Tag Archives: Drill Sergeants

‘If you’re not bleeding, sweating and pushed to your brink … then you didn’t do enough’

By JONATHAN (JAY) KOESTER
NCO Journal

After a formal board interview and written test Tuesday night, the 2016 Drill Sergeant and AIT Platoon Sergeant of the Year competitions kicked into high gear Wednesday, with the 15 competitors taking on challenges like a physical training test, day and night land navigation, basic rifle marksmanship and teaching new recruits.

Sgt. Maj. Kevin Artis, the G3/5/7 (operations/plans/training) sergeant major for the U.S. Army Center for Initial Military Training at Fort Eustis, Virginia, said he told the competitors their days and nights would be challenging through Friday, but he hoped they would stay motivated.

Staff Sgt. Martin Delaney, competing to be 2016 Drill Sergeant of the Year, reaches the last part of the hand grenade course, in which he had to name each grenade in the case and their function. (Photos by Spc. James Seals / NCO Journal)
Sgt. 1st Class Martin Delaney, competing for 2016 Drill Sergeant of the Year, reaches the last part of the hand grenade course, in which he had to name each grenade in the case and its function. (Photos by Spc. James Seals / NCO Journal)

“I expect the Soldiers here to do their best and strive to be the best they can be,” Artis said. “I expect them to show that they are top professionals, not only in the NCO Corps, but in their respective jobs.

“These are the top trainers in the Army, so we expect them to adhere to that standard,” Artis continued. “We expect them to be very professional and to execute all the tasks and requirements that we have laid out for them. Most of the tasks will be surprises to them. They don’t know what they are going to run into when they get here.”

Staff Sgt. Dominique Curry of C Company, 1-81 Armor Battalion, at Fort Benning, Georgia, is one of the nine NCOs competing to be named 2016 Advanced Individual Training Platoon Sergeant of the Year. As Artis predicted, Curry said the unforeseeable nature of the tasks he was being put through made the competition difficult.

Staff Sgt. Daniel Barsi, competing to be 2016 Drill Sergeant of the Year, instructs Basic Combat Training Soldiers in changing the direction of a column, column left, Sept. 7 at Fort Jackson, South Carolina.
Staff Sgt. Daniel Barsi, competing for 2016 Drill Sergeant of the Year, instructs Basic Combat Training Soldiers in changing the direction of a column, column left, Sept. 7 at Fort Jackson, South Carolina.

“It’s definitely a challenge,” Curry said. “Every day is a surprise. You really don’t know what to expect, so you are definitely on edge all the time. It’s a huge opportunity, not only for myself, but to represent Fort Benning. I’m definitely humbled. I’m out here to do my best and see where that takes me.”

Staff Sgt. Keith Lovely of D Company, 1-222 Aviation Regiment, 128th Aviation Brigade, at Fort Eustis, Virginia, is also competing to be AIT Platoon Sergeant of the Year. Despite the surprises, he said he could predict one thing about the coming days: The events were only going to get more difficult.

“It’s going great so far,” Lovely said. “A lot of good NCOs out here competing against each other. It’s a lot of fun. I foresee it getting more difficult. I’m not saying it’s not already difficult, but we still have two-and-a-half more days ahead of us, so I think it’s going to get rougher.”

Staff Sgt. Brandon Laspe, competing to be 2016 AIT Platoon Sergeant of the Year, puts on chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear defense gear on during a station Sept. 7 at Fort Jackson, South Carolina.
Staff Sgt. Brandon Laspe dons nuclear, biological and chemical protective gear during the 2016 AIT Platoon Sergeant of the Year competition Sept. 7 at Fort Jackson, South Carolina.

 

Maj. Gen. Anthony Funkhouser, commanding general of the Center for Initial Military Training, was at the Hand Grenade Assault Course on Wednesday, watching as the competitors went through different stations demonstrating their knowledge of their craft, as well as their ability to pass that knowledge down to new Soldiers.

