BOISE, Idaho – Chief Master Sgt. Harold Bongiovi sees a lot of similarities between working with horses and working with the Soldiers and Airmen he oversees as the Idaho National Guard’s senior enlisted leader.
Bongiovi spends his days around horses. He grew up around them. He trains a few, but most of his time is spent working as a farrier – someone who specializes in horseshoeing. Because every horse’s hoof is different, each shoe must be made or shaped to that specific horse, similar to the personalities of each Soldier and Airman.
“Horsemanship skills are similar to leadership skills,” he said. “The language is different, but it’s the same theory. Horses look for leadership capabilities from the people they are around, just like people do. They just speak a different language. They respond to good quality leadership and they resent hard-handed leadership, just like people.”
Bongiovi spends at least one day a week and one weekend a month working alongside Maj. Gen. Michael Garshak, adjutant general of Idaho and the commander of the Idaho National Guard. Bongiovi credits the balance he finds between his military and civilian careers with prolonging both.
“Over the years, I’ve liked being able to do something different,” he said. “The opportunities I’ve had in the military sure beat shoeing horses six days a week, 52 weeks a year.”
Bongiovi estimates the weekly break has added another four or five years to his horseshoeing career, which began on his grandfather’s farm. Bongiovi grew up there, and his grandfather always had horses.
“I had the bug when I was a kid, and there’s no cure,” he said.
When Bongiovi was 16, he needed someone to shoe one of his horses but couldn’t find anyone to do it, so he decided to figure it out himself. His neighbors asked him to shoe their horses. Then their neighbors told their neighbors they knew someone who could shoe horses. By 17, Bongiovi realized he could make money shoeing horses.
Bongiovi joined the Air Force in 1985 to go to college. However, he couldn’t attend classes due to his travel schedule as a KC-135 crew chief. After four years, he got out of the Air Force and moved back to Idaho without intending to continue his military career.
In 1989, he joined the Idaho Air National Guard’s 124th Fighter Wing. “I started thinking, ‘I have all this experience, maybe I shouldn’t let it go to waste.’”
He was hired for a full-time position shortly after but in 1996, his part-time horseshoeing business started to take off, so he decided to become a part-time Guardsman.
Bongiovi said he wouldn’t have gotten to travel as much as he has without the National Guard experience. He said being a traditional Guardsman keeps him fresh because he can take a break from a problem and approach it again with a fresh perspective.
Bongiovi was appointed as the state enlisted leader in 2017 and is the second Airman to hold the position. As the state’s senior enlisted member, he communicates directly to the state’s commanding general on behalf of the Idaho National Guard’s enlisted members.
He also helps interpret policy from the National Guard Bureau for implementation across the Idaho National Guard, while keeping the adjutant general apprised of issues affecting enlisted personnel.