CHEYENNE – Cpl. Samantha Stanfill has packed a lot of experiences into her almost six years as a Wyoming Army National Guard soldier, and with a lot of new experiences facing her, she’s decided to not go it alone.
She began her career as a bridge crew member with the, now deactivated, 1041st Multi-Role Bridge Company. When she learned she would have to make a career change, she thought she’d find “something more applicable to everyday life.”
“I miss being an engineer, but I really enjoy customer service, so this has been good,” she said of her new position as a human resources specialist with Training Center Command, at Camp Guernsey Joint Training Center, where she is a traditional guardsman, drilling one weekend a month and training two weeks a year.
She is also working for the Guard as a fulltime state security assistant, at the Army Guard’s personnel directorate, in Cheyenne, where she moved from Laramie about a year ago for the job.
She recently volunteered to deploy with the 115th Field Artillery Brigade’s radar unit, and is scheduled to learn a new Army job at a three-month field artillery firefinder radar operator school, starting in January. She will attend her first drill with the unit in December, and is set to deploy in July.
“I thought volunteering for the deployment would be a good career move and a way to challenge myself and to improve myself as a soldier, an NCO and a person altogether,” she said, between appointments at her Cheyenne office.
Stanfill has put a lot of pressure on herself, and in the last few months in Cheyenne and with encouragement and support from her uncle and fellow ARNG-member, Chief Warrant Officer Three Joseph Stanfill, and his wife, has found relief and comfort in the church.
“I kind of grew up in a non-church environment in Laramie,” she said. “Even though I was happy with my life, I wasn’t truly happy, and felt like something was missing. A lot has happened all about the same time, and they encouraged me to try church to help whatever struggles I was going through at the time.”
She said the first couple of visits to church were very emotional for her.
“I cried a lot and could see how applicable it was in my life,” she explained. “It’s helped with things I’ve held on to and I’m learning forgiveness, not just for others, but for myself. I guess it kind of gave me what I was missing in my life.”
She said she was especially struck by a line in the first sermon she attended, and has made it a bit of a mantra. “Starting something is easy, but finishing it is the hard part,” Stanfill relayed.
The young corporal hopes to be a sergeant by the time the deployment rolls around and to become an active duty guardsman in the near future in addition to the other starts she’s listed.
“I have more direction now, and more peace,” she said. “With this first deployment, I want to go with something other than myself or family to hold on to and to have faith in. Just in case there are bad days or lonely or negative, dark, questioning times . I’m not saying there will be anything bad, but I don’t know what to expect.”
So after a couple of months as a regular attendee, Stanfill decided to take the plunge.
“I wanted to make it official and get baptized with my family here before I deploy,” she said. “When I came off that stage, and my aunt hugged me, I was just bawling. I know whatever happens will give me a better sense of meaning.”
Maj. Rob Peterson, the 115th Field Artillery Brigade’s chaplain, and a veteran of the 2009-2010 Wyoming deployment, knows a few things about the role of faith for deploying and deployed soldiers, and encourages them to maintain and grow their spiritual fitness in addition to other resilience strategies.
“There are several different components of health; physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. I have always felt like overall fitness demands health in all four of these dimensions,” Peterson explained. “Physical strength is obviously important given the tasks soldiers are required to do. Mental toughness is required to keep performing for long periods of time. Emotional health will enable the soldier to get through the relationship struggles, unexpected happenings, etc., that always accompany a deployment. But only spiritual health will help the soldier make sense of his or her purpose in this life and in this war.
“When a soldier is spiritually fit they understand moral right and wrong and the difference between good and evil. They are, one, more inclined to understand their role in pushing back an evil enemy, and two, more inclined to preserve their own morality by not committing acts that violate their own conscience. When a soldier can accomplish these two things they are at a much lower risk of experiencing symptoms of PTSD upon their return from deployment.”
Peterson shared some of his own strategies, when he deployed with the brigade.
“I kept a journal that I wrote in just about every day,” he said. “I recorded my thoughts, some of my prayers, the struggles of the day, and some of the details of meaningful counseling events. I would record what the issue was and the direction of the conversation during the counseling session. Oftentimes I was able to record a few days later the outcome of the situation. It was always amazing to see how God worked in the soldier and in the situation. I still glance at that journal once in a while and am amazed at what God showed me and how I grew in my faith during that time of my life.”