WOCs scrub, scratch during their community project

Warrant officer candidates enrolled in the Virginia National Guard’s Warrant Officer Candidate School scrub walls and scratch cats at a local cat rescue during their community project Feb. 23, 2019, in Chester, Virginia. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Matt Lyman)

CHESTER, Va. — Warrant Officer Candidates assigned to Class 19-001 of the Virginia National Guard’s Warrant Officer Candidate School, taught at the 183rd Regiment, Regional Training Institute at Fort Pickett, assisted in sprucing up Smitty’s Cat Rescue, Feb. 23, 2019, to complete their community project requirement in Chester, Virginia.

The Warrant Officer Candidate School requires each WOCS class to identify, plan and execute a community project to graduate to the final phase of their training. Class 19-001, narrowed their list down to Smitty’s Cat Rescue after the curator, Lynne Layton, expressed a desire to have the WOCS help by doing a top to bottom scrub of her rescue facility.

Layton took over operation of Smitty’s in July 2016, when the founder passed away. In 2018, she facilitated adoptions for 117 cats and took in 127 cats. She also plays an active role in trapping, neutering and returning feral cats, which she accomplishes with humane traps, a network of veterinary allies and an organization called Operation Catnip.

“Nobody wanted [Smitty’s], they were just going to shut it down. I said, ‘NO! I’ll take it,’” said Layton. “All of the cats would’ve gone to kill shelters, for certain.”

Warrant officer candidates enrolled in the Virginia National Guard’s Warrant Officer Candidate School pose together with their cadre during their community project Feb. 23, 2019, in Chester, Virginia. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Matt Lyman)

The weather was chilly, dreary and rainy at 9 a.m. when the WOC’s vans pulled up to Smitty’s. The cool, wet weather gave way to a warm, dry facility full of friendly cats of all colors, ages and sizes. The majority of the project consisted of the 11 WOCs moving cages, scrubbing walls and giving scratches to the more than 60 friendly, felines awaiting adoption at Smitty’s.

“This was a much needed project,” explained Layton. “Usually I do it by myself and to have you guys come in has been entirely amazing,” added Layton. “It’s also my birthday weekend, so it’s like a big birthday gift to myself.”

The military has a history of answering the call when Lynne reaches out and they have cultivated a friendship over the past two years.

“We had our first group of kids from officer training come in from Fort Lee, Virginia, in 2017,” said Layton. “They would come by three or four times a year and they come in and really do a lot of work here. They would paint, they painted the other house out front, they’ve cut down trees and dug us a ditch so we wouldn’t flood when it rained.”

“I grew up with cats and I grew up with a lady down the street who had like 100 cats, so I like cats,” said WOC Joseph Mangum.

Mangum joined the Virginia National Guard and pursued the warrant officer route because of his grandfather who told him stories about warrant officers flying helicopters in Vietnam.

“You get that sense of working together as a class, working with and in the community to show them that we ultimately support the community,” said Mangum.

A cat observes warrant officers candidates as they conduct their community project at Smitty’s Cat Rescue Feb. 23, 2019, in Chester, Virginia. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Matt Lyman)

“Any type of service is the purest form of giving back. Doing it in the Virginia Army National Guard is more involved with the community because we are part of the state and mostly respond specifically to state issues unless you go on deployment,” added Mangum.

There are currently more than 60 cats ready for adoption at Smitty’s Cat Rescue.  There is an application process and fees associated with the rescued cats receiving spaying or neutering and vaccinations prior to their adoption.

“Always adopt, do not buy, and know it is a lifelong commitment, they are not disposable. All of the cats here are rescues – someone threw them away somewhere,” said Layton.

The WOCs will be entering their third and final phase of training before earning their bars later this year. Phase III will test candidates’ ability to lead a team or squad through a tactical exercise, requiring them to implement all of their battle drill studies and warrior tasks.

Story by Staff Sgt. Matt Lyman 


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