A soldier didn’t let a recent mobilization stop him from delivering on a promise to elementary school students.
D.C. National Guard Sgt. Jacob Kohut was called to active orders after the insurrection attempt at the Capitol building earlier this month. That didn’t stop him from making time for his day job.
Kohut, who has served for 11 years, has been teaching music just as long. He said early on in his career, when he was completing student teaching requirements, it was suggested he explore the National Guard as a way to help with student loans. Even though his father is a Marine veteran who served during Vietnam, Kohut didn’t consider the military because he wanted to be a music teacher. Now, he has the best of both worlds.
What he didn’t think would happen is that he would be performing his teaching duties simultaneous to being on a mission.
Kohut is an elementary school teacher in Virginia that has gone virtual due to the pandemic. With his orders to protect the Capitol and White House for roughly 12 hour shifts, he still has a few hours each morning where he gets to be Dr. Kohut — band teacher.
So, what did his students think when they saw him in full uniform during his first virtual class while deployed? Kohut says there was a lot of shock initially.
“They definitely had a lot of questions in the beginning but now they are fine with it,” he said with a laugh.
To be clear, he’s not walking around armed and while teaching band all day, either.
“I’m definitely not teaching all of the classes but the ones that I can I do,” Kohut explained.
He also shared that he appreciates the recent attention he’s gotten for it, but he isn’t the only one. Roughly 7,000 Guard soldiers and airmen remain on duty in D.C., according to the National Guard Bureau.
“I don’t feel like a hero. There are people out here that are definitely in touch with their civilian careers too. That’s the Guard though; you do have a foot in both places at the same time,” Kohut said.
Those serving in the National Guard have experienced a unprecedented number of activations across all 50 U.S. states, territories, and Washington, D.C. Missions have included aiding governors with the pandemic response, civil unrest, vaccination distribution, and more recently, an expanded presence for inauguration security.
“When I am in my civilian job, I am always thinking about national security. You are always keeping your finger on the pulse. I am a bandsman, I play an instrument in the Army band. But still, we know anything is possible and we are always paying attention to what we could get called for,” Kohut said. “It’s been a very active year for [the] Guard and reserve throughout the world.”
Throughout his first years of teaching, he said on his drive into work he’d see all the monuments, the Capitol, and Arlington National Cemetery. His drill weekends brought that same drive and each left him with a profound sense of gratefulness, every single day.
“I take great pride in what I do. I could have made more money teaching somewhere or something else and many soldiers could leave and do the same. You do all of this because you have a higher purpose,” Kohut shared.
That higher purpose means that he was on duty for the inauguration, missing his son’s third birthday. It’s things like this that many within the public may not realize impact those who serve in the National Guard. Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR) is among a group of resources offered by the Defense Department to strengthen relationships between those in the reserve component and their civilian employers.
Kohut stated that it is important for guardsmen to be upfront with their supervisors and actively seek out support when needed. He said the school he teaches for has been more than supportive and they have loved watching their favorite band teacher go viral. And, it’s more than that.
“They like that connection and they think more of me,” Kohut said. “That’s not just me though, that’s anyone who’s serving or proud to serve … It is a benefit to that employer and it allows them to give back to their own community by being flexible while you are on orders.”
For those considering the National Guard as a path, Kohut adds there is a role for anybody.
“The Army is big enough that there is room for anybody who wants to serve to do so in the best capacity that they are fit to do,” he said.