BOISE, Idaho — When Staff Sgt. Sarah Pak walked the halls of Canyon Ridge High School as a student in 2013, she never imagined her future career would lead her back 10 years later as an educator of high school students at her old alma mater.
“I would have laughed if someone told me I’d be a high school educator one day,” said Pak. “My brother had to convince me to take the job and I’m so glad I did. Now, I have a sense of purpose and it’s these kids.”
Although her purpose may be like other educators, Pak does not look like a normal high school teacher on campus. She does not teach the normal curriculum either. Rather, she wears her Army uniform and serves as full-time Guardsman and instructor of the Idaho Army National Guard’s Military Leadership Program.
Through the Idaho Guard-sponsored and school-facilitated elective program, Pak teaches students at Canyon Ridge and Twin Falls high schools about military culture and career opportunities. She also helps students prepare for their futures while enriching their overall high school experiences.
“I’ve been able to help so many of them find their ways, even those who aren’t interested in the military because it gives them somewhere to belong and something to be part of,” said Pak. “I’m passionate about these kids and in motivating them, which is something I wish I had more of when I was their age.”
Like her students, Pak was looking for her calling while attending Canyon Ridge High School. After graduating, she studied criminology and criminal justice at Arizona State University. She also tried her hand at Air Force ROTC and law enforcement before eventually finding her calling through the Idaho Army National Guard.
“While in ROTC, I learned of the Guard and how I could get in-state tuition, the GI Bill and potentially student loan repayment if I joined,” said Pak. “I joined for the school benefits but didn’t know then that I would end up liking the Guard and staying in it.”
Pak left the ROTC program to enlist into the Arizona National Guard in 2015 as an information technology specialist. In 2019 she transferred into the Idaho Army National Guard after graduating from college. Around the same time, she applied to police departments in Idaho and surrounding states before accepting a position with the Seattle Police Department.
She served for nearly two years as a police officer before leaving Seattle out of concern for her safety when protests broke out across the city in 2020. Since moving back to Idaho, Pak has made lasting impacts within her community, perhaps in a bigger way than she ever could policing.
“Being in Seattle at the time was scary and not a place I wanted to live anymore,” said Pak. “I thought maybe I could try policing in Idaho, but then I broke my knee, which crushed my career. That’s when I fell in love with teaching, and it’s been the most fulfilling thing I’ve done since law enforcement.”
In 2021, Pak took over the Idaho Army National Guard’s Military Leadership Program where she has helped mentor hundreds of ninth through 12th graders, while enabling the organization to expand the program into more schools across the state. She has also assisted nearly a dozen students enlist into the Idaho Army National Guard.
A year after taking over the program, Pak was recognized for her contributions by Brig. Gen. Farin Schwartz, the assistant adjutant general and commander of the Idaho Army National Guard, as well as Command Sgt. Maj. Kevin Dean, the state command sergeant major. They visited her classrooms and presented her with an Army Achievement Medal in front of her students.
This year, Pak was recognized by her school district and the Twin Falls Education Foundation as Teacher of the Month. The award was given to her in April after receiving numerous nominations in January from students at both Canyon Ridge and Twin Falls high schools.
In June, Pak reenlisted into the Idaho Army National Guard for an additional six years.
“I extended with the Idaho Army National Guard because it’s still my calling to be here,” said Pak. “The organization has given me the opportunity to find my passion and a way to improve the futures of others as well as my own. It’s already been an exciting journey and I want to see where my career takes me from here.”