“It’s amazing the level of effort the sergeants put into this, to be very technically and tactically competent,” Funkhouser said. “You walk around here and you see them assemble and disassemble weapons, all the knowledge that we ask of them, the physical ability to do their mission, warrior tasks and battle drills. They are great role models. What’s really neat is that we have some trainees here from reception station — who haven’t even received basic training yet — learning from these guys as their role models.”

Sgt. 1st Class Timothy Wood, competing to be 2016 AIT Platoon Sergeant of the Year, conducts an in-ranks inspection Sept. 7 at Fort Jackson, South Carolina.
Sgt. 1st Class Timothy Wood, competing for 2016 AIT Platoon Sergeant of the Year, conducts an in-ranks inspection Sept. 7 at Fort Jackson, South Carolina.

Staff Sgt. Tyler Cushing of C Company, 1-46 Infantry Battalion, 194th Armor Brigade, at Fort Benning, was one of the four NCOs competing for the title of 2016 Drill Sergeant of the Year. He talked about the preparation necessary for the difficult days ahead.

“I spent months preparing once I was selected as post drill sergeant of the year,” Cushing said. “Preparation was pretty grueling. A lot of physical training, a lot of mental training and a lot of studying. I feel very fortunate being able to compete against all these great drill sergeants.”

Sgt. Ryan Moldovan, E Company, 1-390th Infantry Regiment, 98th Training Division, 108th Training Command, is one of the two NCOs competing to be the 2016 Army Reserve Drill Sergeant of the Year. He also spoke about his preparation in the past few months.

Staff Sgt. Emanuel Olivencia, competing to be 2016 AIT Platoon Sergeant of the Year, works to camouflage his helmet during a station Sept. 7 at the Hand Grenade Assault Course on Fort Jackson, South Carolina.
Staff Sgt. Emanuel Olivencia camouflages his helmet during the 2016 AIT Platoon Sergeant of the Year competition Sept. 7 at the Hand Grenade Assault Course on Fort Jackson, South Carolina.

 

“I did a lot of studying, a lot of reading, reading deep into the regulations, looking paragraph by paragraph, looking into the weapons regulations and seeing what every little piece is called,” Moldovan said. “I did lots of running, lots of foot marching. I try to get to the range as much as I can, but it’s hard to because of my civilian job” as a UPS delivery driver in Canton, Ohio.

“I’m just glad to be here, glad to be competing, happy to represent the Reserves,” he said. “All of the NCOs who are here are great. They’re the best of the best; I’m proud to be counted among them.”

Staff Sgt. Mark Mercer, 2015 Army Reserve Drill Sergeant of the Year, helped organize this year’s competition. He said his message to this year’s group was to give “110 percent” during each event.

“Don’t let Friday come and you say, ‘I didn’t leave it all out there at Fort Jackson,’” Mercer said. “Because if you’re not bleeding, sweating and pushed to your brink after the last event, then you didn’t do enough. You need to come out here and give it your all.”

As Major General Anthony Funkhouser, commanding general for the U.S. Army Center for Initial Military Training (from left); Sgt. Maj. Kevin Artis, the G3/5/7 (operations/plans/training) sergeant major for the CIMT; and Staff Sgt. Jacob Miller, 2015 Drill Sergeant of the Year, look on, Staff Sgt. Tyler Cushing conducts a disassemble/assemble/functions check on a weapon. Cushing is competing to be 2016 Drill Sergeant of the Year.
Maj. Gen. Anthony Funkhouser, commanding general of the U.S. Army Center for Initial Military Training (from left); Sgt. Maj. Kevin Artis, the G3/5/7 (operations/plans/training) sergeant major for the CIMT; and Staff Sgt. Jacob Miller, 2015 Drill Sergeant of the Year, look on as Staff Sgt. Tyler Cushing conducts a disassemble/assemble/functions check on a weapon. Cushing is competing to be the 2016 Drill Sergeant of the Year.

