Citizen-Soldiers: the Soldier behind the rank (part 1)

By Staff Sgt. Tina VillalobosDecember 29, 2017

The Soldier behind the rank
(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait -- Citizen-Soldiers bring with them an abundance of diverse talents, skills, and education. These attributes are often reflected in transferable work skills that enrich both their military and civilian careers, and they can bring a higher level of sophistication than required by their military occupational specialty.

Differences among National Guard and Reserve Soldiers as compared to their active duty counterparts make it particularly important for Army leaders to take the time to get to know their troops and discover what hidden assets could be on the team. Unlike many civilian jobs, Soldiers can sometimes be tasked to do work outside of their MOS as they mission dictates, and civilian experience and education may prove useful to aid their command to complete a special project or task.

"One of the biggest things to know is what your Soldiers are doing in the civilian world, because you never know what is going to come up," explained Capt. Jason Price, headquarters support company commander, 35th Infantry Division. "The Soldier might be a mechanic for the Guard, but might be a financial advisor at home and that knowledge may become useful to help everyone out. You definitely want to tap into those resources.

"I can think of a few times here where we have asked for specific civilian career skills to help alleviate a problem. I think that's something that the Guard and Reserve Soldiers have that no one else does," he added.

Some of these Soldiers enjoy the differences between their civilian and military work. Others have identified how to incorporate their civilian education, skills, and experiences to benefit their unit, and enhance their own capacity to complete a mission. Still others may do the same work on both sides and have the opportunity to enrich their ability to contribute all around.

Here are just a few of their stories.


Sgt. 1st Class Sokly Lach, an intelligence analyst with the 35th Infantry Division, is passionate about both of his careers and the contributions his civilian experiences provide to enrich his work within the unit.

"My civilian skills and education have definitely been a backbone to my success," said Lach. "Everything I have learned on the civilian side has improved everything I do on the intelligence side, because a lot of it is computer type of work, such as data base management and networking."

According to Lach, as an intelligence analyst, a great deal of his work is computer-driven, and having in-depth technological capabilities allows him to contribute at a higher level than would have otherwise been possible.

Lach's parents fled Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge regime (1975-1979), in which more than a million people were mass-murdered across Cambodia. The family walked from Cambodia to Thailand, and subsequently found themselves in a refugee camp. In a turn of good fortune, the family was sponsored by a church group to move to America. Although born in Thailand, Lach was raised in the U.S. and became an American citizen in 2004.

"My military training has helped me, because I really had a tough time growing up," said Lach. "We didn't have a lot. We struggled every day trying to survive. I didn't have my father at home."

Lach's father passed away when he was four years old, leaving his mother to fend for herself and her five children. With a ready smile, Lach explained that his fascination with numbers began when he was just five years old and tasked with filling out checks for his mother to sign. She did not speak English fluently at the time, and relied upon her son to help her with completing these important tasks. He gained a sense of responsibility, accountability, and leadership in the process.

As a teen, Lach longed to communicate fluently in Cambodian. He went to visit with cousins in California and hoped to improve his Cambodian language skills. Interestingly, although now Catholic, Lach became a Buddhist monk at 17 years old through the urging of a cousin during a visit to California. He decided to become a monk as a way to honor his father.

He explained that there are many misconceptions about being a monk -- chiefly that it is a life-long commitment. Rather, according to Lach, it provides the individual with the knowledge to properly perform cultural and ceremonial rites. He explained that his monk training taught him patience and the ability to deal with a variety of situations.

"It was pretty difficult. You have to go to prayers all day. I was 17," said Lach. "The days were very regimented. You had to wake up early in the morning and eat breakfast. You could only eat between breakfast and lunch. You had to fast the rest of the day. It was a tough 6 months. I was isolated. We just stayed in the temple."

Given that the temple was an environment where only Cambodian was spoken, Lach attained his goal of learning fluency in Cambodian.

At 37 years old, Lach is now a seasoned military veteran, currently in the midst of his third enlistment and fourth deployment. He has experienced challenges in his personal and professional life that have tested his resolve and built his strength.

"In Iraq, a lot of stuff changed," said Lach. "It was a different type of warfare that we were not used to. It was an eye opener. There were a lot of scary moments with IEDs, RPGs, and getting shot at. Ultimately, I'm still here today, and I am grateful to everyone I worked with and to the Soldiers that lost their lives. I want to keep that and carry it with me. There were people that sacrificed themselves, so we can keep doing what we're doing; whatever that is."

As a husband and father of two young boys, Lach has his eyes set on the future. He is currently wrestling with a decision to retire at 20 years of service, or perhaps to apply to become a warrant officer and continue serving.

(Editor's Note: This is part one of a four-part series on "The Soldier behind the rank.")

Related Links:

Citizen-Soldiers: the Soldier behind the rank (part 2)

Citizen-Soldiers: the Soldier behind the rank (part 3)

Citizen-Soldiers: the Soldier behind the rank (part 4)