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Former NCO inspires fellow teachers, competes for National Teacher of the Year

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By MEGHAN PORTILLO
NCO Journal

As a noncommissioned officer, Kelisa Wing strove to inspire her Soldiers by her example, and today, she does the same for her students and fellow teachers.

Wing was nominated by one of her students and named 2017 Department of Defense Education Activity Teacher of the Year. Now, she will compete for the title of National Teacher of the Year.

Wing said she knows firsthand the damage that can be caused by an uncaring teacher. She vowed she would never let that happen to a student under her guidance and wants to inspire other teachers to do the same.

“My first-grade teacher never stopped to ask me what was going on in my life, never made that connection,” Wing said. “She didn’t really realize or possibly care that we were going through a very tumultuous time in our lives, struggling to pay bills, not having lights on, going to bed hungry and things like that, and that really impacted me for my entire schooling and now as a teacher. I don’t want to be that teacher. I don’t want to be that teacher who fails a student and doesn’t stop to ask. I am always stopping and asking, ‘What is going on? How can I help you? How can we be successful together?’ I was so ashamed of the fact that I did fail that I never publicly admitted it – but that is why being DODEA Teacher of the Year means so much to me. Statistically, if you look at my background, I wasn’t supposed to make it. But here I am, DODEA Teacher of the Year, and I can tell kids that even though life may issue you some hard knocks, you can still be successful.”

As teacher of the year, Wing will take a semester-long sabbatical to work on a project of her choice. She plans to organize a leadership summit for DODEA teachers in September, as well as create a systematic teacher-to-teacher mentorship program within DODEA.

“I believe that by working with our leaders and teachers we can create something everybody will be happy with and that at the end of the day is going to impact student achievement, which is ultimately my mission,” Wing said. “I want to close the achievement gap and empower students by empowering teachers.”

Wing will find out in January if she is a finalist in the National Teacher of the Year competition. The top four finalists travel in the spring to Washington, D.C., where the president of the United States will announce the winner.

Wing’s principal, Joan Islas, said she loves working with Wing and is proud to see her as DODEA Teacher of the Year. Wing definitely deserves to be National Teacher of the Year, she said.

“Kelisa has contributed so much to our school – to the students here as well as to the professional development of her peers,” Islas said. “Students don’t fall through the cracks when they are under Kelisa’s watch. That is for sure.”

“The Army has really molded and shaped me into the type of educator that I am,” Wing said. “Even working together with my fellow teachers. We are definitely better together, and that is something the Army taught me.”

Former NCO and 2017 DODEA Teacher of the Year Kelisa Wing shows students the best websites to research the locations of their parents’ past deployments. (Photo courtesy of DOD Education Activity)
Former NCO and 2017 DODEA Teacher of the Year Kelisa Wing shows students the best websites to research the locations of their parents’ past deployments. (Photo courtesy of DOD Education Activity)

Former NCO named DOD Education Activity Teacher of the Year

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By MEGHAN PORTILLO
NCO Journal

Former NCO Kelisa Wing has brought the leadership skills she gained in the Army into her classroom at Fort Benning, Georgia. Faith Middle School’s students and teachers are inspired every day by Wing, who has been named the 2017 Department of Defense Education Activity Teacher of the Year.

Wing has known she wanted to be a teacher since she was 16 years old. She was a camp counselor, and was faced with two feuding sixth-grade girls. The girls had been rivals for quite some time, but Wing sat them down and encouraged them to talk to each other, one at a time.

“I was surprised, because I wasn’t much older than them, but they were listening to me, and they actually became friends afterward,” Wing said. “I found that it was very natural for me to talk to older children who are sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders. I just felt like I had found my calling. I came home from camp and told my mother that I wanted to be a teacher. She told me teachers don’t make a lot of money, but it didn’t matter to me because I knew that I had made a difference.”

Wing said her mother instilled in her a drive to pursue her education and make something of herself. She knew an education was her key to a brighter future.

“‘Pursue it and do it’ is something my mother would always tell me,” Wing said. “She was a single mother, and I watched her go to school at night and eventually become a registered nurse. She was a wonderful example of perseverance and tenacity. That is really what is at the core of me. My mother would always say, ‘You can do anything you set your mind to. There are no barriers. There are no limits except the ones you create for yourself.’”

Today, those same encouraging words are the ones Wing passes on to her students. Each year, she leads a career project with the eighth-graders at Faith Middle School. The project, with a motto of “Pursue it and do it, building a team to fulfill your dream,” leads the students through a five-step process. They define their goals, research their options, collaborate with others, talk about their dreams with the people important to them, and then execute.

