ARLINGTON, Va. (Army News Service, Feb. 28, 2008) - Pvt. Raymond Loree has become the first Army National Guard Soldier to graduate directly into the active Army's ranks through a new program called Active First.

Loree graduated one station unit training (OSUT) at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., on Feb. 22. He enlisted on Oct. 18 through the Active First program, under which recruits commit to service in the active duty Army followed by service in the National Guard. Recruits enlist in the Army Guard and attend monthly drills until initial entry training (IET) is complete.

Following IET, Soldiers can serve up to 48 months of active duty with the option to continue an active-duty career or return to their Guard unit. Bonuses of up to $60,000 can be obtained by completing the program. Loree, who enlisted for 48 months, is scheduled to receive $40,000. Married with two young children, he said the money will help his family.

The National Guard has been tasked with enlisting 1,600 recruits through Active First during the 2008 fiscal year; 984 Soldiers had been recruited through Feb. 20, according to Sgt. 1st Class David Hawkins, Active First lead project manager.

Loree is following a long-standing family tradition by serving in the military. A sister is serving in the Army in Afghanistan, and a cousin is in Kuwait. At least six other immediate family members, including both parents, are either retired from the armed forces or currently serving. His father spent more than 18 years in the Marines. His mother wore Air Force blue.

"It's my time to serve my country," Loree said by telephone from Fort Leonard Wood, where he completed a 20-week OSUT, emerging as a combat engineer. "Growing up as a kid, I looked up to my dad. I always wanted to serve our country. I get to keep the tradition going."

Loree said he told his family: "You guys did it for me, now I'm doing it for you guys."

The 22-year-old tried civilian life first, working as a salesman. "I went to work dreading it every morning," he said.

That changed during the rigors of Basic Combat Training. "I feel motivated," Loree said. "It's very motivating knowing that I can get up in the morning serving my country."

Staff Sgt. Shane Carvella was one of Loree's drill sergeants. "He listens," Carvella said. "He understands. He asked a lot of questions. He tries to prove himself a little more because of the weight that he has on his shoulders."

That's the weight of tradition and the weight of leading the way Active First.

Loree said the rifle range, where he shot a variety of weapons besides the M-16 rifle, and obstacle courses were highlights of his training. "Dealing with the cold weather in Missouri is the hardest thing about Basic," he said.

(Staff Sgt. Jim Greenhill serves with the National Guard Bureau. Sgt. Mike R. Smith also contributed to this report.)