RICHMOND, Va. –
Three Virginia Army National Guard recruiters were named top in the region following a meeting of Region II’s Strength Maintenance Advisory Group, or SMAG, Nov. 16, 2023, in Washington, D.C. Sgt. 1st Class David Sanford was named the region’s top recruiting noncommissioned officer, 1st Sgt. Thomas Clarke was named the region’s top section chief, and Staff Sgt. Tyler Voogd was named the top rookie recruiter for 2023.
“The SMAG sweep truly showcases what Virginia has to offer regarding the [recruiting and retention] NCOs that we’re producing,” Clarke said. “Sweeping the SMAG is a significant accomplishment for Virginia and an accomplishment we should all be very proud of.”
Both Clarke and Sanford competed at the regional SMAG boards in previous years and for them, the experience was familiar. Clarke, who won at the regional level last year as well, said his studying was “the same as last year,” and that he went into the boards feeling more comfortable and confident this time around. Sanford was named the runner-up in 2021 and considered this year to be his “redemption tour,” and knew that this was his last chance to compete as a production recruiter, a fact he said provided added motivation for his study sessions.
“In the weeks leading up to the board, my kids picked up on the amount of studying I was doing,” Sanford said, explaining that his six-year-old son told him to let him know if he answered the most questions. “A lot of preparation went into this one. I reached out to my counterparts across the state and collected all the study guides anyone had made over the past few years and made one massive study guide.”
Sanford said he took time every night to study and memorize another page or two of his study guide, and used resources online as well. By the time he reported to the board he said he felt very prepared and, when it was over, he knew he’d done his best.
“What really surprised me during this competition was the amount of people who had competed for the competition last year as well,” Sanford explained. “That meant I really had to step up my game because they were just as experienced as I was.”
Sanford said staying positive also played a factor in his success at the SMAG, along with the many hours of studying he put in.
“Having a positive mindset is imperative in this profession,” he explained. “Without the ability to remain focused, resilient, motivated and calm, I would not have had the success that I did. We must be able to recognize our setbacks for what they are and find a way to overcome these obstacles.”
In comparison to Sanford and Clarke’s experiences, it was all new for Voogd, the rookie of the year.
“I went in not knowing what to expect and had a great time meeting other [recruiting and retention] NCOs,” Voogd said. He called the event a “great experience” that provided him an opportunity to expand his knowledge as a recruiter, and take a deeper look into the history and regulations related to recruiting. “I did not know I won until the announcement and it was a great feeling getting recognized for the hard work I put in preparing.”
Clarke said his repeat success at the SMAG was all thanks to the incredible effort put in by the recruiters he manages.
“Achieving success at the section chief level is 100 percent dependent on the [recruiters] you have and how they perform,” Clarke said, explaining that this team “made success come easy this year,” and that they finished their mission two months before the end of the recruiting year. “My favorite part of these boards is that I get to tell other senior leaders about my Soldiers. This board gives me a platform to talk about the success of my Soldiers, […] which allows me to paint a picture of the quality of recruiting and retention noncommissioned officers we have in Virginia.”