“I believe you can do anything you set your mind to,” Wind said. “This is what I teach my students.”

Working at DODEA

The DOD Educational Activity plans, directs, coordinates and manages pre-kindergarten through 12th-grade education programs for children of Department of Defense personnel who would otherwise not have access to high-quality public education. DODEA schools are in Europe, the Pacific, Western Asia, the Middle East, Cuba, Guam, Puerto Rico and the United States. DODEA also provides support and resources to educational agencies throughout the Unites States that serve the children of military families.

Wing has been teaching for five years, but she has been working for DODEA for 10. She started as a substitute teacher while stationed with her husband in Germany. She then worked as an educational aide, a secretary and finally an administrative officer before starting her student teaching.

“When I made that transition from being a Soldier to being an Army spouse, I knew I wanted to be an educator, and I just wanted to be close to it, no matter what,” Wing said. “So I worked in support positions just to be around children and be a part of the educational system.”

Wing’s principal, Joan Islas, has known her for eight of the 10 years she has worked for DODEA.

“When I met her, she was an administrative officer, and that position focuses on facilities, transportation, the logistical support of the building,” Islas said. “She really stood out to me because she took such a great interest in the students, in their families. That is not usually a focus for an administrative officer. Her interest, concern and love for the children and the community was amazing to see. I have seen her grow into this teaching position, but her care and concern for these kids and their families has really never changed.”

Wing said that though she has always enjoyed working for DODEA, her current teaching position is her favorite. She especially loves working with eighth-graders, because it is a sensitive time in the students’ lives during which she can have a great impact.

“I have student-taught 11th and 12th grade, and I found that by the time students hit the 12th grade, and I hate to say it, but it was too late,” she said. “We had kids who didn’t have enough credits. They had to make a decision whether they wanted to pursue a GED or take extra night-time or online classes. So to me, eighth grade is a vital time in the life of a child. They are getting ready to go to high school, and everything in high school matters. You have to be there, be focused. So we really try to build those skills here, before high school. We can’t stress to them enough the importance of their education and building good study skills, taking ownership of their education. I want it bad for them. Dr. Islas wants it bad for them. But they have got to want it. They have to do what they have to do to be successful.”

NCO skills in the classroom

Wing enlisted in the Army right out of high school in 1999 to get money for college. She worked as a 42F human resources information system management specialist, and was promoted to the rank of sergeant after three years.

“I always had this drive,” Wing said. “Not just for me, but whatever I was going to do, I wanted to do my very best in it so I could show my Soldiers that example.”

When she was a young staff sergeant stationed at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, she was the NCO in charge of the electronic military personnel office with about 30 Soldiers under her care.

Wing recalled a sergeant major asking her during her board for promotion to the rank of staff sergeant, “What is more important, the accomplishment of the mission or the welfare of your Soldiers?”

She said she knew he was expecting her to say the mission is most important, but she replied, “If I don’t take care of my Soldiers, the mission will never be accomplished.”

Wing said she wouldn’t trade her experience in the Army for anything, because it has shaped her into the educator she is today. The leadership skills she developed as an NCO transfer into the classroom and help her create an environment of respect for her students.

“I know that my mission as an educator is to educate, engage and empower students. That is always in the forefront of my mind. I will never quit on any child. The more challenging the situation, the more excited it makes me because I’m like, ‘We are going to get this done. We are going to get you from good to great.’ Defeat is not in my vocabulary, and I believe that every setback is an opportunity for a comeback. So I will never accept defeat. I will never leave a fallen comrade. In the military we never leave anyone behind, and in my classroom, I will never leave a child behind. Everybody is going to be successful.

“I am very proud to have been a part of the corps of noncommissioned officers, just as I am proud to be a teacher. I take that pride, and I take it into my classroom every single day.”

Relating to the kids

Wing said working with children is more difficult than working with Soldiers, because she doesn’t have Army regulations to back her up in the classroom. But learning to connect with her Soldiers and earn their respect has helped her to do the same with her students.

“I have got to connect with these kids in a personal way, and I have to earn their trust, or they are never going to open up their minds for me,” she said.

Wing relates so well to her students, Islas said, because she understands military life. All of the students at Faith Middle School live on post at Fort Benning, and Wing’s experiences as a Soldier and as an Army spouse allow her to empathize with any challenges they face.

