“A Higher Calling: Ashley Gorbulja”
“I grew up in Brunswick, Ohio in a middle-class family. My father was a small business owner in manufacturing. My mom worked a little bit and was a stay at home mom for a while. I went to school and was involved in a lot of activities – sports, Girl Scouts – I did pageants for a little bit – but this weird, random stuff I did as a kid really got me interested and heavily involved in volunteerism in general.”
“When the Great Recession hit it really affected my father’s business and that kind of put everything in perspective for me. I knew more about finances by 15 or 16 and operating a tow motor and helping my dad and his shop and doing these things to just try and keep us above water which included finding a way to pay for my college education.”
“I went to a tech school during high school looking into physical therapy, and the general medical field as a sustainable career pathway. I was accepted into The University of Akron and shortly after joined the National Guard. I was researching education benefits, and I was pretty excited, to be honest, to raise my right hand in November of 2011. I started my National Guard journey as a Fuzzy, did a skills for stripes program, got myself PV2, was shipped off to training and quite frankly that’s when it really changed my life in the 2011-2012 time frame.”
What have been some of your jobs within the National Guard?
“My original home, where I started my career, was with the 583rd Military Police (MP) Company. I have been on state missions my entire career. I have not been deployed. I worked on a Homeland Response Force mission which encompasses a lot of our chemical-biological world. I compare it to Monsters Inc. when they come in and yell ‘TWENTY THREE NINETEEN” with all the yellow suits minus the extra appendages. I would conduct MP tasks and secure the footprint for Federal Emergency Management Agency, and our unit was so good at that we kept it for the entire duration of my career until I was in-line promoted to Staff Sergeant. I had helped with getting my Soldiers ready for the National Republican Convention that was in Cleveland. We would do riot control and your typical MP tasks and technical skills. And now I am in a force readiness unit where I am a Truck Commander for Armored Security Vehicle (ASV) crews. I do all the communication, and I help train up Soldiers on our crew served weapons for our Common Remotely Operated Weapon Station systems or ASVs. It’s a newer and innovative mission an MP guard unit as taken on, and I’m still kind of learning my piece and the whole thing.”
“But within the past year, I’ve decided after seven years National Guard that I want to go over to the Army Reserves and commission as an officer to do the health care administration sector. A work in progress before my ETS in November 2019.”
Who are some soldiers who had an impact on your service?
“First Sergeant Bertram, who I had from when I was a Private up to Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO), about the first four or five years my career. I had just got back from Basic Leader Course or what was Warrior Leader Course at the time – and my First Sergeant said: ‘Hey you know I’m the assistant warden at Northeast Ohio Women’s Correctional facility. I wanted to ask you – I’ve got female incarcerated vets and also just general population female offenders that could use some military guidance, would you be interested in volunteering your time in our new military program in Cleveland?’”
“And I thought, Oh my god, I’m like 19-20 years old, you want me to go do what?!”
“So I was like ‘Alright First Sergeant, I’ll give it a try.’”
“He got me into volunteering in a community in a whole new capacity to change lives, and it really helped develop me as an NCO on the civilian side. So it’s really just this impactful, momentous feeling.”
“Another individual was Staff Sergeant Jeffrey Smith. He really saw a lot of value in me and was helping me get through. He just saw potential in me, and I really appreciated that. He taught me so much about logistics and being professional and prioritizing stuff.”
“Then there was Staff Sergeant Brianna Mei. She was a Staff Sergeant in my platoon. She had been deployed and was a very petite, thoughtful woman. She was reserved, but I’ll tell you what, she knew her stuff. To have another strong female has always been really important and that’s something that’s I’ve emulated as I’ve become an NCO. I want to be the NCO I needed when I was a Private. She was that person for me that helped me realize my potential, and she was just always so strong and virtuous. I was just always shocked, they would give a crap situation, and she would just make things happen. It was really meaningful to me to have someone like that in my life. I firmly believe everyone comes into your life for reasons and others for seasons.”
So as an NCO which of your soldiers stand out to you? I know we’ve talked leadership, but on the flip-side of that, are there any individual soldiers you wouldn’t mind talking about?
“Sure. My initial squad when I became an NCO – we were a very tight-knit and family oriented. I have a few Soldiers: Patty Wells, Nate Meadows, Hillary McClish, Megan Arrendale, Kurtis Herchler, James Bates, Jared Kellicker, Aaron Watson, Cam Weese. If Soldiers weren’t being taken care of, I adopted them.”
“But some standouts of soldiers that really impacted my life. Nate Meadows, for example, he is now a police officer in Cleveland. He actually, short history story here.
“His grandfather was a police officer in the community. And I guess at one point during the 80s he had pulled my Dad over. And I guess his grandfather had given my Dad a warning or whatever, this before all the tickets and stuff and was like ‘Don’t worry I’m sure a Gorbulja will help a Meadows out one day.'”Now you skip a few generations, and his grandson is now in my ranks – and his mother is terminally ill. Staff Sergeant Carlos Monterio, Sergeant Dillon Gigliotti, and I had/have a great squad. I’m so proud of them. I mean they would go to events and would help raise money. We would get him extra gift cards, and he’s taking care of his sisters and really just trying to keep everything together while he was in the police academy and getting him to drill and he was just such an outstanding young man. I’m just so proud of him and everything he’s done. I remember standing at his police academy graduation speech in Cleveland – and I just remember saying in the back that I was so proud of him. His mother had passed away a week before. I had soldiers show up to the funeral and the support and leadership that we were able to provide, I now see that emulated by my soldiers.”
