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This Month in NCO History: Sept. 2, 2006 — Soldier goes from tragedy to triumph

For Mark Dodge, a former Army sergeant, the ninth month of the year brings forth a gamut of emotions. He has experienced tragedy in September. He has also felt the elation of a dream lived.

Dodge was in the Army from April 2000 to January 2004, assigned to the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, at Fort Myer, Va. As part of “The Old Guard,” Dodge took part in military funerals at Arlington National Cemetery and other notable ceremonies nationwide.

On Sept. 11, 2001, Dodge was at the Pentagon filing documents for a security clearance to the White House when news of the terrorist attacks unfolding in New York flashed across TV screens in the facility. But no one knew another hijacked plane, American Airlines Flight 77, was headed for the headquarters of the Department of Defense.

At 9:37 a.m., the jetliner struck the western side of the Pentagon, killing all 64 of the plane’s occupants and 125 people in the building. Dodge and the rest of The Old Guard stationed nearby at what is now Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall immediately leaped into action. Initially, Dodge helped move survivors to triage tents. After the fires in the building were extinguished, the unit was tasked with sifting through the rubble to find survivors and recover victims’ remains.

“You’d come across stuff you wish you wouldn’t, stuff you couldn’t imagine seeing,” Dodge said in 2006 of the experience.

The experience left Dodge suffering with post-traumatic stress. He eventually decided to halt his Army career and focus on goals he had previously abandoned. The first was reconciling with his estranged father, Howard Dodge, who divorced the younger Dodge’s mother, Toni Inserra, and was largely absent from his son’s life since he was an infant. Dodge did just that, beginning to build a relationship with this father before leaving the Army as an NCO in 2004.

Dodge next set his sights on college, but he didn’t want to enroll at a university simply to be a student. He wanted to play football for a top-tier school.

In high school, Dodge had been an all-state wide receiver in Nevada. He joined the Army after he didn’t receive an offer to play college football. But even though six years had passed since he last set foot on a field in competition, Dodge was not discouraged. He added 20 pounds to his 6-foot-2-inch frame that tipped the scales at 200 during his Army career, and he went on a strict diet. He wrote several schools, but did not hear back from any of them.

Undeterred, Dodge enrolled at Feather River Community College in Quincy, Calif. The Golden Eagles play in the Golden Valley Conference of the California Community College Athletic Association. In the fall of 2004, at the age of 23, Dodge started at inside linebacker. His ability to chase down ball carriers received the attention of several Division I programs. In 2006, Dodge accepted a scholarship offer from Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas, citing the school’s rich military traditions as a big reason for his decision.

On Sept. 2, 2006, nearly five years since the attacks that left an indelible mark on his psyche, Dodge had something of a cathartic moment.

In front of more than 70,000 fans at the Aggies’ Kyle Field against The Citadel, Dodge saw his first action as a Division I college football player with 2:57 left in the 1st quarter. On his first play, Dodge displayed the same strength and fortitude that helped him succeed in the Army. From his inside linebacker position, Dodge followed a sweep play to his right, blew past a blocker and tackled a Citadel running back for a loss. One play later, Dodge forced a fumble that his Aggies recovered to spur a 35-3 blowout win.

“This is more fun than I can ever dream of,” Dodge said after the game. “One bad day here is a lot better than a very good day overseas.”

Dodge won the starting position the following week. He played linebacker for two seasons for Texas A&M and finished his Aggie career with 168 tackles, two interceptions and two forced fumbles. In 2007, he received honorable mention on the All-Big 12 team.

Today, Dodge lives in San Antonio with his wife and son.

— Compiled by Pablo Villa

Former drill sergeants invited to attend 50th anniversary events

NCO Journal

NCOs at Fort Jackson, S.C., are organizing what could be a new Soldier’s worst nightmare: a field full of Soldiers wearing drill sergeant hats.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Army’s drill sergeant training program. Events to commemorate that anniversary are planned to coincide with the 2014 Drill Sergeant and Advanced Individual Training Platoon Sergeant of the Year competition Sept. 8-13 at Fort Jackson. All former drill sergeants — retired and currently serving — are invited to attend the competition and commemoration.