Competing for the title of 2016 Drill Sergeant of the Year are:

• Sgt. 1st Class Martin Delaney

• Staff Sgt. Tyler Cushing

• Staff Sgt. Dustin Randall

• Staff Sgt. Daniel Barsi

Competing for the title of 2016 Army Reserve Drill Sergeant of the Year are:

• Sgt. 1st Class Jason Scott

• Sgt. Ryan Moldovan

Competing for the title of 2016 AIT Platoon Sergeant of the Year are:

• Sgt. 1st Class Timothy Wood

• Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Cummings

• Staff Sgt. Keith Lovely

• Staff Sgt. Jacob Meyers

• Staff Sgt. Dominique Curry

• Staff Sgt. Christopher Johnson

• Staff Sgt. Brandon Laspe

• Staff Sgt. Emanuel Olivencia

• Staff Sgt. Jonathan Sisk

Town hall discussions were wide-ranging, vital to NCOPD

Previously in The NCO Journal:

By JONATHAN (JAY) KOESTER
NCO Journal

OK, you missed it live. But it’s a week later, and you still haven’t found the time to watch the NCO Professional Development Town Hall? Allow The NCO Journal to give you a little inspiration.

The following are a few excerpts from the conversation to whet your appetite. You can hear much more on these topics, plus plenty of others, by watching the full town hall here.

Moderating the town hall was Master Sgt. Mike Lavigne of the 1st Infantry Division. Answering questions were Command Sgt. Maj. David Davenport, command sergeant major of U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command; Aubrey Butts, director of the Institute for NCO Professional Development; Sgt. Maj. Annette Weber, G1 and G4 sergeant major for TRADOC; Command Sgt. Maj. Brunk Conley, command sergeant major of the National Guard; and Command Sgt. Maj. Jim Wills, command sergeant major of the Army Reserve.

Select, Train, Educate, Promote

The first question of the night came via video, from Sgt. Joseph Wilson, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division: “With the new STEP program, a Soldier has a certain time frame to attend the corresponding NCO Education System upon promotion. For smaller career fields that offer the Advanced Leader Course a few times a year, this creates a backlog of highly qualified NCOs and hinders their progression. Is there any plan in the future to fix this?”

Davenport: “Sgt. Wilson, I think your question really gets at capacity. Do we have the capacity to train? We do. But when you go in and look at the allocation of school seats, especially as you indicated, in low-density MOSs, we have to make sure we are spreading those seats across the year so that Soldiers have the opportunity to attend those schools.”

Weber: “I think it also gets back to communication. Soldiers have to communicate with their branches, their leaders, and get their thoughts out there, so that we can get them into those schools that they need to go to.”

Conley: “Especially in the low-density MOSs, and especially in multiple-phase courses, it’s very challenging for our Soldiers who have a three-phase course. … One of the things my command sergeant major advisory council in the National Guard is looking at is, if a Soldier shows good faith and attends phase one of a course, we’re looking at adjusting the policy so that we could promote them upon completion of phase one, conditionally. If they’ve shown good faith — they’ve gone to school, they’ve met height and weight, they’ve met PT — we promote them pending completion of the follow-on courses. Then, if they don’t complete, that promotion would be taken away. But it starts the clock on time in service, time in grade, and if they’ve shown the effort to finish the first phase, I think we need to look at that.”

Wills: “We are going to have to work together and probably look at some of the challenges we’ve had in the past, we will need to look at the size of the classes … the student-to-instructor ratio, so that we can conduct more frequent classes and allow more opportunities, especially for the Guard and Reserve.”

Army University

This question came via Twitter: “Are Army University and its programs accredited, and by whom? And if not, when are these expected?”

Butts: “Right now, Army University isn’t accredited. However, we are going to use the joint transcript to record all Soldiers’ experience and education. We want the Soldier to be able to get a degree from the college they want a degree from.”

