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FROM READERS: Shifting missions for a soldier, the National Guard

Monday, December 17, 2012 | 10:00 a.m. CST; updated 6:02 p.m. CST, Monday, December 17, 2012
Although his deployments to Iraq and Egypt have been rewarding, Maj. John Gandt notes that assisting communities during state emergencies has been the most important aspect of his career with the National Guard.

Jeremy P. Amick is the public affairs officer for The Silver Star Families of America.

COLUMBIA — “Change” is a word recently used to describe several elements of our society, including politics and the economy. For Columbia resident John Gandt, this word has become synonymous with not only his career choice, but the shifting mission of the National Guard.

The son of a teacher, Gandt, 35, chose to pursue a similar path after his graduation from Bloomfield High School in 1996.

He attended college at Southeast Missouri State, where he graduated in 2000 with a degree in mathematics and secondary education.

Realizing it might be difficult to acquire a teaching position right away, he joined the Missouri National Guard.

“I had friends who had gone on to active duty and listened to them tell their stories,” said Gandt. “One day I was driving by the armory in Cape (Girardeau) and decided to just go in and enlist — kind of spur of the moment.”

As he had already attained a college degree, Gandt enlisted under the officer candidate school (OCS) option. His friends had also convinced him that becoming an officer would help place him in a leadership role.

His first assignment was with the 1140th Engineer Company, where he began the 18-month process of becoming an officer through the state’s OCS program.

In the fall of 2000, he was hired as a math teacher and baseball coach with Kelly High School in Benton, Mo., while continuing his part-time military service with the Guard.

Gandt completed the requirements to become an officer in 2002 and was commissioned a second lieutenant.

“While I was in OCS, 9/11 happened … and that was a reality check,” he said. “I realized that being a part-time soldier in the National Guard was serious business and that (the Guard’s) role was going to change.”

The new officer was assigned as a platoon leader with his unit while still teaching full time.

However, in early 2004, his premonitions were realized when the 1140th was mobilized for service in Iraq.

“(Mobilization) was really kind of a shock,” Gandt said. “I was engaged to be married, and we didn’t have a lot of time between our deployment notice and actual boots on the ground.”

Gandt’s unit spent a year deployed to Tallil Air Base in southern Iraq, where they performed reconnaissance to ensure the security of a primary supply route, checking for improvised explosive devices and similar threats.

Finishing the deployment in early 2005, he briefly returned to his teaching position, but later the same year he made the decision to pursue a different career after his unit was sent to Louisiana for Hurricane Katrina.

“It really wasn’t fair to the school district, with me being gone so much,” Gandt said. “Math is such a specialized area, and it’s hard to find a substitute on short notice.”

The young officer was hired full time with a unit in De Soto, but in November 2007, received orders to transfer to the 835th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion in Jefferson City, where he currently serves as the administrative officer.

This past August, the battalion returned from a one-year deployment to Egypt. While there, Gandt served as the support operations officer, overseeing logistical support for two base camps and 31 outposts.

Despite the changes that have occurred to the mission of the National Guard in recent years, and in addition to two overseas deployments, the married father of two explains that the most gratifying aspect of his career has been helping others during state missions.

“The overseas service has been rewarding in its own way, but I have been on several state emergency duties (such as flood and tornado response) that have been by far one of the best parts of my career,” he said.

“During these state missions, we as citizen-soldiers get to help our fellow citizens in need and witness first-hand how our actions impact our communities.”

This story is part of a section of the Missourian called From Readers, which is dedicated to your voices and your stories. We hope you'll consider sharing. Here's how. Supervising editor is Joy Mayer.


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