WEST POINT, N.Y., Aug. 8, 2017 —
"Hi-yah!" An Army reservist teaches incoming cadets from the United States Military Academy here to always karate chop the safety on the M240B machine gun. This ensures it is in the fire position before soldiers charge the handle back and fire the weapon.
This is just a fraction of what Army Reserve Sgt. Gregory Girard, with the 3rd Battalion, 304th Infantry Regiment, from Saco, Maine, imparts to cadets at the summer Cadet Basic Training camp that cadets attend before they start their first year at the academy.
“I watch the [cadets] on the line, walk up to [the] line; even if it's on fire [mode] they’re still karate-chopping," he said.
Girard and his team are here to familiarize the cadets with the Army's weapon systems, including the M18A1 Claymore mine, M240B machine gun and the M249 squad automatic weapon, as well as to teach them the fundamental soldiering and team-building skills they'll need to become the future leaders of the Army.
Teaching cadets various soldier skills is the 3rd Battalion, 304th Infantry Regiment’s mission during its month-long annual training, and it ensures they’re ready at a moment's notice to train other soldiers if the need arises.
Additionally, Girard’s extensive military and police background, as well his current job as a Target distribution center trainer, aids him in teaching cadets the fundamentals.
"In comparing the police force and the military, the cadet atmosphere is the same. You constantly have to be in control of people and yourself and have military bearing," Girard said.
His previous experience as a SAW gunner for 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, makes him a subject matter expert the cadets can learn from.
“[It’s] my favorite, because when I was active-duty I was a SAW gunner, so that’s all I ever carried,” Girard said. “It’s my baby.”
Girard's journey began when he was asked in Basic Combat Training if he wanted to be a Ranger. Before arriving at his first duty assignment he attended the Basic Airborne Course and the Ranger Assessment and Selection Program.
Girard’s first four weeks of RASP were grueling, yet he made it through. He was among 33 of 175 candidates to make it through the first part of RASP. The last four weeks included a crash course on the Ranger battalion's mission to prepare the soldiers to transition from basic training to a Ranger battalion. Upon graduating, Girard’s first assignment was to the 1st Ranger Battalion at Hunter Army Airfield, Georgia.
Unfortunately, Girard experienced a massive setback a month before he was scheduled to attend Ranger School: During an airborne jump, his main parachute failed to open, forcing him to deploy his reserve. He landed hard and injured his shoulder.
Normally, the Army reassigns soldiers to a non-Ranger unit if they can't go to Ranger School, but Girard’s outstanding dedication earned him a chance to stay with his unit until the end of his contract.
Although he didn’t become a Ranger, Girard said he still hopes for the opportunity to one day attend Ranger School.
When he first enlisted, Girard said he didn’t see himself making a career in the military; he wanted to become a police officer when his contract ended. After serving four years in the military he enrolled at the University of Buffalo, New York, followed by a police academy in Washington to become a police officer.
Girard missed his time the military, but he didn’t want to leave his career as a police officer behind. So he joined the Army Reserve.
Girard’s Army Reserve unit sent him to a Best Warrior Competition in 2015. Army Sgt. 1st Class Charlie Crouchman, a senior noncommissioned officer trainer from the 3rd Battalion, 304th Infantry Regiment, served as Girard's sponsor and helped Girard review topics he would be tested on during the competition.
Crouchman says Girard's combat experience, physical fitness and can-do attitude is what makes him an outstanding soldier. He says that Girard’s hard work helped him win the Best Warrior Competition in the 108th Training Division.
Looking down the road, Girard said he hopes 10 years from now, when he's almost retired from the military, cadets will remember what he taught them.
“It makes me feel good. I helped them along,” he said.