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NEWS | April 15, 2024

From ambulances to artillery: one NCO’s pursuit of military & medical dreams

By Sgt. 1st Class Terra C. Gatti Virginia National Guard Public Affairs Office

As a young adult, Sgt. Stella Escano knew she wanted to attend medical school. She also knew she wanted to eventually serve in the military, but wanted to get her education locked in first. Growing up in and around Norfolk, Virginia, an area with a dense military presence, Escano was quite familiar with the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Marine Corps, but neither of those options felt like the right choice for her. So, she went online and did some research.
“I looked up options and the Army National Guard popped up and I realized there was a massive difference in their tuition benefits,” Escano said. In the Virginia Army National Guard, Soldiers can receive both state and federal tuition assistance, for a total annual education benefit of up to $24,000. Plus, Escano learned, she could go to school while serving in the National Guard. “It was just one of those things where it’s like, ‘ok, this makes more sense.’”
In 2019, Escano joined the Virginia Army National Guard as a 13B Cannon Crewmember. It wasn’t her first choice. With medical school in her future, Escano originally wanted to enlist as a medic. She was physically fit and regularly running half marathons, but her weight was still slightly over the limit. At the time, the Assessment of Recruit Motivation and Strength Program 2.0, or ARMS 2.0, allowed smart, motivated and physically fit individuals to enlist into select career fields with high physical demands. Escano was a perfect fit for the program. Of the options available to her, the field artillery seemed like the best choice.
“I’m not very mechanically inclined, and you probably don’t want me driving a truck, but explosives sounds pretty cool, that sounds fun,” Escano said of her decision to become a 13B. Due to the pandemic, Escano didn’t end up attending training until 2021, and today she’s a gunner assigned to the Norfolk-based Bravo Battery, 1st Battalion, 111th Field Artillery Regiment, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team and has grown to love the field artillery.
“It’s a really cool MOS,” Escano said. “You get to do something that you would never get the chance to do on the civilian side. And, if you’re into blowing stuff up, which is illegal otherwise, it’s really fun.”
After completing her initial training at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, Escano returned to Virginia and a unit that was preparing to deploy to Iraq in support of an air defense mission. Her experience on that deployment proved to be a career highlight.
“I loved Iraq,” Escano said, explaining that even though her unit wasn’t focused on field artillery tasks during their deployment, the experience was gratifying. “There’s definitely a sense of purpose over there, and, in particular, me and a couple of other people had the opportunity to do a job that doesn’t even have an MOS. We were able to do counter-UAS, so anti-drone. That’s another thing that you would really never get the chance to see on the civilian side.”
It was, Escano said, “easily one of the coolest experiences I’ve ever had.”
Since joining the Virginia Army National Guard, Escano earned an associate’s degree in Emergency Medical Services and currently works as a paramedic. She’s used tuition assistance along the way and is now going to school full-time at Old Dominion University and working toward a degree in Public Health with a minor in Exercise Science, and is still planning to attend medical school once she finishes working toward her undergraduate degree.
“I encourage anyone who comes in to remember why you came here, whether for the education benefits or to do cool things. This is still a job at the end of the day, and it’s an important one, even if you’re there just once a month, it’s still important,” Escano said. “Stay motivated, stay on top of it and use the Guard as an opportunity to either make yourself better or make your life better. It’s a big opportunity to be here, and I don’t think it should be wasted.”

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