Soldier of the Year

SPC Tiffany DiSanzo practices on a mannequin
during FEMA training. Courtesy photo.

An Army of One

By Robert Linnehan

Tiffany DiSanzo is working toward a career where she will help victims recover from heart attacks. Ironically, she almost gave her mother one when she told her family that she was enlisting in the National Guard.

Six years later the Cherry Hill resident won the 2012 New Jersey Army National Guard Soldier of the Year Award (E-4 classification and below) and will be competing in the regional finals in May. In addition, she was also awarded the Robert G. Vuinovich Jr., Outstanding Soldier Award for 2012 at the Enlisted Association of the National Guard of New Jersey annual banquet.

The 25-year-old soldier was nominated for the award by her commanding sergeant and narrowly beat the second place soldier by two points. Currently, she is studying over 30,000 questions for the regional competition, which will take place next May.

“The next phase is in May, a regional competition, between seven states and their top soldiers. We’ll be tested on weapons qualifications, land navigation, and combat life saving techniques. There are 14 different tasks we’ll be tested on,” she said. “They’ll test us mentally, physically, and about our knowledge of the military. They take the top soldier from the regional competition and you go to nationals. It’s really an honor.”

With no military history in her family, DiSanzo surprised her father when she told him at a neighborhood Starbucks that she was going to join the National Guard. She was a sophomore student at the University of Delaware at the time.

“Your mother is going to have a heart attack,” Frank DiSanzo said.

SPC DiSanzo applies sutures on a pig’s foot
during a training session. Courtesy photo.

The young woman, who grew up in Cherry Hill, had been volunteering at Virtua Voorhees Hospital’s Emergency Room when she found herself in a conversation with a surgeon that had just returned from a combat tour with the Army National Guard. His stories grabbed Tiffany’s interest and exposed her to an option she never considered.

She decided to follow her own path, deciding to carve a direction for herself even if it would possibly upset her parents.

“They couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t go to college and then go to medical school. I’m going to get to one point from the next but I’m going to do it my own way,” she said. “It may take a bit longer, but I have a passion for the military, passion for my unit, and my goal is still to become a physician this way.”

After graduating from basic training, DiSanzo was assigned to the Guard’s 328th Military Police unit in Cherry Hill where she currently serves as a combat medic.

Her civilian career as an Emergency Room Technician at Virtua Health Systems in Marlton. The demanding job enables her to keep up with her medical skills and complement her military skill requirements. DiSanzo’s E-4 ranking as the Head Medic and Operations Medic with the Homeland Response Force qualifies her to administer emergency medical treatment to battlefield casualties.

DiSanzo’s training went into full effect when Hurricane Sandy struck the state, causing devastation along New Jersey’s coastline and barrier islands. The 328th Military Police Unit is working with FEMA Region Two and can be activated by the federal government if there is a natural or man-made disaster in New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico or the Virgin Islands.

SPC DiSanzo takes notes during hurricane
duty. Courtesy photo.

Her unit was deployed to the barrier islands for “search and rescue” missions after the hurricane hit, she said, and they looked for injured residents or those who were still in their homes. They also pitched in and helped patrol the areas devastated by the storm that didn’t have power to deter any possible looters, she said.

She described the south side of Long Beach Island as being an area of absolute devastation.

“We were in the south side of LBI, it’s like a warzone. So many houses were gone or destroyed. We spent our time looking for any casualties or people who were stranded. If we found them we encouraged them to leave or helped them get out,” she said. “That was the main thing, getting people off the island. Then I got sent to up to Mantoloking, we were helping the police officers with looting, patrolled the area, and had some search and rescue up there. The island is still closed off unfortunately.”

It’s certainly a different path than her parents Frank and Christina, and sister Fabiana, envisioned for her, but it’s well worth it, she said. The skills learned with the National Guard are invaluable to her goal of attending med school by 2014.

“My unit keeps me very busy, I do all of their medical skills and I want to start taking grad school classes,” she said. “I volunteer for the Red Cross and I also do stuff with Virtua. I’m preparing for the next part of my life.”

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