“She understands the life and the responsibility of the military child,” Islas said. “They really wear the uniform as well as the parent. They have to move, go into new communities, be flexible, be resilient. Their bodies and minds are changing, and they have to adapt and adjust in new ways while still being responsible. Kelisa understands that. She holds them to extremely high expectations while helping them through times of transition with a lot of kindness and patience.”

The entire school has benefited from Wing’s empathetic approach. Two years ago, Wing created a schoolwide program to address students’ social and emotional needs. The program’s acronym, STAR, stands for stop, teach, affect and reach. More than 500 staff members and students make time every Friday to talk for 10 minutes. They talk about the life skills the students will need to prepare for change or to resolve conflicts. The program is designed to build the kids’ resiliency and self-reliance by showing them that their teachers are available and eager to help them attain their goals.

“The STAR program was her initiative, and it has been very successful here,” Islas said. “It gets teachers and students to connect and know about each other on a personal level. It addresses the whole child, which is extremely important because there is more to our kids than just the academic side. Oftentimes kids — especially military kids — are going through things at home and we want them to feel connected, a part of our community, that this is a safe place for them to come, and that we care about them and their families.”

2017 Department of Defense Educational Activity Teacher of the Year Kelisa Wing encourages her students as they discuss the five elements of a short story. Wing, an eighth-grade teacher at Faith Middle School at Fort Benning, Georgia, uses the leadership skills she gained as an NCO to earn her students’ respect. (Photo courtesy of DOD Educational Activity)
2017 Department of Defense Educational Activity Teacher of the Year Kelisa Wing encourages her students as they discuss the five elements of a short story. Wing, an eighth-grade teacher at Faith Middle School at Fort Benning, Georgia, uses the leadership skills she gained as an NCO to earn her students’ respect. (Photo courtesy of DOD Educational Activity)

This Month in NCO History: Oct. 1, 1863 — Saving Sherman’s March to the Sea

Sgt. Joseph Keen was severely fatigued and mentally exhausted after having spent nearly a year as a Confederate prisoner of war. When he managed to flee his captors Sept. 10, 1864, near Macon, Georgia, he began his trek back toward Union lines believing his chapter in the story of the Civil War was complete.

Little did Keen know he would earn a place in the grand annals of Army history as a recipient of the nation’s highest military honor.

Keen was part of D Company, 13th Michigan Infantry, when it took part in the Battle of Chickamauga on Sept. 18-20, 1863. The Union offensive in southeast Tennessee and northwest Georgia was successfully repelled by Confederate forces and ended with nearly half of the 13th’s 217 Soldiers listed as killed, captured or missing. Keen, who was wounded during the battle, was among those taken prisoner. He spent most of the next year being shuffled between Confederate prisons in Virginia and Georgia before ending up in Macon.

During his time in captivity, Keen kept tabs on the Union’s movements as news poured in from other Soldiers who were subsequently imprisoned with him. He learned that the 13th was actively engaging Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest’s forces across Tennessee and was poised to join famed Union Gen. William T. Sherman in Georgia.

Keen took that news with him when he escaped near Macon. Some days and many miles northwest after his flight from captivity, Keen observed the movement of Confederate forces led by Gen. John Bell Hood and numbering about 40,000 crossing the Chattahoochee River in an attempt to flank Sherman’s army from the rear near Atlanta. Hood had already ceded the city to Sherman the previous month. Now, he was charged with trying to cut off Union communication between Atlanta and Chattanooga. Keen observed the opening stages of that strategy. That’s when he made a fateful decision.

Alone, unarmed and with scores of Confederate forces between him and the future Georgia capital, Keen began a bold march toward Atlanta. According to his Medal of Honor citation, Keen managed to walk undetected through Confederate marching columns, camps and pickets before reaching Union lines near Atlanta on Oct. 1. He relayed news of the Confederate movement to Gen. Hugh J. Kilpatrick. The development furthered Sherman’s objective as it removed opposing forces in his planned path to Savannah, Georgia. Sherman noted, “If he [Hood] will go to the Ohio River, I’ll give him rations. … my business is down south.”

Instead of marching out to meet Hood with his army, Sherman sent Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas to take control of Union forces in Tennessee and coordinate the defense against Hood, while the bulk of Sherman’s forces, which by November included Keen and the 13th Michigan Infantry, began the March to the Sea — the Savannah campaign that destroyed much of the South’s physical and psychological capacity to wage war.

That effort was spurred along, in part, by Keen’s brave undertaking. He was awarded the Medal of Honor on July 31, 1899, for his actions.

