CAMP BUEHRING, Kuwait – National Guard members are Citizen-Soldiers who often have civilian careers with very different skill sets than their military occupational specialties.
On the military side, Staff Sgt. Cindy Gray is a 92W water treatment specialist and Sgt. Daniel Gunther is a 91B wheeled vehicle mechanic. On the civilian side, both Gunther and Gray are California Highway Patrol (CHP) officers.
Gunther and Gray are deployed to the Middle East with the U.S. Army National Guard’s Task Force Phoenix, which is providing full-spectrum aviation operations for the U.S. Army Central Command’s Operation Spartan Shield and Operation Inherent Resolve. When Task Force Phoenix needed Soldiers to serve as drivers and protection for the Task Force commander and command sergeant major, Gunther and Gray were the obvious choices.
“As a personal security detachment and as drivers, their skills as highway patrolmen are exactly suited to both of these jobs,” Task Force Phoenix Commander Col. Alan Gronewold said. “They’re proficient with firearms, they’re well trained in how to handle tense situations, how to de-escalate situations, and they’re both great drivers. I feel safer riding with either of them than with anybody else because I know they’re well trained and can handle vehicles.”
“We chose them based on their skill set on the civilian side,” Task Force Phoenix Command Sgt. Maj. Refugio Rosas said.
During the nine-month deployment, Gunther and Gray make sure Gronewold and Rosas get where they need to go and provide security when they get there.
Gunther and Gray’s home unit is the California Army National Guard’s 1040th Quartermaster Company in Hollister, California.
For their civilian careers, Gray works out of the CHP’s Hayward office in the San Francisco Bay Area and Gunther out of the CHP’s San Jose office.
Older Americans may know the CHP from the long-running television series “CHiPs,” starring Erik Estrada and Larry Wilcox. The show was famous in its day for car chases and crashes on Los Angeles freeways. In real life, many Californians have personal experience with the CHP when they see flashing lights in their rearview mirror when they’re driving over the speed limit.
But Gunther and Gray say there’s a lot more to being CHP officers than car chases and speeding tickets.
“Everybody thinks we write tickets and go after people all the time, but most of what I do, especially on my shift, is help people,” Gunther said. “I respond to accidents and help drivers stranded on the road. We deal with wildfires that have happened lately in California, weather-related incidents, all kinds of stuff. Probably 70 to 80 percent of my job typically in a day is just helping people, making sure they get on their way safely.”
Gunther served four years in the active-duty Army before switching to the California Army National Guard to be closer to family in California.
“I love serving,” he said. “I enjoy wrenching on vehicles. I enjoy the Army lifestyle. And I like helping other Soldiers out.”
After leaving active duty, he applied for a position with the CHP because of the similarity between law enforcement and military service. He’s been working as a CHP officer since 2016. He said his dual careers as a mechanic in the Guard and a patrol officer with the CHP are a perfect fit.
Gray’s military career began when she joined the California Army National Guard while attending Fresno State University, where she earned a criminology degree. She’s spent much of her Guard career serving on the California National Guard’s Honor Guard, which provides military honors at funerals.
She completed the CHP Academy in 2020 and then spent a year on the road as a patrol officer before being activated to deploy overseas with the Guard. Her first year with the CHP was a busy one. She was involved in riot control, arrests of felons and car chases. During a typical shift, she said she might help a motorist change a flat tire, pull over a reckless driver, assist at traffic accidents, or help keep traffic moving around stalled vehicles or debris.
“But there’s not really a typical day because every day is different,” she said.
As a child, Gray was impressed and inspired by a Fresno County sheriff's deputy who ran the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) program at her elementary school. She said since then, she’s always wanted to serve, both in law enforcement and in the military. The National Guard allowed her to do both.
“I plan on staying on in the Guard,” she said, adding that she’s hoping to attend Officer Candidate School when she returns from the deployment.
“I feel like the balance between the CHP and the Guard is good because they complement each other,” Gray said. “And the Guard keeps me on track with staying fit. I also feel like serving one weekend a month and two weeks a year in the Guard gives me a little break from work, too. But I think my drive and determination came from the fire within me to serve my community, help people in need and be part of something bigger. Both the California Army National Guard and the CHP have not only fulfilled my expectations regarding these goals but have far exceeded them.”
Command Sgt. Maj. Rosas said Gunther and Gray’s civilian skills bring added value to Task Force Phoenix during the deployment.
“Sgt. Gunther and Staff Sgt. Gray are professional Soldiers,” he said. “They’re always ready for any type of mission. If one word says anything about them, it’s ‘awesome.’ They’re awesome for what they do on the civilian side of the house and for what they do for the Army National Guard.”