Spc. Michael LaBrot has only been in the Missouri National Guard for a year and a half, but the 10-year educator uses that to prove what’s possible.
“I want to show my students, as well as my own children, that they can achieve big things at any point in their life,” said LaBrot, an industrial technology teacher at Liberty High School in Missouri’s Wentzville School District.
LaBrot, who joined the Missouri National Guard in 2021 at 40 years old, said both of his grandfathers served in the branch during World War II, and his father served in the Missouri National Guard.
“I’ve always wanted to do my part to serve, but for whatever reason it didn’t work out before,” LaBrot said. “I didn’t know if I could join at my age but decided to try anyway. It took a lot of hard work from some really good people, but I finally got the call on May 3, 2021, that my age waiver had been approved. I shipped out to BCT, completed that and AIT at Fort Leonard Wood and returned home late October 2022.”
LaBrot, however, is not the only guardsman in the Wentzville School District. Staff Sgt. Marc Tiernan, who serves with the 131st Bomb Wing in the Air National Guard, is a fine and practical arts content leader for the teaching and learning team at Wentzville School District.
“As a former student at the school and in the Wentzville School District, I knew from an early age that I wanted to return to my school district and serve as a teacher because I had been lucky enough to have wonderful teachers who believed in me, supported me and inspired me to one day do the same with younger generations,” said Tiernan, who credits the Guard for opening his eyes to the benefits and resources available for service members.
His own military service has helped him “advise students, teachers and parents with questions about the military and specifically the Air National Guard.”
“While I was always a disciplined and confident person who held leadership roles, I believe my time at BMT [Basic Military Training] helped me further develop those skills, allowing me to perform my civilian duties better than before, especially because of the physical, mental and emotional challenges that I faced during my time in basic training,” Tiernan said.
Maj. Kenneth Kasten, who serves in the Air National Guard and is an assistant principal at Wentzville Middle School, echoed Tiernan’s sentiment. Kasten said his military training “has definitely helped” in a leadership role because the military teaches its members to think quickly, handle stress under pressure and manage chaos.
Kasten first enlisted in the Air National Guard 20 years ago and served as an F-15 crew chief. After being promoted to technical sergeant, he transitioned to a maintenance officer within the 131st Bomb Wing (previously 131st Fighter Wing), where he currently serves as commander for the Maintenance Operations Flight. His experience from enlisted to officer allowed him to gain knowledge and build skills from both sides of the coin. Kasten said he believes that has helped ease him into his current role as assistant principal.
“Both careers have been complementary to each other, and they are both service roles to which I have been drawn to my entire working career, especially because both my parents were teachers, so teaching was already in my DNA,” Kasten said.
Also in his DNA, Kasten later discovered, was serving in the military.
“My grandfather passed away at a young age, and in the family we never talked about him that much because my grandmother remarried,” Kasten said. “Though I first joined the military as a way to help pay for college, I later learned that my grandfather was a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force and as life would have it, our careers turned out to be quite similar.”
Balancing their teaching career and military service is not easy, however, given the demands that both roles require. Each has taken significant time away from their teaching roles to attend training, TDYs and deployments.
“I check in with my superintendent periodically between drills and she in turn sends emails or texts if there’s anything that needs my attention,” Kasten said.
Tiernan said he remains organized and keeps lines of communication open with coworkers and family.
Students, fellow teachers and the entire Wentzville School District have made their guardsmen feel supported and appreciated, especially while they fulfill their military service.
“My students and teachers have made me cards and sent care packages when I have been away, a sweet gesture that reminded me of why I chose to serve my country not only as a military service member, but also as a teacher,” Tiernan said.
Similarly, Kasten said leadership has “always been very supportive,” remembering how he was able to carry out military duties thanks to his “principal’s understanding and help to get coverage” when training or deployed.
A retired assistant principal even filled in for Kasten while he deployed to Iceland with the B2s in 2021, a first-of-its-kind mission that saw the B2s continuously operate from the Nordic Island.
“I was there on what turned out to be a historic mission for more than just military reasons,” Kasten said. “After centuries of inactivity, the Fagradalsfjall volcano erupted while our B2s were there. I took videos and photos, and once I was given permission to disclose them, I sent them to my fellow teachers and school staff, who marveled at such incredible sight.”
Working at the same school district and serving in the Missouri Army and Air National Guard, LaBrot’s, Tiernan’s and Kasten’s paths have crossed more than once.
“We help, support and encourage one another, both as teachers and as guardsmen,” Kasten said.Read comments