Keen was born July 24, 1843, in Stanford in the Vale, Oxfordshire, England. It is unknown when he arrived in the United States. He enlisted as a private in the 13th Michigan Infantry on Feb. 1, 1862. He was promoted to corporal Aug. 31 of that year and earned his sergeant stripes April 1, 1863.

After his time in the Army, Keen spent his years as a farmer and an officer of the Detroit Oak Belting Co. He died Dec. 3, 1926, of heart disease. He was 83. Keen is buried in Elmwood Cemetery in Detroit.

— Compiled by Pablo Villa

NCO posts highest finish for American man in rifle prone at Rio Paralympics

By PABLO VILLA
NCO Journal

Staff Sgt. John Joss may not have reached the medal stand Wednesday, Sept. 14, at the 2016 Paralympic Games, but the four-year member of the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit certainly proved his name belongs alongside the shooting world’s elite.

Joss started the day next to 40 of the world’s best shooters in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, competing in the mixed R6-50-meter rifle prone competition. By day’s end, his scores netted him a fifth-place finish. It was the highest finish for an American man at the competition.

While not bringing home any hardware is certainly disappointing, the top-five finish showcased Joss’ deftness with the rifle in his first Paralympics. He qualified for the medal round after a sixth-place finish in outdoor qualification amid blustery conditions. National Paralympic Coach Bob Foth said Joss made smart decisions throughout qualification in reading wind speed and movement. Once action moved indoors for the finals, Joss improved his standing by one position.

Staff Sgt. John Joss placed fifth in the mixed R6 50-meter rifle prone event Sept. 14 at the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (File photo courtesy of U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit)
Staff Sgt. John Joss placed fifth in the mixed R6 50-meter rifle prone event Sept. 14 at the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (File photo courtesy of U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit)

“This is totally different than anything I’ve ever done before,” Joss told USA Shooting after the competition. “I felt calm and on fire at the same time. I know I was working with a kind of shaky hold. I was making smart decisions, but there isn’t much I could do at the end. I did the best I could, and I really took a lot out of it. It’s hard to hit a target that small alone, then when you have an elevated heart rate, a pulse in your hand and your front sight starts moving around, it makes it a lot harder.”

Joss’ performance is also testament to how far he has come since sustaining both physical injuries and emotional hardship in 2007. Joss had both of his legs seriously injured in an improvised explosive device attack while deployed north of Baghdad, Iraq. He returned to the United States to undergo multiple surgeries and begin a grueling rehabilitation process before he was dealt another blow — Joss’ father was killed in a vehicle accident two months after his arrival at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas.

Joss subsequently made the difficult decision to amputate his right leg. He began shooting competitively at Fort Benning, Georgia, to supplement his rehabilitation. Joss soon found success. He joined the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit in 2012. In 2013 and 2014, he won gold at the USA Shooting National Championships. Two years later, he has served notice to the rest of the shooting world that he will be a force in the coming years.

Sgt. Elizabeth Marks broke a Paralympic swimming world record in winning her first gold medal at the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Marks won the women's 100-meter breaststroke with a time of 1.28:13. (Photo courtesy U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program)
Sgt. Elizabeth Marks broke a Paralympic swimming world record in winning her first gold medal at the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Marks won the women’s 100-meter breaststroke with a time of 1.28:13. (Photo courtesy U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program)

WCAP swimmer back in action

Sgt. Elizabeth Marks returns to the pool Thursday, Sept. 15, for the first of three events she is scheduled to compete in.

The Paralympic swimmer from the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program competes in the 4×100-meter freestyle relay Sept. 15. She will swim the 4×100-meter medley relay Friday, Sept. 16, and closes the Rio Paralympics in the SM8 200-meter individual medley.

Marks has already claimed one gold medal at these Paralympics, winning the SB7 100-meter breaststroke with a world record time during the weekend.

Soldier volunteers provide critical service at Natick

By MARTHA C. KOESTER
NCO Journal

They arrive every 90 days at the Natick Soldier Systems Center in Natick, Massachusetts, ready to perform an invaluable mission on behalf of their military brothers and sisters. If a Soldier wears it, eats it or sleeps under it, a human research volunteer has tested it for the Army warfighter.

HRVs arrive at Natick usually following advanced individual training and prior to their first permanent duty station. Many Soldiers often arrive unfamiliar with the small military research complex and installation.