The competition will take place Sept. 8-10, with the competition winners announced during an awards ceremony Sept. 11. On Sept. 12, there will be an open house at the new U.S. Army Drill Sergeant School campus, as well as a social, said Sgt. Maj. Thomas Campbell, the G3/5/7 (operations/plans/training) sergeant major for the U.S. Army Center for Initial Military Training at Fort Eustis, Va. All former drill sergeants are being asked to wear their drill sergeant hats to the social.

The competitors of the 2011 Drill Sergeant of the Year Competition stand in front of the U.S. Army Drill Sergeant School at Fort Jackson, S.C. The statue is of Allen Glen Carpenter, who won the first competition in 1969 as a sergeant first class. (NCO Journal file photo)
The competitors of the 2011 Drill Sergeant of the Year Competition stand in front of the U.S. Army Drill Sergeant School at Fort Jackson, S.C. The statue is of Allen Glen Carpenter, who won the first competition in 1969 as a sergeant first class. (NCO Journal file photo)

“The Drill Sergeant Hat Social is going to be in the center of the Drill Sergeant School campus, in the center of the physical training field,” Campbell said. “Our goal is to get as many drill sergeant hats as we can on the Drill Sergeant School field. We will then have a photo opportunity to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the formal Drill Sergeant School program.”

Countless Soldiers have walked by the drill sergeant statue at Fort Jackson, and the Sept. 12 social offers the chance to watch that statue come to life. Retired Command Sgt. Maj. Allen Glen Carpenter will be the guest speaker at the social. Not only was Carpenter the Army’s first Drill Sergeant of the Year, he is also the person who the drill sergeant statue is modeled after.

“The unique thing is Sgt. Maj. Carpenter has never seen that statue,” Campbell said. “This will be the first time he actually gets to see it in person. It’s always stood in front of the Fort Jackson drill sergeant school, both at the old location and at the new school. So every drill sergeant who has passed through the doors since the 1980s has walked by Sgt. Maj. Carpenter. And many, many photos have been taken by drill sergeants with him.”

For more information on the competition, open house or social, e-mail Campbell at thomas.e.campbell7.mil@mail.mil or the current Drill Sergeant of the Year, Sgt. 1st Class David Stover, at david.e.stover.mil@mail.mil.

This Month in NCO History: March 30, 1968 — The first female command sergeant major

Women in the Army have enjoyed several recent milestones, most recently the  announcement that 33,000 positions previously closed to female Soldiers will open in April.

The news invokes memories of landmark moments for women throughout the Army’s history. One of the most momentous was provided more than 45 years ago by Command Sgt. Maj. Yzetta L. Nelson.

Nelson holds the distinction of being the first woman promoted to the rank of command sergeant major. She was pinned on March 30, 1968, during an earlier period in the Army’s history where advancements for women were occurring at a quick pace.

Less than five months before Nelson was awarded what, at the time, was the Army’s highest enlisted rank, President Lyndon Johnson signed Public Law 90-130, which removed restrictions on advanced military rank for women and lifted ceilings on the number of female Soldiers in the Army. The law, signed Nov. 8, 1967, came after heightened calls for equal opportunities for women in the Army, who for decades were kept out of the general and flag ranks, instead assigned to the Women’s Army Corps, or WAC. After Nelson’s promotion, women actively participated in the Vietnam War and eventually integrated into the Army after the WAC was dissolved in 1978.

Nelson, a Shevlin, Minn., native, served 26 years in the Army before her retirement in 1970. She joined the WAC in 1944, serving initially as a clerk-typist. She quickly ascended the ranks with assignments in Germany, Hawaii and Washington, D.C., before being promoted to sergeant major in 1966. Two years later, she earned her place in history.

After leaving the Army, Nelson traveled the country to deliver speeches about the WAC’s legacy and the role of women in the military. She was a guest speaker at the opening of the U.S. Army Women’s Museum at Fort Lee, Va., in August 2005.

“This museum preserves our history and showcases the achievements of women in the Army,” Nelson said at the opening ceremony. “Young people thank us for the opportunities they are receiving today because of the brave Soldiers who went before them.”

Nelson worked as a church secretary and volunteered with a local charity before her death on May 14, 2011, in Brooklyn Center, Minn.

— Compiled by Pablo Villa

Command Sgt. Maj. Yzetta Nelson, left, stands with Command Sgt. Maj. Curtis Ramsay in April 1968. (Photo courtesy of Army News Service)
Command Sgt. Maj. Yzetta L. Nelson, left, stands with Command Sgt. Maj. Curtis S. Ramsay in April 1968. (Photo courtesy of Army News Service)

Army’s Best Warrior Competition postponed due to budget battle in Washington, D.C.

