Soldier’s academic goals not cancelled during COVID-19

U.S. Army Spc. Courtney Casale, of the California Army National Guard’s 250th Intelligence Battalion, left, provides an extra set of eyes on residents' possessions, April 16, 2020, while working at a temporary shelter inside the Silverado Community Center in Long Beach, California. She is working the shelter mission full time while completing her full time classes online through Palomar College. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Katie Grandori)
April 23, 2020

LONG BEACH, Calif. – A typical day for U.S. Army Spc. Courtney Casale, a Soldier the California Army National Guard’s 250th Intelligence Battalion, starts early with her 6 a.m. shift at a shelter in Long Beach. The day will not end until late at night – after she has worked out and studied for college – but her morale and determination remain high.

Casale is currently attached to the 315th Vertical Construction Company to provide assistance to Southern California communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. This week she is staffing a Long Beach shelter, and at night she studies chemistry and math in her nearby hotel room.

“I have to sacrifice a lot of free time and even my sleep time too, but in the end, it is all going to be worth it,” said Casale. “I never give up what I start.”

Casale is a sophomore at Palomar College in San Marcos, California, where she studies marine biology. “I want to study the anatomy and behavior of sharks, and someday, I also want to rescue coral reefs.”

Like many others, COVID-19 disrupted her plans for the year. On March 30, 2020, Palomar College moved all classes online. The decision was hard on Casale.

“I don’t think I can explain how bad it made me feel,” she said. “When it actually shut down, they didn’t know what they were going to do about it.”

Despite the hardships of adapting to a new online education system, Casale is determined to make good grades so next year she can achieve her goal of transferring to either California State University, Long Beach, or San Diego State University.

When she first activated to support the state’s pandemic response effort, she was concerned her goals would no longer be possible, but her commanders allow her time to attend live online lectures and take exams.

“One thing I really appreciate from being on this mission is that they actually do prioritize college students who are taking classes,” said Casale.

Casale is in her third week of activation. She has assisted at a food bank in Indio and now she is at the Silverado Community Center in Long Beach acting as staff for the one of the city’s temporary shelters.

Cal Guard Soldiers in the Long Beach area are currently working daily rotations at two shelters. They work for eight days followed by four rest days.

Casale uses her down time to finish three classes: chemistry lecture, chemistry lab and college algebra.

“The homework that you get for math can take you an hour or three hours,” said Casale of the workload. “Everyone knows chemistry is a hard subject. You really have to grasp it. If you don’t truly understand it, you are just going to fall behind.”

To deal with the stress, she works out. “I’ve been going on runs every day. I’m a beach person, so I am excited to be here in Long Beach,” said Casale. “The beach is my happy place.”

Despite the added hardship of going to school full time while also working the mission full time, she is happy to be helping in the community.

“As long as you are staying positive and helping other people, that is what matters the most,” Casale said. “That’s the thing that is going to get you through a lot of things in life.”

Casale is working hard and pushing through, but there is one thing she’s looking forward to after school and the COVID-19 pandemic are over.

“I think a really nice homecooked meal sounds good.”