FORT PICKETT, Va. –
When he was just 16-years-old, Sgt. 1st Class Cameron Casey was on his own. His mother had recently died and he had little choice but to figure out how to support himself.
“I got my own place, lived on my own,” Casey said. “It was hard to go to high school and work at the same time, so I got my GED.”
Military service was always something Casey was interested in. His grandfather served and joining the military seemed like one of the best ways to get himself out of Virginia and on to bigger and better things.
“That was my goal, to get out and leave the state and I had family members who served and I wanted to do what they did,” Casey explained.
But, with just a GED and one tattoo too many, Casey was turned down by both the Marine Corps and the U.S. Army.
Finally, a friend suggested he go and talk to the National Guard. He’d grown up in Sandston, Virginia, not far from a Virginia Army National Guard armory. He didn’t know much about the National Guard, so he talked to a recruiter to learn more and on Oct. 1, 2010, he enlisted as 13F Fire Support Specialist.
By 2012, Casey was back home in Virginia. He snagged a two-week stint working at the same armory he was recruited out of while covering for a friend who was out on leave. There, he started to network.
“I just happened to meet all the right people while I was up there,” Casey said.
He met the State Partnership Program manager who agreed to bring him on for another two weeks and, Casey said, it spiraled from there. He was brought on to work with the SPP and then the state’s Sexual Harassment Assault Response Prevention, or SHARP, program, and went back to school to become a 36B Financial Management Technician which led to role as a budget analyst for the Virginia Army National Guard’s Recruiting and Retention Battalion. That role eventually led to Active Guard/Reserve, or AGR, roles within R&R, where Casey eventually earned his third military occupational specialty, or MOS, as a 79T Recruiting and Retention Noncommissioned Officer.
During his career progression, one of his leaders told him he should make good use of his time and start toward on a college degree.
“So, I started doing college courses online,” Casey said. “I kept going and going and going and the next thing you know, I have a master’s degree.”
None of it, Casey said, would have been possible without the National Guard.
“The Guard paid for all of it, that was the best part,” Casey said. “I have zero debt. An MBA. Three MOSs.”
As Casey continued his education, his career progressed as well. Casey said, by taking advantage of the opportunities and benefits available in the National Guard, success was easy.
“If you use the tools in the Guard, it’s easy to get promoted, it’s easy to get a degree. Use the tools that are given to you. It’s simple, really,” Casey explained. “You show up at the right place, at the right time, with the right haircut and most of the time, you’re good to go.”
A highlight for Casey over the course of his career has been the opportunity to travel. Before he joined the National Guard, he’d left Virginia a time or two, traveling to North Carolina and Florida, but the first time he was ever on an airplane was when he traveled to advanced training.
“I’ve gotten to travel a lot, that’s probably been my favorite part,” Casey said. “I’ve been to 30 different states, went to Tajikistan twice, Denmark, Germany, the United Kingdom, Belgium.”
Throughout his career, Casey says his family has been an incredible source of inspiration and motivation.
"This is a family business and I couldn’t have made it this far without the support of my family," Casey said.
In the coming weeks, Casey, his wife and two children will travel to Fort Benning, Georgia, where he’ll continue his work for the National Guard as a liaison between the states and the training assets there.
“I’ve made it here just on accident,” Casey said. “I feel like if you look out for other people, do the right thing, take care of people, it just pays itself back.”