U.S. Army News Service

The budget standoff in the nation’s capital has stalled the Department of the Army Best Warrior Competition, which had been set to take place beginning Oct. 15 at Fort Lee, Va.

Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond F. Chandler III announced Tuesday that the event will be postponed until a yet-to-be-determined date due to the current constraints on spending for temporary duty trips.

“I appreciate the continued commitment and flexibility of all agencies and commands involved in Best Warrior,” Chandler said in a message to the Army’s most senior non-commissioned officers yesterday. “I’ve told many of you that this year’s competition will test our agile and adaptive warriors with a compressed timeline and a few surprises, so this date change adds yet another unexpected level of challenge.”

The first phase of the 12th annual Best Warrior Competition was set to begin Sunday, with the arrival of competitors from overseas locations. The remainder of those competing — 24 in all, representing 12 major commands — would have reported Monday.

Command Sgt. Maj. James K. Sims, Combined Arms Support Command, was appointed by Chandler to oversee all preparations for this year’s competition. Sims said he was glad to hear that the government shutdown did not cancel the event.

“Every one of the competitors earned the right to make the trip to Best Warrior,” he said. “Over the past year, they competed at company, battalion, brigade and major Army command levels to secure a spot in the competition. Their commands are basically saying ‘these are the Soldiers we selected to represent us.’ That’s why we refer to them as the ‘best of the best.'”

What specific challenges the competitors will eventually face during this year’s competition is a well-kept secret. Event planners from Fort Lee and the Pentagon have squelched that information, saying it “adds to the intensity of the competition and prevents any unfair advantages among participants.”

They only say it will include an Army Physical Fitness Test, a written exam and graded essay on general military topics, weapons qualification, a land navigation course, warrior tasks and battle drills, a mystery event, and a Soldier and NCO selection board comprised of Chandler and six senior command sergeants major from across the Army.

“A big change this year is the timeline,” Sims said. “It will be shorter in length, which reduced our overall cost by 70 percent compared to previous competitions. We also rearranged the traditional order of events. Aside from that, it will feature the same successive and unexpected challenges that make it a complex, real-world-orientated competition.

“Our strategy was to base all aspects of the competition on the challenges faced while deployed. That was the SMA’s vision.” Sims said. “In combat, our Soldiers face situations where there may not be a true right or wrong decision, as each option has its own set of consequences. Weighing those options and consequences takes well-developed critical thinking skills — skills that will be necessary to find success in this year’s Army Best Warrior Competition.”

The schedule for this year’s event also includes an unprecedented end-of-event ceremony where the winning competitors will be announced at Fort Lee and through streaming video. In previous years, the awards presentation took place in Washington, D.C.

“For us, it adds another level of excitement,” Sims noted. “The place where they fought for the title is the same as where two will be crowned as the NCO and Soldier of the Year.”

Speaking on behalf of the Fort Lee planning cell, Sims said his team is unfazed by the decision to postpone the competition. The mission has not changed, he noted.

“Whether this happens a couple of weeks or a couple of months later, CASCOM and Fort Lee remain ready to support the event and its competitors just like it has done for the past 11 years,” he said. “The Soldiers on our team are true game-changers in their level of commitment to excellence and getting the mission done whatever it takes. This competition has been under constant development and refinement since January, resulting in the intended world-class competition that will showcase the talents of the best warriors in the world.”

Chandler echoed that sentiment.

“My sincere thanks goes out to everyone who worked to plan this year’s competition,” he said. “Whether you’re assigned to Fort Lee or other nearby commands, I know you have studied, practiced and prepared to be part of the cadre and support staff that will make this event a success very soon. I appreciate your commitment — and your flexibility.”

Sgt. Maj. of the Army Ray Chandler, left, discusses Best Warrior competition plans last month on a Fort Lee, Va., range with Sgt. Justin Morataya, center, and Sgt. Moises Alfaro. (Photo by Army News Service)

Sgt. Maj. of the Army Ray Chandler, left, discusses Best Warrior Competition plans last month on a Fort Lee, Va., range with Sgt. Justin Morataya, center, and Sgt. Moises Alfaro. (Photo by Army News Service)

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