Working for freedom: Speiker says long ranch days prepped her for military
July 4, 2018
At 13 years of age, Sarah (Forgey) Speiker's life became a little easier when her family moved to a Wyoming ranch. She helped with all of the cattle work, haying and more. Plus, when they were old enough, her dad required her and her siblings to either get a job or play sports, so she worked at McDonald's.
"I remember in the summer, dad would wake me up at three in the morning to help him bale hay," Speiker said. "That's when the moisture was right. Then when it was time to go to work, I would go to town for my shift at McDonald's, then come home and go back to work."
Still, it was a less demanding life than they had just left. The family had operated a dairy farm near Okreek, S.D., before moving to the cowboy state. "I started feeding bucket calves around the age of 6. My sisters and I took over milking cows when we got home from school. In the mornings we'd feed calves or milk cows. At age 10, Dad had me in the tractor in the hayfield. That was our life. We went to school and milked cows. In the summer, we put up hay and milked cows."
It's no wonder Speiker, who now lives in Cheyenne, Wyo., eventually adjusted well to military life and has served in leadership positions for the past several years in the Wyoming National Guard.
"I believe ranch life set me up for the military in the sense of self-motivation and integrity," she said. "Doing the right thing, even when nobody is looking. On the ranch, when Dad puts you in charge of something, you'd better do it, and you'd better do it right, whether you like the job or not."
When days were long and weather conditions were less than pleasant, Speiker said she would remind herself that eventually, the day would end. "Those days where it would be freezing cold out in the milk barn, or super hot in the hayfield, the majority of the time the thing that would get me through was knowing the day had to end eventually. I knew that when we finally got done working, I'd be able to get out of the heat or cold or whatever." She would remind herself that she had a job to do, and she needed to complete it.
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When Speiker first wanted to join the National Guard, at age 18, her dad encouraged her to attend college first. "So I kind of let the dream die for a bit," she said. Then when she was 22 and attending Casper College in Casper, Wyo., a friend asked if she wanted to join the guard with her. "I signed up and was gone two months later. It was the best decision I ever made." She has been active in the military for 12 years. The work ethic she learned at a young age was the perfect foundation for military success.
"For instance, we did a pre-deployment exercise in January. It was so cold, I remember having ice on my eyelashes. The weapons were so cold in our hands. But I kept reminding myself that it had to be over eventually."
Despite the mental and physical toughness Speiker gained on the dairy farm and ranch, she said Basic Training was terrifying.
"They keep you from sleeping, they herd you like cattle through the medical lines, people are yelling at you." Again, she said, she just kept reminding herself that the 10 weeks would come to an end, and life would get better.
"Growing up on a ranch with my siblings, we were forced to be a team, forced to work together, to communicate," she said. All of these skills helped make her days at basic training less painful.
While everyone who started basic training with her completed it, except those who were injured, Speiker said those with an agricultural background may have had advantages. "I don't want to discount anyone because there are great people with great worth ethics from every walk of life," said Speiker, adding that she and her friend, a sheep rancher who joined the military with her, may have adjusted to the hard work and challenging situations more easily than some.
Speiker, a staff sergeant, now works full-time for the Wyoming Army National Guard as a criminal intelligence analyst. She said she and eight others in Wyoming help local law enforcement — often they work with the Department of Criminal Investigations — to investigate and halt illegal drug activity throughout the state. Speaker said she "jumped on" the chance to focus on the over-the-counter drug program.
"There is a correlation between drugs and terrorism. Being able to help with the war on drugs, I'm helping with the war on terrorism, too," she said.
In addition to her full-time position battling illegal drugs, Speiker's MOS or military occupational specialty is ammunitions specialist. She and other National Guard soldiers in the Guernsey unit maintain a training facility that is used by hundreds of other troops.
Speiker said her ammunition job isn't "glorious" but adds that "even though it might not be that fun, someone has to do it." She is responsible for the ammunition that is shipped to the training camp for each exercise or training. She ensures that the ammunition is functional and that each unit gets the proper amount and type of ammunition, and she accounts for any that wasn't used during the drill.
Five years ago, Speiker volunteered for a nine-month deployment to Bahrain, in the Persian Gulf, where she served as a team leader with the 133rd engineer company. She and her team of soldiers, as well as other teams, managed security points — overseeing and checking everyone who entered the base. "Everyone in my team was great to work with," she said. Speiker said she enjoyed helping to instill self-motivation and integrity in her soldiers. "Teaching the younger soldiers the importance of doing a job right and doing it right the first time was rewarding."
Her attitude and willingness to go the extra mile has not gone unnoticed. Speiker has received three AAM (Army achievement medals), two ARCOMs which are Army commendation medals and multiple unit coins including a two star general coin. Not willing to share a lot of information about her commendations, she says she doesn't want to brag, and doesn't want to indicate that her fellow soldiers possess any different work ethic. When she earns an award or a compliment, she's usually ready with a response. "I just always say, 'I'm a ranch kid, it's the way I was raised. You have a job to get done."'
Because the National Guard is a branch of the Army, Speiker has taken part in many Army training schools and other activities, always making friends everywhere she goes. "We're all one huge family. That's what I love about the Army. It's amazing how you can meet someone and click with them, even complete strangers."
She has worked with those in the Marines, Air Force and Navy, and believes that the United States has "the best military forces in the world." Because of the volunteer nature of the armed forces, most, if not all, of the servicemen and women "have a love and belief in what they are doing. They joined because they love America," she said.
Speiker's husband Joseph is full-time with the Active Reserve Guard in Cheyenne. The couple have two daughters. Her dad and younger brother raise Angus cattle near Lance Creek, Wyo., and she enjoys helping them with ranch work when time allows.