CAMP BONDSTEEL, Kosovo -- Since Sgt. 1st Class Michael Raines joined the U.S. Army under the Active First program in 2009, he hasn’t visited his hometown in Maryland for more than two weeks at a time. The program allows Soldiers to serve on active duty before transitioning to the National Guard.As his initial three-year contract was coming to an end, Raines was deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, so he decided to enlist for another four years of active duty service. He would find out later that his new path would connect him to his family in ways he didn’t expect, even as he spent a majority of those seven years away from home.“There’s an odd number of connections between my grandfather and I in our careers,” said Raines. “I knew he served in World War II when I joined, but I didn’t know the details. That information started coming to me as I progressed through my career.”His grandfather, Lawrence H. Raines, now passed away, was a military police Soldier stationed at Camp Mackall, North Carolina, which is now a sub-installation of Fort Bragg – and where he met Raines’ grandmother. He mobilized to France during World War II. Later on, he would work as a civilian at the Pentagon doing construction jobs.Coincidentally, Raines also joined as military police, and after his deployment, he was stationed at Fort Bragg as a desk sergeant. It was this assignment, he said, where he learned the most about law-and-order operations.Not long after, he was selected for a special assignment at the Pentagon, where he provided security for the Joint Staff.“It was a unique opportunity that was very rewarding,” said Raines. “I got to work with some of the best [noncommissioned officers] in the MP Corps.”As he and his father looked back and connected the dots between their careers, Raines often thinks about the stories that could have been swapped if he were able to sit down with his grandfather to talk.Some of his best memories come from time spent with senior leaders during his Joint Staff assignment. Raines recalled brief but meaningful conversations with former Command Sergeant Major of the Army Daniel Dailey and former Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley.It was during these encounters that Raines said he came to fully understand the “this is my squad” concept, which emphasizes taking care of Soldiers and empowering leaders.“I really enjoyed working with Gen. Milley,” said Raines. “He was very personable and aware of his team that supported him. It’s an amazing experience when you have someone like him not just acknowledge you, but actually ask you questions about who you are. Talked to us as another Soldier, as humans.”The five minutes those leaders took out of their busy schedules to connect with their team humbled Raines and continues to influence how he interacts with his Soldiers as a senior NCO.Cpl. John-Michael Cress is one of those Soldiers. He serves with Raines on his current deployment to Kosovo in support of Regional Command-East, Kosovo Force. But Cress isn’t just another troop in the 29th Military Police Company; they were both raised in Middletown, Maryland, and attended the same high school.Even though Cress joined the Maryland National Guard a year after Raines enlisted as active duty, fate brought them to the same unit just as the 2020 pandemic started. The 29th MPs spent the months leading up to their deployment supporting their state’s COVID-19 response efforts.As the provost sergeant for RC-E, Raines has the rare opportunity to lead MP Soldiers in a law enforcement and force protection mission at Camp Bondsteel, rather than combat support, which is a more common mission assigned to National Guard MP units. He’s in charge of a platoon made up of traffic enforcers, K9 handlers and investigators.Throughout their COVID-19 response and during the first leg of their deployment to Kosovo, Cress has watched Raines remain calm and keep people focused whenever something serious happens.“He’s been there, done that, so when something serious happens, he’s not sweating,” said Cress. “He’s got veins of ice-cold water. Somebody with less experience might be freaking out, heart racing, trying to figure out what they have to do. Not Raines.”Raines was only 20 when he was promoted to the rank of sergeant during his combat deployment to Afghanistan. As he replaced a team leader who was well connected with their Soldiers, Raines knew he would have to earn his squad’s respect and trust.He leaned on his team and allowed himself to be mentored. To this day, he said some of his best friends are Soldiers he operated with in that squad. His experience there is part of what keeps him grounded during those tough moments, and taught him the value of connecting with the people you work with.“When I have a mad moment, or I’m struggling, I think back to that deployment and how everything worked out,” said Raines. “Connections don’t happen overnight. It’s an enduring thing.”Those same lessons have followed Raines into his civilian career after he left active duty. He joined the City of Alexandria Police Department in Virginia in December 2017. When he reported to drill in March 2020, his unit was activated for COVID-19 orders and he never had the chance to return to work.Despite his absence, his coworkers on the midnight patrol haven’t forgotten about him.“I love the crew I work with,” said Raines. “They’ve taken care of me and reached out. It’s nice to feel I’m still being thought about over here because I certainly still think about them.”Between active duty service and gearing up for a National Guard deployment during a global pandemic, Raines hasn’t spent much time with his family. Even after all that time away, Raines said his parents and sister continue to offer their unconditional support – and he’s found a new family along the way.“Being away from home, being away from your normal life, stepping away from your civilian job?” said Raines. “It’s not always easy, and there are going to be times when you don’t feel important or you’re stressed out or just miss your life back home, but we have to work together to get through it. Everyone is feeling it.”