RAPID CITY, S.D. - For one South Dakota Army National Guard Soldier, service to her state and country is just one reason she decided to join the military.

Spc. Tatiana Lafferty, a carpentry masonry specialist with the 155th Engineer Company out of Rapid City, always had the vision to serve in the armed forces like several of her family members but life's hindrances complicated that decision.

"My mother used to be in the active duty Army, and I always wanted to serve in the Army, but my cousin was in the Guard a few years before I joined and he made it sound pretty cool," said Lafferty. "I decided to join the Guard too because you can still have your civilian self and go to school while serving in the military."

Although she wanted to follow in the footsteps of her mother, Lafferty is a single mother and the choice to serve and not affect her son's life dramatically is what led her to join the Guard.

"Another reason I didn't go active duty is because I didn't want to drag him all over," said Lafferty. "I get the opportunity to serve at home and still be near my son - that's important to me."

With it being Native American Heritage Month, Lafferty reflects on what it means to her to be Native American and to serve her community, state and nation.

"It makes me feel proud because there's not many Native Americans that actually join the military," said Lafferty. "I wish more Native Americans would serve so they can see how the military could make their life better."

On the civilian side, Lafferty works full-time with Indian Health Services in Rapid City as a dental technician and really enjoys the aspects of her job because it brings her comfort to help other Native Americans in her community.

"It's nice to help Native Americans because being Native myself, I think they feel more comfortable," said Lafferty. "It's a really cool job because we mainly perform oral surgeries and I get to make incisions and drill bones."

Her experience with IHS inspired her to take her profession to the next level and go back to school full-time.

"I thought about becoming a dentist but I didn't want to be that old when I got my degree," said Lafferty. "For the short-term, I picked nursing and I want to be in the ER scene because I like to work with trauma and the excitement of it."

Even though she is a single mother, full-time student and employed full-time, Lafferty says she feels her part-time service with the SDARNG doesn't interfere with her other obligations.

"I feel the Guard doesn't impact my personal life at all - I have a really supportive employer and my family is so supportive and ready if I have to leave for anything," said Lafferty. "It is pretty hard balancing it all but things seem to fall into place - it's made me appreciate my family a ton because they help watch my son while I'm at school or work."

While she works in a largely male-dominant unit with the Guard, she doesn't feel different by those she works with, as she is one of two females in the unit that participates with engineer projects.

"It's a hard trade, but the unit doesn't back down from letting me do the tough jobs - I'm treated like one of 'the guys'," said Lafferty. "I also thought it'd be cool to learn skills that can be used at home too; it's just a really cool trade."

Lafferty also likes how the unit does projects that support the community and state.

"It makes me feel happy that we get the chance to help out with our projects so that others don't have to," said Lafferty. "The civilians greatly appreciate the National Guard and they'll bring us coffee and donuts or open up their shops so we can use their restrooms; it's really neat."

She also puts in as much time as she can with community service.

"I help feed the homeless on Sundays," said Lafferty. "I first started because it was a requirement for one of my classes, but I took it upon myself to continue to do it and now my coworkers are involved and they'll bring coats and other donations - it's awesome to see the involvement."

Ultimately, Lafferty attributes the person she has become today to the Guard and how it's shaped her both personally and professionally.

"The Guard has helped me as a leader and now at work, I've picked up a lot of additional duties; like timekeeping, tracking everyone's leave and scheduling," said Lafferty. "The Guard has made me a better person overall - I'm braver, stronger and kinder - and the benefits don't hurt.

"If you are able to, I would say to join because it makes you a better person and teaches you how to appreciate more things in your life."