I am 1st Lt. John Tosti, a combat engineer officer with the 103rd Engineer Battalion, Pennsylvania Army National Guard, Philadelphia, Pa. I have been with the unit for about four years. I attended Penn State University and majored in Kinesiology before joining the Guard. I also have a civilian job at a physical therapy practice.
I joined the Guard because about five years after I graduated from college, I decided that my life was missing something. Although I truly enjoy my job in physical therapy, I wanted to help make a difference in my local community and in the world. I also felt that my life could use a little more excitement and adventure. I did some research and realized the Guard would fill those voids in my life. Also, serving in the Guard would teach me valuable leadership and job skills and assist me with paying off some of the student loans I had accumulated while attending Penn State. The other thing that made the Guard an attractive option for me was that joining the Guard only requires me to serve part-time — I could join the Guard and not disrupt my current career path and goals.
I joined the Guard and attended basic training at Fort Sill, Okla. At basic training, I qualified for an accelerated Officer Candidate School program that the Army offered. I accepted the offer to attend OCS and then attended training at Camp Fretterd, Md., and Fort Indiantown Gap, Pa. I was commissioned as a second lieutenant upon completion of OCS. At that point, I decided to make the combat engineer field my Army career path. Engineering interested me and I thought I could potentially enhance my career outside of the Guard. I attended the Army Engineer Basic Officer Leadership Course at Fort Leonard Wood, Mich., to become qualified as an Army engineering officer.
I graduated EBOLC and was assigned my first leadership role as a platoon leader with the 103rd Eng. Bn. As a platoon leader, I was responsible for the health and welfare of 50 Guard Soldiers. I was able to positively affect the lives of my fellow platoon members in this role, including assisting one of the first female Soldiers from the Pennsylvania Army National Guard in getting into a combat training school. I also trained with my platoon to help the community during natural disasters. I was also able to assist some of my platoon members to attend higher education courses and gain employment.
In September 2015, my platoon was also fortunate enough to be called upon to support the pope’s visit to Philadelphia. The pope was there to participate in the World Meeting of Families. This was a momentous event for the city and a personal honor for me to be a part of. My platoon’s task during the visit was to assist with security for the WMF. We were responsible to ensure that vehicular and pedestrian traffic flowed properly and that all participants were safe and secure while in our area. We also assisted participants who were lost or had questions on their way to the festivities. I worked long hours during this mission but found it extremely fun and rewarding.
I was later given another opportunity to help make a difference in my community. This time, the Guard asked me to serve in a teacher/mentor role for high school students in Pa. I accepted the job and became the program director of the PA Guard’s Science Technology, Engineering, and Math program and their Student Leadership Development Program. These classes are part of the PA Guard’s High School Enrichment Programs. They are offered to any Pennsylvania high school and technical college free of charge. My responsibility as program manager is to teach these presentations in the classroom. This work is very rewarding because I am able to interact with students and mentor them on topics such as critical thinking and problem solving, leadership, and STEM-related challenges.
My overall experience in the Guard has been very good. The Guard has allowed me to help people in my community and make a difference in the world. I have also been given the opportunity to attend excellent leadership skill training courses, received money to help pay off my college loans, and I receive a paycheck for my part-time service. I recommend that anyone who is interested in the Guard reach out and get more information by going to nationalguard.com/PA.