Command Sgt. Maj. David Davenport, command sergeant major of U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, has makeup applied before sitting under the bright lights of the town hall studio March 3 at Fort Eustis, Virginia. (Photos by Jonathan (Jay) Koester / NCO Journal)
Command Sgt. Maj. David Davenport, command sergeant major of U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, has makeup applied before sitting under the bright lights of the town hall studio March 3 at Fort Eustis, Virginia. (Photos by Jonathan (Jay) Koester / NCO Journal)

Davenport: “If there is any cohort who benefits from the Army University concept, it’s the noncommissioned officer cohort. Because what Army University does for us is it takes our education and our experience in leading Soldiers and it puts it in terms that academia understands. It translates into college credits.”

Broadening assignments

This question came via the chat board: “How does the Army reconcile the fact that broadening assignments, such as drill sergeant and recruiter, have a little role in being selected for promotion during centralized selection boards?”

Weber: “The proponencies are updating their messages to the boards, so that information will get to the boards, because those jobs are very important jobs to the different CMFs (Career Management Fields).”

Lavigne: “It is safe to say it’s weighted differently, though?”

Davenport: “Of course, by CMF. Because they have a view of what they think makes a successful master sergeant or whatever grade we’re talking about, and the proponents write that guidance.”

Wills: “It’s important for the Army Reserve Soldiers to understand that once they go out to that broadening assignment, they need to go in, do their time and move on to another opportunity. We have a lot of folks who want to, kind of, homestead an opportunity. They don’t want to get out of it.”

Master Leader Course

This question came via the chat board: “How will the Master Leader Course be implemented? Is it residency, online or MTT (Mobile Training Team)?”

Butts: “It’s going to be in some form or another, all three. However, we’re trying to get it to residency or MTT.”

Davenport: “We’ve gone through a pilot at Fort Bliss, Texas. We did an iteration at Camp Williams, Utah; the National Guard hosted that. And next week at Fort Knox, Kentucky, Sgt. Wills will have the second pilot of the MLC. We’re getting a lot of positive comments back about the rigor. … It’s not the First Sergeant Course, if I can get that plug in there. This course is really designed to start making those senior noncommissioned officers aware of the transition from the tactical level of our Army to the operational, and giving them a glimpse into the strategic level.

A group of NCOs and policy experts quickly answer questions posed during the town hall.
A group of NCOs and policy experts quickly answer questions posed during the town hall.

“Dr. Butts is exactly right. We will do it brick and mortar. We’ll have the ability for MTT. And then we will do it by distance learning for the reasons we talked about earlier, for our Guard and Reserve, to make sure they’re not penalized. Because STEP applies to everybody. It’s not just staff sergeants and sergeants first class. If you want to become a master sergeant, our gap analysis said you have to be certified in those core competencies before you move forward.”

Structured Self-Development

This question came via video, from Sgt. 1st Class Caleb Barrieau: “With all the educational distance learning systems out there that our Soldiers are using to get their civilian degrees with, what is TRADOC doing to update or improve the SSD courses so that they are more interactive and valuable as a tool so that our Soldiers are completing their institutional training requirements?”

Davenport: “I hear a lot about SSD, and the comments are that it’s not to standard, and I somewhat agree. So, what we’ve done is we’ve formed a working group down at the United States Sergeants Major Academy and have begun a review of SSD-1 all the way up to level six.

“I’ve heard from the force. They want some type of academic grade to come as a result of this rather than just a ‘go’ or ‘no go’ and they want it to count for something. We’re working on that. Another comment that has come from the force is that if a Soldier doesn’t understand, or just tries to check the block, lock them out. We’re working on that, as well.”

Drill sergeants

Amy Robinson of U.S. Army Public Affairs, left, and Liston Bailey, chief of the Learning Innovations and Initiatives Division of the Institute for NCO Professional Development, respond to NCOs’ questions on social media during the town hall screen.
Amy Robinson of U.S. Army Public Affairs, left, and Liston Bailey, chief of the Learning Innovations and Initiatives Division of the Institute for NCO Professional Development, respond to NCOs’ questions on social media during the town hall.

This question came via the chat board: “Do we plan to bring drill sergeants back into the AIT (Advanced Individual Training) environment?”

