It's not uncommon for someone to have second thoughts about joining a branch of the military. However, that wasn't the case for Monica Cayanong.

Cayanong, a first sergeant with the Army's Veterinary Command at Fort Belvoir, has recorded more than 20 years in a career filled with praise and accommodations. She was recently inducted into the elite Sgt. Audie Murphy Club and has aspirations of one day becoming a sergeant major.
A native of Kalamazoo, Mich., Cayanong believes her decision to join the Army was the best thing that could have happened in life.

"I briefly thought about retiring when I hit my 20-year mark, but the Army has been so good to me I just couldn't give it up," Cayanong said. "The work is personally rewarding and I love being able to collaborate with other Soldiers. It would be tough to walk away from all that."

Recalling her "extreme shyness" as a youth, Cayanong credits the Army for not only developing her leadership skills, but helping her grow as a person. As a member of VETCOM, Cayanong works with nine veterinary clinics in the National Capital Region District. She has been stationed at Belvoir since August 2006.

The agency attends to more than 500 government-owned dogs and assists with food inspections at dining facilities in the region. Besides her main duties of conducting annual safety inspections at clinics, not to mention the occasional taste-testing of different foods prepared for Soldiers, Cayanong recently spearheaded an emergency food and water defense team as part of President Obama's inauguration.

"Without a doubt, I couldn't be doing this job successfully if not for the confidence I've gained from being in the Army," Cayanong said. "I also notice the difference when mentoring Soldiers about their development. To see the light bulb go off after they understand something you've shown or told them is pretty remarkable. That's really gratifying for me."

Aside from her career, Cayanong admits another reason to be grateful to the Army - one that's more of a personal nature. During her first duty assignment in the Philippines more than two decades ago, she met her husband, Eufronio, who she affectionately refers to as "Junior."

They have three children together and their son, Jason, a senior in high school, plans on following his mother's footsteps into the military while studying engineering in college.

"All this got me thinking about how I could give back to the Army. So, I decided to go back to school and get my master's degree in counseling," Cayanong said. "Eventually, my goal is to work with wounded warriors and help them transition back into ordinary life. They do so much for us that it's the least I could do for them."

While Cayanong jokes that she can't officially counsel anyone until her graduation this spring, she does offer some advice that can take servicemembers a long way.

"I would tell people, especially the younger Soldiers, to seek someone out and look for a mentor," Cayanong said. "It's important to learn the ropes from someone with experience and to learn about discipline. The values and respect you gain will last a lifetime."

Page last updated Thu February 12th, 2009 at 10:24