By Steve Larson
Public Affairs Office
Kansas Adjutant General's Department
Spc. Xochilt Gough is one of many Kansas National Guardsmen serving the citizens of Kansas in the state's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, assisting with COVID-19 vaccinations. And like all of her fellow Guardsmen, she has a story that is uniquely her own.
Her story began when she came to the United States as Xochilt Morales at the age of five with her parents, Efrain and Evilia.
'I was undocumented for 23 years of my life,' said Gough. 'I had the blessing of becoming a DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) recipient in 2016 and through marriage became a conditional resident.'
Gough grew up in Garden City, where the dream of becoming a member of the Kansas National Guard began to blossom.
'I have wanted to join the National Guard since I was a kid and watched the commercials of the humanitarian aid they would provide,' she said. 'Unfortunately, I did not have the right documentation to join until recently. The moment I received my conditional residency, I found a recruiter and enlisted.'
That recruiter was Sgt. Tanner Julian, a member of the Kansas Army National Guard's Recruiting and Retention Battalion in Dodge City. At the time of her enlistment, Gough's brothers, Sgt. Efrain Morales with the Recruiting Retention Battalion, Hutchinson, and 2nd Lt. Jorge Morales with the 1161st Forward Support Company, Wichita, were already members of the Kansas National Guard.
'She is actually a family member of one of our other recruiters,' Julian said. 'She saw what her brother was doing in the Guard, so she reached out to us. At first, she was just gathering information. She came to us at a time when we had a lot of changes in the recruiting policy.'
Julian said Gough was very resilient, waiting the required year for a background check before she was allowed to join.
'I enlisted in April 2019,' said Gough, a member of the 1st Battalion, 635th Armor Regiment. 'I was already 31 years old at the time of enlistment. Enlisting gave me a sense of validation. I needed to fully belong to this country.
'My parents are proud to have all three of their children in the service,' she said.
Gough worked as an orthodontist assistant for six years in Garden City before joining the Kansas National Guard.
'I quit my civilian job in Garden City right before I left to BCT (basic combat training), since my husband was working in Colorado Springs at the time, so I could spend time with him before I left.'
Gough enlisted in the Kansas National Guard as a 68W, a combat medic, which she admits was not her first choice.
'Since I was not a citizen, my clearance level limited my options,' said Gough. 'It was the best thing that could have happened to me. This was pre-COVID. I didn't know the doors it was opening to be a part of what I saw as a child!'
Becoming a combat medic entailed an initial six weeks that included emergency medical technician training and passing the test for National Registry of Emergency Medicine Technicians before moving into the second, 10-week training period.
'The second phase is called the 'whiskey phase' and it is where we get to learn limited primary care, ground evacuation, triage and combat medical skills,' Gough explained.
Gough had the opportunity to put her training to use almost immediately. She graduated during the start of the pandemic and was activated a month later with the COVID-19 Task Force for an in-state deployment.
'I was sent to Seward County from April 30 through December 31, 2020,' said Gough. 'I met wonderful people in the community and stayed as a civilian contract employee for two months (after her orders ended.) Then, I had another opportunity of being activated for the mobile vaccine mission.' The new mission brought her full circle back to Seward County.
In addition to administering vaccine, Gough puts her bilingual skills to good use.
'I get the opportunity to assist the translators for the Spanish-speaking community,' she explained. 'Southwest Kansas has a very large Hispanic population per capita within the state and our vaccine sites do an outstanding job providing translators.'
However, her service has not come without some personal costs. Married for five years now, she is currently apart from her husband, Andy, and her home in Texas.
'As it did to many others across our nation, COVID-19 changed our lives and took us from Colorado Springs to San Antonio,' Gough said. She said her activation came at a time when their finances were in trouble due to her husband's job layoff.
'We had just bought a home in Colorado,' she said. 'I graduated on March 20 with no employment and my husband was released from employment March 24 during the pandemic. The activation kept us afloat and allowed my husband time to find new employment.'
Although her husband is not a member of the Guard, Gough said he is extremely supportive.
'He knows how long I have been waiting for this opportunity,' she said. 'My husband and I stay in touch through phone calls, video chats and he comes up to see me when possible. I'm not going to lie; I have cried a little to Kane Brown's 'Homesick.''
However, Gough said being back in Kansas for this mission has given her the chance to see her brothers and parents more frequently.
Joining the Guard allowed her to apply for U.S. citizenship, which was finalized March 15 of this year. Becoming a U.S. citizen is an opportunity she is passionate about sharing with others.
'I work with her quite a bit,' said Julian. 'My demographic is very heavily Hispanic. She's extremely passionate about helping immigrants and she knows how I've helped her. She sends me people all the time. She's passionate about helping people get their citizenship.'
Julian said Gough is 'one of the hardest working Soldiers I have.'
'She is extremely motivated,' said Julian. 'Once she sets her mind on something, she makes it happen.'
Gough intends to remain in the National Guard and transfer to the Texas National Guard when she is able.
'With all the opportunities the Guard has to offer, I would love to make the Guard a career,' said Gough, adding that she definitely would recommend joining the National Guard to her friends and family.
'The camaraderie, the experiences and sense of pride you feel putting on the uniform to serve the community you grew up in are one of a kind.'