Davenport: “We are moving forward with putting drill sergeants back into the AIT training environment. It’s a recommendation. Of course, we have to see about funding, but we’re trying to do everything we can to make sure our Soldiers are successful when they transition to their first unit of assignment.”

The standard

This question came via the chat board: “What does equivalency mean in our NCOES? If it means the same standard for the active component and Reserve component, and the Reserve component has a hard time meeting the standard of the active component, should the standard be adjusted? Do we expect the same standard across all three components when it comes to NCOES?

Conley: “The standard is the standard. Period, end of discussion. There is no active component/Reserve component standard: It’s an Army standard. Our Soldiers don’t want any different standard than anybody else who’s going through any course, any training, any event.”

NCOER

This question came via Twitter: “How are senior NCO boards affected by the new NCO Evaluation Report and rater profiles?”

Davenport: “I don’t know yet, because we haven’t experienced it. We don’t know how the board will interpret this. We will learn a lot during this next promotion board.”

Conley: “It has to be OK to get a ‘C.’ A ‘C’ is a passing grade. You want to get to the ‘B,’ and maybe your first year or the first time you’re evaluated as a staff sergeant, you’re not as good as somebody who has been doing it two or three years. Maybe you get a ‘C’ your first year, and you say, ‘OK, what do I need to do to get up here to a “B” and an “A” when it’s time for me to be considered for promotion.’ If you don’t get a true evaluation, you don’t know what to improve on.”

Weber: “I’m really excited about the new NCOER because I think it forces leaders to really sit down with Soldiers and counsel Soldiers. … It gives you that opportunity to sit down with your leader so that he or she can tell you what you are doing or not doing, and how to get to where they need to get.”

NCOs grow during time as Drill Sergeants, AIT Platoon Sergeant of Year

By JONATHAN (JAY) KOESTER
NCO Journal

Winning any U.S. Army competition brings honor and glory to the victor. But the winners of the Drill Sergeant and AIT Platoon Sergeant of the Year competitions get an additional perk. During their year as reigning champions, they get a new job.

In September 2014, Staff Sgt. Jonathan Miller was named Drill Sergeant of the Year, Staff Sgt. Christopher Croslin was named Army Reserve Drill Sergeant of the Year and Sgt. 1st Class Thomas Russell was named AIT Platoon Sergeant of the Year. After their victories, Miller and Russell immediately went to work at the strategic level at TRADOC’s U.S. Army Center for Initial Military Training at Fort Eustis, Virginia.

The three said their experiences during the past year inspired them and showed them the big picture on Army issues.

“It’s been a learning experience,” Miller said. “Serving as Drill Sergeant of the Year has opened my eyes to a lot of things that I wasn’t aware of before. Working at the strategic level is much different than working as a squad leader or team leader, which is what I was used to. Seeing the big picture up here is truly awesome.”

Russell, who has been in the Army for 13 years and deployed to both Afghanistan and Iraq, also enjoyed his time working at Fort Eustis.

“It’s been eye opening to see the Army at a strategic level and be able to travel and see how other sides of the Army train, how they prepare Soldiers in Advanced Individual Training and basic training,” Russell said. “You get to see the whole picture.”

Croslin served his year as Army Reserve Drill Sergeant of the Year at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Croslin said he originally joined the Army Reserve so that he could stay near family in Oklahoma.

“I always wanted to serve in the Army and fight for my country,” Croslin said. “I joined in 2004 because of my desire to serve. The way I saw it, our country was at war, and I need to be over there. Whatever it was that I could do, I would serve however they needed me. But at the same time, I love my civilian side of life. I didn’t really want to be moved around the country my whole life. I’m a very family-oriented person, and all my family lives here in Oklahoma. I had the need and the want to serve, but at the same time stay close to my family.”

Though Croslin wasn’t sent to the Center for Initial Military Training at Fort Eustis, his year was still busy at Fort Sill, working with new recruits there, as well as traveling for various duties.