“There’s also Hillary McClish. She is my redheaded fury, don’t ever mess with that woman over in Dublin, Ohio. She’s a police officer out there. She had asked for advice one year; she said ‘Hey I’m trying to apply, can you help me with my resume stuff?’. She spoke to me more and said ‘I don’t know what I’m gonna do…I want to finish school; I can finish school in a year. But Dublin wants to hire me, but I can’t commit to the time.'”
“She’s talking me through this, and I looked at her, and I said ‘Listen you already know what you want to do, you just want me to confirm it. It sounds like you want to stay in school don’t you?'”
“She goes ‘I do…so what do I tell Dublin?'”
“I say ‘You tell the police chief that you’re gonna apply next year, finish school and come back stronger than ever.'”
“So she goes to the interview and says something along long lines of what I had suggested, and I shit you not, a year later she was number three out of seven hundred candidates when she re-applied for the job, and now she is a police officer in Dublin. I’m so proud of her. She had invited me to her badging ceremony– I cried like a baby.”
“I just have been blessed with amazing, unique individuals that come together and provided such a strength and asset to any team that I’ve been on even in my in my new unit. I wish I could do a plug for all the amazing Soldiers that have inspired me to be my best self.”
“My Platoon Sergeant currently actually was my Platoon Sergeant when I was a Private up until I was an NCO. I absolutely adore this man, when I was a Private he would give me different responsibilities. He always treated me like a human being and that humility piece was something that was very consistent with my leadership in the 583rd between Staff Sergeant Smith and to First Sergeant Bertram. To me, it was just incredible. Sergeant First Class Thorn was just the epitome of making everything possible for me and fighting the good fight. He really taught me what it was to take care of soldiers. Even if it put his ass on the line or went against some of the commander’s intent is, if it was important we would do it in that order.”
Over the last seven years, how would you say that military service has changed you? What traits have you taken from service that you use in you’ve used in your civilian or student career?
“I would say that it’s helped me become more present and in the moment. I think that my military service has allowed me to be comfortable in an uncomfortable situation, to embrace uncertainty and to make the best decisions possible. I think my leadership has really been just one stepping stone after another, from leading a small group to helping out at the platoon level in the absence of my platoon sergeant to the civilian side speeches and communication skills or decision making, my ability overall to just make stuff happen.”
“Now I’m 25 with a masters degree, debt free, thirty-six thousand dollars with scholarships, to speaking on panels, to starting my own business and inspiring others to always be their best self has been important to me as a leader. The military gave me an amplified version of all of the Army values it has helped really be that guide stone for the decisions that I’ve made. My military service is a part of me, and I will stay in as long as they have me. I find a lot of value and purpose- being a Type A, an executive, strategic thinker, I have flourished in an organization that has appreciated my talents. Every year I grow with an additional duty or the Soldiers that I impact, just in this new unit alone I’ve had more soldiers be like ‘I’ve never had an NCO do that or explain this to me or say in such a way that motivates me’ or ‘I want to be around you, Sergeant G’. As a leader and role model, these little things are the most impactful.”
And finally, what would you say the average civilian should know about the military?
“We are all human beings, and we all put our pants on like everybody else. We are just aligned for a different mission and a higher calling right? I know some soldiers say ‘I joined for God, country, and whatever else motivated them.’ I believe service can be life changing for most that put in the effort and stay positive. I think with service members; there is a loyalty and a commitment to a sense of values, a sense of belonging and camaraderie, that civilians could benefit from. We just have a different way of thinking or culture. In my book “A GuideOn Education: The 5 Steps to Success Resource Manual for Veterans,” I’ve explained it, using Harry Potter reference. There are Gryffindor and Slytherin, all these different houses. Compare that to your service branches, the Coast Guard, Marines, Navy, Army, Air Force. We are drawn to it for different reasons or almost as if our branch picks us. And then what ends up happening is we end up becoming a byproduct of those siloed leadership styles. So my friend who’s a Marine has a different leadership style than I do or my airforce girlfriend up in Wisconsin in the reserves has a different leadership style than I do.”
“We’re all apart of the Armed Services, a volunteer force in which, I think speaks volumes to what we can bring to an organization. I think that we are very versatile. We are adaptive. We are communicators, where we can group think but we can also be incredibly independent. We just make stuff happen. I feel like Vietnam era veterans is the extreme example of the civilian-military service divide, but I feel nowadays like we are just under a misunderstanding or an inconsistency with what we value and what we believe. For all the transition work that I have done with GuideOn Education Consulting LLC, my work in higher education, and time in service there is a desperate need to bridge the information and resource gaps to meet military life cycle goals that will help our communities. A problem worth solving and something I am very passionate about fixing in small businesses, nonprofits, and institutions of higher learning to tap into our military talent by leveraging existing or creating programming to help veterans and their families transition.”