Civilian experience leads to unique opportunity, mission enhancement during pandemic

Photo By Sgt. 1st Class Jordan Werme | First Lt. Ashley Noel, 143rd Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, poses for a photograph. Noel is the Officer in Charge of a warehouse holding Department of Public Health personal protective gear and hospital equipment waiting to be distributed to hospitals, alternative care facilities, and first responders.

There’s a common theme among reasons why United States Service Members choose to serve: they often want to make a difference. And in situations where the National Guard is called upon to assist their communities during times of crisis, it is the unique nature of the National Guard that allows its members to make that difference.

Because National Guard Service Members are also community members and often hold civilian jobs very different from their military careers, there are skill sets hidden within the force that can make any given mission that much more successful. Meet 1st Lt. Ashley Noel, 143rd Combat Sustainment Support Battalion.

Noel began her military career a decade ago as a combat medic with the 192nd Engineer Battalion, an enlisted Soldier looking to make a difference as a medical professional. But when members of the 143rd CSSB were called upon to provide assistance during a pandemic, it wasn’t her medical background that proved the difference maker.

As the 143rd is a logistics focused unit, it is often tasked with supply distribution during state emergencies. But in this particular case the mission involved managing a warehouse of more than 170 thousand square feet, coordinating civilian and military personnel, and providing life-saving personal protective equipment to first responders and hospitals. It required experience.

“My expertise is warehouse management and distribution,” said Noel. “This is similar to what I do on the civilian side. So I was able to ease everyone into [the mission] due to the warehouse management aspect of it.”

Noel has more than six years’ experience in warehouse management, including two for a major online retailer, and currently does the same for a large plastics fabrication company in Connecticut.

“When we got here it was just a completely empty warehouse,” said Noel. “We were starting from zero. Just establishing where we’re going to put everything, how we’re going to put it there, how we’re going to inventory everything, how we’re going to manage the system is kind of where I came into play.”

The distribution mission began in late March, taking deliveries and building stock, and was running 24 hours a day with Soldiers and civilians working in shifts to ensure a smooth operation. Noel was installed as the Officer in Charge for first shift, with other qualified leaders performing the role during other shifts.

“When we were reviewing the in-processing paperwork for the Soldiers who came on for the mission,” said Capt. Ulrick Brice, 143rd CSSB, overall OIC for the mission, “we saw that she had warehouse management experience, so we knew we wanted her on board.”

“For any kind of operation like this,” said Noel, “any kind of distribution center, you need to have the foundation and fundamentals. Even though this is an extremely manual process, with my experience … I was able to establish the foundation to what we have now, and now we’re just cruising through it.”

Managing the warehouse mission is not the only challenge Noel is facing during this period. Due to the impact of the pandemic on normal operations, Noel was unable to integrate into the CSSB under normal conditions. So when she was called in to help, it was to work with people she hadn’t yet had the opportunity to meet or work with before. Following her time with the 192nd, Noel was transferred to the 169th Aviation Battalion in early 2020 before another reassignment to the CSSB in March. Integrating into a new unit as a leader can present its difficulties, but Noel was pleased with the transition.

“This is a great team with great leadership, and they made me feel comfortable immediately, so the transition has been easy,” she said.
Transition has been another common element during Noel’s military career. She initially enlisted as a medic, but then chose to transition to the officer corps and away from medical care into logistics.

“I think my plan was always to become an officer,” she said. “I completed my freshman year of college and then I joined the National Guard, served as a medic for five years before going to OCS. As an officer I can see that I can make more of difference, and that’s why I wanted to make that transition.”

Noel’s path to service and career trajectory may be shared by countless other service members, but her ability to make a difference during this pandemic emergency is unique to the nature of the Guard.

“I think it’s important to know that not a lot of people do this and it is an extreme honor to be a part of it,” said Noel. “I think if anyone is interested in joining, just really think about it – it is a really good opportunity, it provides you with stability and it definitely makes you know life is worth living. You know you have a purpose, and it’s never boring.”