“I think everybody’s experience being Drill Sergeant of the Year is different,” Croslin said. “What I have pulled from it is the experiences I’ve been able to have with senior leadership — working with my command, getting their knowledge on what it means to be a leader. This is a position where you really get to spend some time with those leaders.

“And there was a lot of mentorship with other drill sergeants,” Croslin said. “A lot of drill sergeants look up to you when you become that pinnacle of a drill sergeant, so you have to hold yourself to a higher standard. Because everybody is basing it on: You are what’s right. There is a pressure that comes along with that. I knew that would come with it, but at times, you really realize that all the eyes are on you.”

Croslin credited the NCOs he started his career learning from with jumpstarting his Army Reserve career.

“To start it all off, it would have to be my drill sergeants in Basic Training,” Croslin said. “I remember them like it was yesterday. They set that example from day one in basic training of what it meant to be a Soldier. They showed what it meant to pay attention to detail, and that dedication to your country and to those around you, as well as the development of a team and what it meant to be part of a team.”

Miller said that early example is what made him want to become a drill sergeant.

“NCOs have been a pivotal part of my time in the Army,” Miller said. “As a young Soldier, NCOs were there to help guide me, to help correct any deficiencies that I had and to shape me into not only the Soldier that I was but the NCO I have become. It started with my drill sergeants. Everybody remembers who their drill sergeant was regardless of how long ago they served. Everybody remembers that influential person in their life. And that led me to want to become a drill sergeant, because I realized how pivotal they were in so many Soldiers’ lives.”

Sgt. 1st Class Thomas Russell, from left, Staff Sgt. Christopher Croslin and Staff Sgt. Jonathan Miller led the way on a ruck march during the 2014 competition at Fort Jackson, S.C. (Photo by Jonathan (Jay) Koester / NCO Journal)
Sgt. 1st Class Thomas Russell, from left, Staff Sgt. Christopher Croslin and Staff Sgt. Jonathan Miller led the way on a ruck march during the 2014 competition at Fort Jackson, S.C. (Photo by Jonathan (Jay) Koester / NCO Journal)

A year spent working at the strategic level didn’t change what Miller saw as the problems that need fixing in the Army.

“The biggest change that I’d like to see across the Army is the overall discipline,” Miller said. “We see a degradation of the discipline that Soldiers have nowadays. There’s not the level of competence and discipline that I expect. I may have high hopes, but I think we’ve become lax, and I’d like to see us go back to a much more disciplined Army. Get out of the friendship mentality and get back to the leader-driven Army.”

Russell said he hoped to see more NCOs getting directly involved with their Soldiers’ training and not attempting to use technology as a quick fix.

“I want to see us getting back to the Army as a profession, getting back to the Army ethics,” Russell said. “We need to put more emphasis on training Soldiers and developing the individual Soldier instead of looking for technology to do that.”

Though Russell, Miller and Croslin all enjoyed their year at the top, their stint has come to an end. Recently, three NCOs took their places, as Staff Sgt. Jacob Miller was named 2015 Drill Sergeant of the Year, Staff Sgt. Mark Mercer became the Army Reserve Drill Sergeant of the Year and Sgt. 1st Class Samuel Enriquez was named AIT Platoon Sergeant of the Year.

And the Army goes rolling along.

Drill sergeant and ‘Rising Star’ winner to sing at White House

Army News Service

Sgt. Christiana Ball, the 2013 winner of Operation Rising Star, has been invited to participate in the music annual gala called “In Performance at the White House,” today. The event will be hosted by President Barack Obama and the first lady, Michelle Obama.

Ball, a drill sergeant in the 787th Military Police Battalion, 14th Military Police Brigade, at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., outperformed 12 finalists from Army garrisons around the world and won the Army Entertainment’s annual Operation Rising Star competition, conducted by the U.S. Army Installation Management Command.

