By giving Soldiers the flexibility to maximize skills and pursue interests outside the military, the Guard creates a stronger and more versatile warrior, and a more productive citizen. One who can prosper by transferring knowledge and expertise back and forth between the two entities. Civilian specialties useful in a military setting, and useful military experience in civilian situations. This opportunity allows service members to lead two extraordinary lives. Take Sergeant First Class Ryan Ahern. He switched from the Active Duty Army to the Illinois National Guard in 1998 to finish his bachelor's degree. "I had done well on Active Duty, but I wanted to do more. Being on Active Duty doesn't give you opportunity to get a solid education." Through the Guard, Ahern was able to serve in his hometown and graduate from the University of Illinois. And the Guard's flexibility allowed him to do even more. He now holds doctorates in electrical engineering and physics, and owns his own company, Illinois Applied Research Associates, which works alongside a local government laboratory to develop homeland defense technologies such as land mine detectors and sensors to identify biological agents. Impressed? Now consider his other life. Ahern also serves in the 20th Special Forces Group, conducting missions all around the globe. In Costa Rica, he trained local authorities to stop human trafficking. In Honduras and El Salvador, he helped build schools. In Afghanistan, he saved his comrades by fighting off approaching insurgents who had hit his unit with mortars—actions that earned him the Silver Star this year. That dual existence wouldn't be possible in any other branch. "[The Guard] allowed me to do more with my life than I would've been able to had I stayed in Active Duty," he says.