COLUMBUS, Ohio --
One of the key values in the military is camaraderie. Whether that’s being a battle buddy in the Army or a Wingman in the Air Force, the core value focuses on helping out the person next to you. This mentality creates brothers and sisters in arms and fosters camaraderie.
For Pfc. Tremaya Montgomery-Gadison, a unit supply specialist assigned to the 1485th Transportation Company based in Coshocton, Ohio, the camaraderie she has developed with her brothers and sisters in arms, while on duty to support COVID-19 relief efforts, has made a lasting impact on her life.
Montgomery-Gadison was raised in Coshocton. Growing up, she was the youngest in the family and her family experienced some difficult hardships. From an early age, she was faced with many challenges that left her at a disadvantage compared to others her own age.
“I come from a family where no one really finished high school,” Montgomery-Gadison said . “During high school, I did Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC), and I fell in love with everything about it. I liked the structure of it since I hadn’t seen a lot of that (growing up).”
Upon graduating from high school at 16 years old, Montgomery-Gadison was at a crossroads on what she wanted to do in life.
“I graduated early,” Montgomery-Gadison said. “I honestly didn’t know what I wanted to do (in the future).”
Just three weeks after turning 17, and with both of her parents’ consent, she joined the Ohio Army National Guard. She was enticed by the travel opportunities and joined her hometown unit. Upon enlisting, she was sent to basic training and followed on with advanced individual training to learn her military job. Just a few days after getting home, Montgomery-Gadison’s unit informed her of the opportunity to join the personal protective equipment (PPE) distribution mission supporting COVID-19 relief efforts at a state-operated warehouse.
“I had just gotten home from training, and I called my unit to tell them that I was back and they told me about the mission here,” Montgomery-Gadison said. “They asked me if I wanted to be a part of it.”
Fresh out of military training and excited to serve her community, Montgomery-Gadison joined the PPE distribution mission, which includes logistical support collecting and maintaining items such as medical gloves, surgical gowns, N95 respirator masks, face shields, COVID-19 test kits and other supplies for health care professionals and other Ohioans who are on the front line of saving lives.
At the start of the mission, she was faced with a few challenges. At just 17 years old, she didn’t know how to drive a car and relied on her older brother to give her a ride to and from the warehouse.
Within the first few weeks of being on the mission, she turned 18. Normally outgoing and talkative, Montgomery-Gadison admits she was very shy and quiet at first because she didn’t know her coworkers well. Being brand new to the military and freshly out of training put her at a slight disadvantage. Through the help of noncommissioned officers on the mission, Montgomery-Gadison was paired up with a group consisting of two Soldiers and one Airman, as part of a mentorship opportunity to help her get accustomed to military life. Little did she know how quickly these people would turn into some of her closest friends.
The Soldiers, Spc. Ian Roth, a computer detection systems repairer, and Pfc. Nyarai Chayambuka, an equipment repairer, both assigned to the 211th Maintenance Company based in Newark, Ohio, and Senior Airman Briana Staples, a material management journeyman assigned to the 123rd Air Control Squadron in Springfield, Ohio, took Montgomery-Gadison under their wings and helped mentor and guide her through this new transition to military life. They helped her open up more at work and guided her through the benefits of being a part of the Ohio National Guard.
“For me, it didn’t feel like I truly went out of my way (to help her), but rather this was something I normally do anyways for people that I really want to see succeed,” Staples said.
A few months after joining the mission, Montgomery-Gadison began carpooling to work with Chayambuka. When Chayambuka learned that Montgomery-Gadison didn’t have her driver’s license, she was determined to help her get one. After work and during breaks, Chayambuka took the lead in teaching Montgomery-Gadison how to drive a car. They practiced in the parking lot behind the warehouse, and the mentoring group set up cones to help Montgomery-Gadison practice maneuverability. Their efforts enabled Montgomery-Gadison to pass her driving test and earn her license.
“I have a lot of people here that are willing to help me,” Montgomery-Gadison said. “I think it’s going to be a little sad leaving here and leaving these people (when the mission is complete), because they’ve literally helped me grow and do so much that I thought I wasn’t going to be able to do.”
While talking with Montgomery-Gadison about what she wanted to do in life and if she had any plans to attend college, the team learned of her desire to study political science and eventually attend law school. No one in Montgomery-Gadison’s family had attended college, and she did not know where to begin with applying for school. Without any prior guidance, the process seemed overwhelming, and attending college felt out of reach for her.
“I knew I wanted to go to school, but I didn’t know what I wanted to go to school for or how to even start applying or where to even go,” Montgomery-Gadison said. “Joining the Guard helped me make a lot of decisions for my future.”
In the evenings, after a full work day at the warehouse, Chayambuka sat her down and helped her apply to college and enroll in classes. The team educated her on the different scholarship programs and financial aid available for Ohio National Guard members, including the Ohio National Guard Scholarship Program, which pays 100% of tuition costs at postsecondary public institutions in the state.
“I took (helping Montgomery-Gadison apply for college) pretty seriously, because I was one of the first people in my family to apply for college,” Roth said. “I knew the hardest part was registering, signing up for classes, and figuring out the ins and outs of financial aid and scholarships.”
Thanks to the support of Roth and her other mentors, Montgomery-Gadison will be attending Cleveland State University, becoming the first one in her family to attend college.
“Nobody in my family really has their (driver’s) license or has ever been to college so I didn’t really know where to start,” Montgomery-Gadison said. “Coming on orders and working with people who have (their licenses and went to college) definitely helped me get to where I needed to be. It feels amazing, and I am really grateful that I was able to meet them.”
Not only did they provide her with mentorship and help her feel welcomed, they also provided her with lasting friendships. The group went from being strangers working on a mission together to being friends and hanging out during their time off from work. Although they were mentoring Montgomery, the mentorship also helped them learn from one another and grow as individuals.
“Even though I’m known as the one to lay down the law and hold people accountable, (mentoring Montgomery-Gadison) allows me to do the same for myself,” Staples said. “By checking on (Montgomery-Gadison) and seeing if she’s doing okay, it has really helped me stay on top of my game as well.”
The team’s efforts made a lasting impact on Montgomery-Gadison’s life and set her on a path to succeed. They’ve helped shape her future and mold her into the person she is becoming.
“They’ve shown me that I am not a kid anymore and that I have to make choices, sometimes, that I don't want to make,” Montgomery-Gadison said. “They helped me become an adult. But they’ve also shown me that there are people there to support me and help me.”
The military is all about helping the person next to you, to make the group stronger. These Guard members proved to be shining examples of that mentality. Not only were they able to make an impact on a new Soldier’s life, they were able to meld as a group and create lasting friendships while serving their community during this challenging pandemic.