Agriculture Roots Ranching Background Impacts National Guard Servicewoman
According to the U.S. Farm Report, while 17 percent of the nation’s population is rural, rural recruits account for a staggering 44 percent of U.S. military recruits, with young adults in rural areas being 20 percent more likely to join than their urban peers.
Wyoming Army National Guard Servicewoman Kristen Graham reflects on the impact of her agricultural background on her military service, noting her life experiences helped to prepare her for military life and set her apart from her peers.
“ Being homeschooled and raised in a ranch setting, we always had responsibilities growing up,” says Graham. “I guess I didn’t know that other kids might have had it differently, but we had chores that had to get done, and we had to balance that with our school work.”
Graham grew up in Colorado on her family’s small ranch where they raised horses and beef cattle.
“I grew up helping the neighbors out with their cattle whenever they needed help,” explains Graham.
She notes that both she and her sister Morgan were homeschooled before Graham left to attend college at the University of Wyoming.
“That’s where I joined, the Wyoming Army National Guard,” says Graham.
Graham’s sister also serves in the Wyoming Army National Guard, where she works on Blackhawk helicopters.
The sisters also share a passion for raising Quarter horses, with Graham raising ranch horses and her sister favoring show horses.
Graham explains, “I think my background really helped with handling responsibility and time, which are a couple things that have come in handy as far as the military goes.”
Graham notes how they were raised aided in setting her and her sister apart from the rest of their peers.
“Both my sister and I were promoted to places of responsibility in the military a little earlier. I think our backgrounds might have helped some,” comments Graham.
She also explains the sisters are not afraid of hard work and getting their hands dirty, which also set the pair apart.
“We grew up understanding that A, B and C had to be done before we could quit for the day. We’re used to long hours and dirty jobs, and we’re not afraid of it,” she states.
After she left college, Graham explains she was employed full-time by the Army National Guard for a period.
“I had been a heavy construction equipment mechanic for them, and then I transferred over to Charlie Med as an avionics mechanic for Blackhawk helicopters,” says Graham.
Now, Graham and her fiancé also own their own business where they work for several ranches in the Nebraska Sandhills.
“We go wherever it is they need help, so we’re involved with gathering and shipping, weaning cattle, calving out, branding and preconditioning,” Graham continues. “We’re currently purchasing a custom haying business, and we just bought a semi-truck to help haul hay, cattle and equipment.”
Rewards and challenges
According to Graham, one of the most rewarding aspects of serving in the Wyoming National Guard is helping new soldiers in the unit build their skills before moving on to new positions.
“I’ve been in a leadership role for a few years now, so it’s my responsibility as a first line supervisor to help show them what their job is, lay down the ground rules and explain what’s expected of them,” states Graham.
She explains, “It’s been fun to see some of those new kids come in and watch them move on to bigger and better things.”
Managing differing personalities and working with new soldiers is also challenging, says Graham.
“Taking responsibility for a group of people comes with its own challenges,” she comments.
Graham continues, “We have many of different personalities, and they might come in with different life experiences than I’m used to. Managing conflicts that might come up or handling life challenges from outside of the military has been kind of a challenge, but it’s helped me to grow as a leader.”
Eye to the future
As they look ahead, Graham explains she and her fiancé plan to expand and stabilize their business.
“Right now, he fields phone calls, and we go where the work is at,” she says. “It would be nice in the next couple years to have a set schedule and have some scheduled clients we work for during certain times of the year.”
The pair also look to expand their haying contracts to have their haying equipment in use all summer, as well as to increase their winter trucking clientele.
Ultimately, Graham explains they hope to increase their own land base and begin raising their own cattle.
“Eventually, we’d like to buy a bigger piece of land and start raising our own cattle,” she concludes. “Out here, land is kind of hard to come by, so if the opportunity presents itself, we’d like to be set up and in a position where we can do that.”
Emilee Gibb is a correspondent for Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Comments on this article can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.