COLUMBIA, S.C. - Established in 1636, the National Guard is the country’s oldest military branch. Citizen-Soldiers of the National Guard have served as the nation’s first line of defense and have fought in every major conflict in American history.
Since these Citizen-Soldiers are not on full-time duty, they need to find a balance between their day-to-day lives and military obligations. Sgt. Brian Calhoun, a photojournalist in the 108th Public Affairs Detachment, South Carolina National Guard, has learned to master this balancing act for years.
“I initially enlisted in the South Carolina National Guard while I was a senior in high school,” said Calhoun. “I would go off and train on drill weeks, which made my senior year experience much different than my classmates’.”
Calhoun initially joined a brand new Air Defense Artillery (ADA) unit that hadn’t even fielded their equipment yet.
With a Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) of 25L, AN-TSQ-73 Air Defense Artillery Command and Control System Operator-Repairer, he was assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion 1/263 ADA, where he served for seven years. When that unit was deactivated, Calhoun was at the end of his enlistment and decided to leave the National Guard.
“When my original unit deactivated, it was a good time for me to take a break from military service,” said Calhoun. “I had just completed mortuary college and was beginning my professional career as a funeral director. My new job would require me to work weekends, and I didn’t want weekend drill or annual training to interfere, so I decided to take a short break.”
Calhoun’s “short” break ended up lasting 16 years.
“I never intended to be away from the Guard for that amount of time, and I always missed it,” said Calhoun. “I think once you become a Soldier you never stop. A part of me was missing, and I wanted to get back in the Guard to fill that huge hole.”
When he decided to re-enlist in 2010, Calhoun turned to the Internet to find the perfect MOS for himself.
“When I found public affairs and photojournalism, I was surprised,” said Calhoun. “I didn’t know the Army had this, and I was certain the South Carolina National Guard didn’t have this – or so I thought. I started making phone calls and the rest is history.”
“I wanted my new MOS to be more like a hobby for me,” said Calhoun. “I also wanted my new military skill to benefit my employer. There isn’t a job or employer anywhere that cannot utilize a highly-trained public affairs professional skilled in writing, public speaking, photography, managing social media, or print layout and design.”
“Not only am I able to serve my community, my state and our country as a public affairs specialist, I am able to provide these same skills to my company and the families that we serve here in Charleston,” added Calhoun.
As a licensed funeral director, Calhoun has worked for J. Henry Stuhr, in Charleston, South Carolina, for nearly 17 years. Calhoun currently serves as the director of information technology.
“I am very fortunate to work for a company that has embraced my desire to serve my country,” said Calhoun. “They have never hesitated when I have asked for time away to attend training or to answer the call. Our duties in public affairs do not always fall inside the lines of the one weekend a month and two weeks a year scenario.The Stuhr family has never once told me no.”
In 2015, Calhoun graduated from Warrior Leader Course (WLC) at McCrady Training Center, in Eastover. WLC is the initial leadership course for noncommissioned officers. During this monthlong course, the specialists and corporals are being prepared for the rank of sergeant by learning skills to lead smaller groups of soldiers.
“I knew my class would be full of young specialists, or newly-minted sergeants, so I could not compare myself to them physically,” said Calhoun, who is 43 years old. “But I went into the course and gave it 100 percent.”
Calhoun felt that being older gave him an advantage throughout the course.
“When it came to preparing a brief, giving a block of instruction, or being graded on leadership, I always received the highest marks because of my confidence,” said Calhoun. “I believe that my age and experience led to those qualities.”
On top of holding down a steady job, Calhoun also has a wife and two children. His family had as much to do with his re-enlistment as did his own personal desire to be back in uniform.
“I wanted my kids to witness, first-hand, me sacrificing time away from home for the benefit of the greater good,” said Calhoun. “I wanted them to know that the benefits we have as Americans are not free and do not come to them without a cost.”
The National Guard responds to natural disasters such as floods, hurricanes, forest fires, search and rescue operations, counter drug operations; among others. On top of that, the National Guard has a federal mission to maintain well-trained units available for mobilization during war or national emergencies.
“There is no doubt that being a soldier benefits me every day,” said Calhoun. “It gives me pride and confidence as a person, and it reminds me that I am a part of something that is much bigger than myself.”