Sgt. Christiana Ball, a drill sergeant at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., and the 2013 winner of Operation Rising Star, sings "God Bless America" during a Springfield Cardinals game in Springfield, Mo., in June 2014. She will cap off a year of performances with one at the White House on Nov. 6. (Photo by Michael Curtis)
Sgt. Christiana Ball, a drill sergeant at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., and the 2013 winner of Operation Rising Star, sings “God Bless America” during a Springfield Cardinals game in Springfield, Mo., in June 2014. She will cap off a year of performances with one at the White House on Nov. 6. (Photo by Michael Curtis)

“I’ve had an unbelievable year as the winner of Op Rising Star. Singing at the White House will be a great honor,” Ball said. “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to reach out and show my appreciation of my veteran brothers and sisters both past and present. Even in these stressful times, I’m focused on the idea that I get to be part of such a fantastic tribute.”

This year’s program “A Salute to the Troops: In Performance at the White House” will be a celebration of the men and women who serve the United States, featuring such nationally recognized acts as Mary J. Blige, John Fogerty and Willie Nelson, according to a White House press release. Grammy award winner Don Was will be the music director.

Ball said the White House program will be the pinnacle of a year full of memorable performances.

“Rising Star has already opened so many doors for me to perform in my Fort Leonard Wood community, as well as to sing for televised sporting events and military ceremonies,” Ball said. “I’m so grateful for having performed on national TV as a part of the Academy of Country Music Awards ‘Salute to the Troops,’ and I sang a duet with Lee Brice on his hit ‘I Drive Your Truck’ — a song which captures perfectly the emotion of a survivor working through their pain of loss and grief.”

The Army’s Operation Rising Star program gives active-duty Service members and family members a unique opportunity to entertain their comrades around the world, and fulfill their own personal musical ambitions. The competition starts at the garrison level, and finalists are chosen from among the local winners to compete at Joint Base San Antonio—Fort Sam Houston, Texas.

The 2014 competition is currently underway and the new Operation Rising Star winner will be selected in December. More information about Operation Rising Star can be found at www.OpRisingStar.com.

“I was invited to be a judge for Fort Leonard Wood’s [Operation Rising Star] this year,” Ball said. “So I have definitely been following this year’s competition and am very excited to see what talent ends up competing down in San Antonio for the finals this year.

“I’ve seen first-hand the positive effect that music has had and made on Soldier’s lives,” she said. “Programs like ‘In Performance’ give Soldiers a chance to get the recognition they deserve, and Operation Rising Star gives them an outlet and a chance to better themselves personally. It automatically makes for a more well-adjusted, purposeful and resilient Soldier.”

“In Performance” will be broadcast at 9 p.m. Eastern Time on Nov. 7 on PBS stations nationwide as part of their Arts Fall Festival. The program will also be available online at www.WhiteHouse.gov/live starting at 7:25 p.m. Eastern Time. The entire performance at the White House will also be broadcast on Veterans Day, Nov. 11, on the American Forces Network.

“When I perform, I look in the eyes of my audience and try to connect in a personal way,” Ball said. “What do I see? I guess it just depends. If I’m singing to my people in Fort Leonard Wood, I often see a lot of pride in their faces, and rightly so. I can’t wait to bring my voice now to an even wider audience. I’m representing the U.S. Army.”

Ball will soon complete her active-duty contract and plans on joining the Missouri National Guard.

“I’ve created a band of my own now and have been performing as much as my job allows me. Our plan is to take off and do as many shows as I can,” said Ball. “It will be an honor to have a chance work with the National Guard band, too. I can’t wait.”

Drill sergeant wins 2013 Operation Rising Star competition

By ROBERT DOZIER
Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Programs

Sgt. Christiana Ball, a drill sergeant from Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., has been voted Army Entertainment’s 2013 Rising Star.

Ball was chosen from a field of 12 vocalists from Army garrisons around the world. She edged out family members Joyce Severino, from Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, and Sarah Hopkins, from Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., in the final round of the American Idol-style competition, held at Joint Base San Antonio, Texas.

