Pvt. Cara N. Chilton, of St. Ann, says the Missouri National Guard has changed her life for the better after just six months of service. She is a heating and air conditioning technician with the 1035th Support Maintenance Company at Jefferson Barracks in South County. (Bill Phelan photo)
FESTUS, Mo. - It sounds cliché, but Pvt. Cara N. Chilton actually enlisted in the Missouri Army National Guard to be all she can be.
"My parents tried to steer me away from that path because they didn't know all the facts," said the 21-year-old St. Ann resident. "So I went out on my own, spoke to a recruiter and did some fact-finding. In the long run, I discovered the National Guard would benefit my education and my career and help me develop my leadership skills; that it would help me prepare for whatever life placed in front of me."
As a graduate of Ladue High School (class of 2009) Chilton certainly had other options than the military, a fact her friends and family repeatedly pointed out.
"When I told my family and friends of my decision to enlist the reaction were definitely not a good one," she said smiling. "They couldn't understand why I would want to take my life there, but as I began my training they all began to accept it and support me. It's all cool now."
Like many National Guard recruits, Chilton's introduction to military life came through the Recruit Sustainment Program at the Festus armory. The program provides new recruits with basics in Army drill and protocol before they attend basic Army combat training. Always the team player, Chilton recently returned to RSP drill in Festus, this time as an instructor assistant.
Chilton now speaks of the military with such conviction that one might think she's a recruiter. Instead, she is a heating and air conditioning specialist with the St. Louis-based 1035th Support Maintenance Company at Jefferson Barracks.
"That type of certification would normally cost about $5,000 but I got it free from the Guard," Chilton said. "Talk about a great opportunity!"
And after just six months of service, Chilton says the Guard has already changed her life for the better.
"It's had a tremendous impact on my life," she said. "My views are different; my morals are better and I care more about myself. I try to keep myself in peak physical condition and I'm just more comfortable with myself. I'm also much more patriotic than I used to be."
Chilton plans to return to college and seek a nursing degree, a path to perhaps someday becoming a doctor and a commissioned officer.
"It took me a while to wrap my mind around leading soldiers because it is such an awesome responsibility, but I've decided that is what I want to do," she said.
Asked if she had any regrets about joining the National Guard, Chilton is quick to put such notions to rest.
"I have absolutely no regrets what-so-ever," she said. "It's astonishing to think that only 1-percent of the American population serves in the military, but it is good to a part of the 1-percent. I'm very proud to wear this uniform and serve my country."
Pvt. Chilton is the daughter if Keith and Brenda Chilton.
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