A human research volunteer is the first line of research and the backbone for testing everything that is worn, carried or consumed by Soldiers, Natick says. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center / U.S. Army)
A human research volunteer is the first line of research and the backbone for testing everything that is worn, carried or consumed by Soldiers, Natick says. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center / U.S. Army)

“I had no clue about Natick,” said 1st Sgt. Miguel A. Martinez Jr., first sergeant of the Headquarters Research and Development Detachment at the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center, who works with many of the HRVs. “Before I came here, I asked myself, ‘What am I getting myself into? I have no idea what this is.’ I have been here a year, and I love it. It’s great.”

Behind every HRV is a small force of noncommissioned officers who are charged with sustaining Natick’s mission of maximizing the warfighter’s survivability and combat effectiveness.

“We know what the equipment can be used for, instead of what it was designed to do,” Martinez said. “Soldiers walk in and say, ‘That’s awesome. I can do this, this and this.’ The scientists then say, ‘Wow. We never thought of it that way.”

It happens often: Soldiers repurpose a piece of military equipment in a way that scientists never thought possible. One example was the Army poncho, said Sarah Ross, human research volunteer test coordinator and a veteran NCO.

“Scientists had no idea that Soldiers were using it as a shelter or a cover,” Ross said. “Two years ago, [a review] was done in the Doriot Climatic Chambers because Soldiers were getting heat injuries from being underneath the poncho. They found Soldiers were using the poncho as a shelter, and the temperature underneath the ponchos was reaching 150 degrees. Soldiers thought they were in the shade, but in reality they were hurting themselves by doing it. Scientists and engineers didn’t create that item for them to use it in that regard, so they changed it. But they

Soldiers who volunteer to be human research volunteers at the Natick Soldier Systems Center at Natick, Massachusetts, provide an invaluable service and help further studies at the small military installation. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center / U.S. Army)
Soldiers who volunteer to be human research volunteers at the Natick Soldier Systems Center at Natick, Massachusetts, provide an invaluable service and help further studies at the small military installation. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center / U.S. Army)

wouldn’t have known that if they didn’t have a good relationship with Soldiers to be able to get that feedback.”

Martinez and Ross work together with HRVs to ensure that being a Soldier doesn’t come second at Natick, Ross said.

“Bottom line is we are all just making sure that we do the best we can for the Soldier,” she said.

A lot can happen in the 90 days that Soldiers serve as HRVs.

“It’s enough time where Soldiers who are not diligent in staying within qualification of their MOS, their job, that they can become complacent quite easily,” Ross said. “So that’s where HRDD comes in ─ to make sure that Soldiers keep that good order because that’s important.”

Soldiers who volunteer for studies at Natick may find themselves with such tasks as trying new uniforms or garments or enduring environmental conditions that Soldiers in the field commonly face.

“A Soldier can be here for 90 days and participate anywhere from doing one study to 10, 12 or 15,” Ross said. “I keep records, and I give them all a little memo of things they have done. I did one where a Soldier did 17. That’s the most I have seen a Soldier do in 90 days.”

As part of the team at the Doriot Climatic Chambers, Ross has seen a lot of HRVs come through Natick.

Cognitive science research team members at the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center guide a human research volunteer through a virtual reality experiment in Natick, Massa chusetts. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center / U.S. Army)
Cognitive science research team members at the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center guide a human research volunteer through a virtual reality experiment in Natick, Massa chusetts. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center / U.S. Army)

“Our program is evolving because the Soldiers that we work for are evolving,” Ross said. “The Soldiers we are getting in this program are changing because the demographic of the Soldier is changing. We are seeing more females in these groups than I have ever seen. This upcoming group has 11 females. I have never had 11 females in a group of 30 before. That’s never happened in my eight years here.”

The installation often welcomes West Point cadets as well as squads from larger bases to help with testing.

“We have cadets from West Point who intern here,” Martinez said. “We also have a squad from the 82nd Airborne Division that helps as well. There are guys from Fort Stewart, Georgia, here, and we have HRVs as well. It’s a very busy installation for a small unit.”

HRVs have been prized for their feedback since 1954 at Natick labs, where they take part in studies for NSRDEC and the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine. Ross often hears back from some Soldiers who have volunteered at Natick.

“One of the best things to me is when I open up Facebook, and I get a message from [a former HRV],” she said. “They tell me, ‘Hey Sarah, I am an E4 now. My unit was chosen to use this new rucksack. I opened it up and realized that three years ago when I was at Natick as an HRV I helped with this research.’ I probably receive about 10 of those emails. That to me is so cool.”