Sgt. Christiana Ball performs "'Til the Last Shot's Fired" by Trace Atkins, en route to winning the title of Army Entertainment's 2013 Rising Star. (Photo by Robert Dozier)
Sgt. Christiana Ball performs “‘Til the Last Shot’s Fired” by Trace Atkins, en route to winning the title of Army Entertainment’s 2013 Rising Star. (Photo by Robert Dozier)

“I want to thank everybody who voted for me,” Ball said. “I’ve had just untold amounts of support from my family, people at my installation, my unit, the combat veterans motorcycle association, the VFW — just tons of people. That is what is overwhelming me: the amount of support and love I’ve received. And the judges, you all are great. Thank you.”

Ball was one of seven finalists from garrisons in the continental U.S. The other six included Hopkins and Severino; as well as family member Charrie Mae Riggs from Fort Campbell, Ky.; 2nd Lt. Derrick Bishop from Fort Irwin, Calif.; Sgt. Scott Harris from the Presidio of Monterey, Calif.; and Pvt. 1st Class Kiari Mhoon from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.

Finalists from overseas garrisons included Sgt. Oscar Bugarin from Camp Lomonnier, Djibouti; Spc. Ikilya Davenport from Camp Humphreys, South Korea; 1st Lt. Matthew Gabriel from Wiesbaden, Germany; and family members Christina Lewis from Kaiserslautern, Germany, and Raquel Sargent from Stuttgart, Germany.

“I am so happy and excited and I appreciate the votes I received from everyone,” Severino said. “The advice we received from the judges about proper breathing, how to perform and connect with the audience was priceless.”

Operation Rising Star gives performers a unique opportunity to entertain their comrades around the world and fulfill their own personal musical ambitions.

The 12 finalists competed against each other in three elimination rounds, first narrowing the field to six finalists: Harris, Ball, Lewis, Severino, Hopkins and Sargent; then the top three: Ball, Severino and Hopkins.

“I’ve been the front man in cover bands, but I’ve never been with a more talented group of performers,” Harris said. “I can’t believe the sprint to the finish line.”

Each round of competition was recorded and was made available online for viewing at http://risingstar.us.army.mil/page/home/.

After being named the 2013 Rising Star, Ball does her first official "meet and greet" with fans at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. (Photo by Robert Dozier)
After being named the 2013 Rising Star, Ball does her first official “meet and greet” with fans at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. (Photo by Robert Dozier)

The competitors were mentored and judged by professionals in the industry. Returning this year to Operation Rising Star were vocalist and vocal coach Debra Byrd (from television’s The Voice), vocalist and recording country artist Michael Peterson, and retired Sgt. Maj. of the Army Jack Tilley. The judge’s scores were combined with online votes from fans from around the world to determine who moved ahead in the competition.

“It feels incredible. We are the top 12 singers in the Army,” Harris said. “And the experience to get expert advice from these industry leaders, this is just great.”

“I feel honored and humbled,” Ball said. “Right now, my husband and I are going to celebrate a little. But soon, it will be time to get back to the drill. My team back home needs me.”

Many Soldiers in the competition are hoping their performance at Operation Rising Star will help them secure a position in the 2014 Soldier Show, also sponsored by Army Entertainment, a Morale, Welfare and Recreation program run by the U.S. Army Installation Management Command.

“My new year’s resolution is to join the Army Soldier Show,” said Harris. “I want to live out my dream as a Soldier and a performer.”

Tim Higdon, the Soldier Show executive producer, explained that they’re already one step closer.

“The six Soldiers in the top 12 already have a ‘bye’ straight to the live auditions [for the Soldier Show] in February,” Higdon said. “The encouraging thing is that talent and success of Season 9 is a direct result of the ongoing continuation of the program and highlights the difference MWR makes in the whole community.”

Thirty garrisons participated in preliminary rounds leading to the top 12 live competition. The 18 not represented in the finals have been contacted to encourage their active-duty, Guard and Reserve performers to submit audition packages for the Soldier Show.

Operation Rising Star similar to, but not affiliated with the popular television show American Idol, and is one of many programs designed to bolster morale among troops and deliver positive reinforcement to Soldiers, military civilians and family members.