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Sgt. First Class Guillermo Bonilla stands in front of the Connersville National Guard Armoryas Guard membersprepare for a weekend deployment.
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Sgt. First Class Guillermo Bonilla, right, runs in the 5K for the Child abuse Prevention Council. Next to him, partly hidden, is Cody Tudor, a Lincoln High School student participating in a program for high schoolers who have signed up to join the military.

By BOB HANSEN - bhansen@newsexaminer.com

Making his way around local towns and schools in camouflage and a soldier’s boots, Guillermo Bonilla is visible. That’s as he wants it.

Sgt. First Class Bonilla is the recruiting and retention officer at the Indiana National Guard’s Connersville armory. A veteran of 20 years service, he’s been on this job since February.

His job is to make sure that people learn about the benefits of serving in the National Guard so the state’s militia can be kept at full strength. He also speaks with Guard members before their tour of duty is up, helping them see why they should stay in, if they are eligible.

Some of his work involves going to local high schools and speaking with students. He went to a nutrition class and talked about MRE’s – meals ready to eat – that help feed soldiers on field deployments. He goes to career fairs and he’s been a guest speaker at classes. He staffs information booths in schools or county fairs and festivals. He’s participated in public activities such as the 5K run for the Prevent Child Abuse Council.

Indiana, says Bonilla, has the 14th-largest National Guard in the United States, with 14,000 soldiers and 2,000 airmen. Only about 1,500, like him, are on active duty. The rest go through basic training and then do monthly training drills or deployments on weekends and a couple of weeks each summer.

“We are citizen soldiers,” Bonilla said. “We serve out of our communities.”

Bonilla is a natural salesman for the National Guard. He explains the benefits and, if a person is interested, helps them enroll. 

“As a recruiter, you’re not a salesman, you are a problem-solver,” he said. “If you tell me you just want to get out of Brookville or Cambridge City, I’ll tell you how the Guard can pay for your education. In 39 days a year, we can teach you to be a mechanic or how to build the (computer) networks.”

Some high school students enlist during their junior or senior year. They cannot be deployed until they graduate – “If they fail school, they’re out,” Bonilla says – but they can be part of a recruit sustainment detachment. In that, they have monthly training weekends and then 10 weeks of basic training in the summer.

Cody Tudor, 17, is a student at Cambridge City Lincoln High School who said he told the school guidance counselor that he wanted to be in the Army. He met Bonilla and signed up for the Guard on April 2.

He is enjoying his experiences in MEPS, short for Military Entrance Processing Station. He ran with Bonilla in the April 14 5K for the Child Abuse Prevention Council.

Bonilla, who was born in Honduras and lived there until emigrating to the U.S. at age 10, grew up on the East Coast and joined the National Guard in Massachusetts. He and his family live in Brookville. By training, he is military police. 

He joined the National Guard because of the job’s benefits, including college education, he said. “They told me I’d never be deployed.”

He has served active duty in Afghanistan and Iraq and, in this country, worked airport security after the Sept. 11 attack and clean-up after Hurricane Katrina.

Another early enrollee who works with Bonilla is Cameron Zippin, 22, who moved to Connersville from Kentucky a couple of years ago. He helped on a downtown trash pickup effort May 4.

Of the National Guard, he said, “I feel like it will help me better myself and open new opportunities.” He is hoping for a law enforcement career. 

Bonilla’s job here involves making lots of connections in each of the several communities in which he works. 

It is hard not to catch his enthusiasm.

 “I don’t see myself as anything else,” Bonilla said. “I live and breathe the Guard. When I was doing weekends, where else could you do the 9 to 5 and then on the weekend be in a helicopter or a Humvee?”