BOISE, Idaho – Born in the Dominican Republic, Pfc. Heily Groberg traveled a great distance to become a U.S. citizen and then an Idahoan. Once here, however, she did not have to go far to help make a difference in her community.
Near where she calls home, Groberg is helping the Idaho National Guard lower COVID-19 cases in a Native American community of more than 14,000 members.
“Just an hour away from where I live, there was a community struggling,” said Groberg. “We were able to come in and help make their community safer and educate them on things they can do to make sure the cases stay low.”
In December, Groberg was one of several hundred Idaho Guard members who volunteered to mobilize to district health centers, hospitals, health care facilities and medical centers after Gov. Brad Little activated the Guard as COVID-19 cases increased throughout the state.
Since then, she has been one of the about 50 other Citizen-Soldiers and Airmen to partner with the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes and the Indian Health Service at the Fort Hall Indian Reservation in Pocatello. Together, they have helped track and limit the spread of COVID-19. Throughout the duration of the partnership cases have fallen from more than 850 to less than five.
“It’s been an amazing experience and I’ve loved interacting with the people, especially the youth,” said Groberg. “Kids don’t really understand how the pandemic impacts the community, just like I only had my families’ stories of when I was a child traveling to the U.S. on 9/11.”
Groberg’s father was born and raised in Utah but met her mother while visiting the Dominican Republic on a mission for his church. He flew back and forth between the two countries before her mother’s visa was issued. The three of them boarded a plane together on Sept. 11, 2001, and were in flight when the attacks on the World Trade Center occurred in New York City.
“I was really young, but my uncle who retired from the Army used to tell me a lot about how 9/11 impacted the U.S. and the military,” said Groberg. “Those stories have always left an imprint in the back of my mind about the importance of helping people and serving a higher purpose.”
After graduating high school in Tennessee, she moved to Idaho for college, having remembered her father’s beloved stories of his teenage adventures in the area. Although she later decided college was not for her, Groberg stayed in the area and enlisted into the Idaho Army National Guard as a supply specialist in 2019.
“I enlisted because I wanted to be part of something bigger than myself,” said Groberg. “There’s something fulfilling that comes from being part of the Guard, whose main goal is to help everyone be successful and safe.”
Although she is only 20 years old, Groberg said her experiences with the Guard and tribes have already given her a new purpose. She now wants to return to school and become a teacher.
“I want to teach kids to know that their life has an impact on society and that everyone working together helps make a community what it is,” Groberg said.