The state militia-commonly referred to as the National Guard -not only augments the nation’s armed forces when mobilized by the president, but also responds to local emergencies under the authority of the state’s governor.
These state “call-ups” have historically been of a humanitarian nature-such as response to floods, tornadoes, and snowstorms-and have served as the highlight of one local Guardsman’s career.
“I was called to state emergency duty for the Flood of ’93,” said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Randall Watson, 55, California, Missouri (formerly of Vandalia), “and during other disasters as well.”
Yet Watson’s National Guard career did not commence directly after his graduation from high school, but instead began nearly a decade later.
Graduating with a bachelor’s degree in public relations from the former Central Missouri State University in 1982, the Vandalia area native worked several years for his father’s manufacturing company, all the while listening to friends and family speak of their own military service.
Choosing to contact a National Guard recruiter, Watson explains he “wanted to see what benefits the Guard offered,” and soon discovered they had full-time employment opportunities as well.
He enlisted in 1989 and later that year completed his basic training, at which point he traveled to Fort Gordon, Georgia, for advanced training as a computer programmer.
“Technology-based careers were emerging,” Watson said, “and I knew there would be opportunities in both the military and civilian career fields.”
The soldier began drilling with a unit in Jefferson City in March 1990 and noticed several full-time job announcements tacked on the bulletin board at the armory. He soon began applying for the vacancies.
Weeks later, he was hired as a medical recruiting technician at the state headquarters-a position in which, for the next five years, he helped recruit medical professionals such as doctors, dentists, and nurses into the Missouri National Guard.
Having gained several years of military administrative experience and reaching the rank of staff sergeant, Watson made the decision to apply for the warrant officer program in 1995. (Warrant officers are recognized as technical leaders in their specific career field.)
Watson said, “I wanted to become more involved in the technical aspect of my field and focus on one specialty.
“Also,” he added, “there was, at that time, a shortage of warrant officers in the Guard.”
For the next several months, Watson completed his warrant training at Fort Rucker, Alabama, and, in the fall of 1995, was pinned a warrant officer.
He then returned to state headquarters as the enlisted branch chief to oversee personnel actions for the state’s enlisted soldiers.
With a desire to continue his education, Watson earned a master’s degree in defense management from American Military University in 2003.
His career has kept him at the state headquarters where he served in a number of human resources positions, most recently as the Labor Relations Specialist where he helped coordinate a cooperative atmosphere between managers and union officials and performed legal research for labor contracts with the National Guard’s federal civilian technician program.
But in 2008, he received an opportunity to employ his skills in an unfamiliar environment when he was mobilized as part of KFOR 10 (Kosovo Force)—a NATO-led international peacekeeping mission in Kosovo.
Serving dual roles as the commander of a small public affairs detachment and as the public affairs officer for the task force, Watson shook the dust of his previously earned public relations degree when working on military news releases, “The Guardian East” magazine and setting up press conferences for the task force commander.
Watson returned to his position at state headquarters in March 2009 and, after serving nearly 25 years in uniform, retired March 3, 2014 at the rank of chief warrant officer four.
A member of several veterans’ organizations, the married father of two children asserts that although he considers the time he spent overseas as an important part of his military career, certain facets of his stateside duty have been the most fulfilling.
“The National Guard is a unique force,” he said, “which adds a lot of benefit to those who serve. It has the responsibility of serving not only under the call of the president, but also that of the governor. The National Guard is there to assist our local communities during natural disasters and other emergencies.
“This experience has allowed me to support my fellow Missourians,” he added. “I have had the privilege of serving during several state emergencies and, for me; this has been the most satisfying aspect of my military career.”
*— Jeremy Ämick writes on behalf the Silver Star Families of America.