying to prove who you are or what you have to offer, just be your best and try to improve something every day. Compete with yourself, no one else.”
On diversity and events like Women’s History Month, Rohler stressed the importance of diversity in creating an effective team.
“Strength in a team comes from the ability to consider multiple viewpoints and receive input based on wide-ranging experiences,” Rohler said. “Strength of diversity requires the respect and openness to different viewpoints. Diversity embraced is a force multiplier; intolerance for diversity cripples any team.”
March is Women’s History Month and this month the Virginia National Guard is taking time to tell the stories of the women who serve as Soldiers, Airmen, VDF members and civilians in our organization.