This Month in NCO History: May 2, 1968 — A daring rescue that risked everything

Staff Sgt. Roy P. Benavidez had a feeble grip on consciousness when he was pulled out of a rescue helicopter May 2, 1968.

He had just been through a harrowing six-hour firefight, and the danger wasn’t over. Benavidez arrived at his forward operating base just west of Loc Ninh, Vietnam, and was placed on the ground amid other bodies that had been retrieved from a battle just miles beyond the Cambodian border. His eyes were caked in blood and tightly shut. He couldn’t speak as his jaw had been dislodged by the butt of a North Vietnamese rifle. The rigors of combat left him exhausted and motionless. A doctor pronounced him dead.

Benavidez felt a body bag envelop him. The zipper began its raspy trek up his legs. He couldn’t get the doctor’s attention. A fellow Soldier who recognized Benavidez interrupted the doctor, imploring him to check for a heartbeat. The doctor placed his hand on the wounded Soldier’s chest. The slight pressure gurgled forth a bit of fortitude from Benavidez’s waning strength, and he uncorked what he later called “the luckiest shot” he ever took. He spit in the doctor’s face.

Benavidez was rushed into surgery immediately, his ordeal concluded. It was one that involved so many feats of gallantry that nearly 13 years later, before awarding Benavidez — who retired as a master sergeant —the nation’s highest military honor, President Ronald Reagan told White House reporters, “you are going to hear something you would not believe if it were a script.”

Benavidez’s astonishing saga began during his second tour in Vietnam. He was part of Detachment B-56, 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne), 1st Special Forces, which began operations in the country in February 1965.

On that fateful March day, the 33-year-old Benavidez was in a church service when he heard frantic radio chatter from the front. When helicopters from the 240th Assault Helicopter Company returned to the FOB’s flight line, their pilots revealed the cause of the frenzied voices. A 12-man reconnaissance team of Green Berets were pinned down by up to 1,500 North Vietnamese infantry soldiers in dense jungle terrain. The enemy had successfully forced the helicopters to abandon an initial rescue effort.

Benavidez immediately acted. He grabbed as many medical supplies as he could and hopped on a helicopter to assist in another extraction attempt. The scene he surveyed from the air was grim — the entire team was wounded, most of them beyond the ability to fight. They were surrounded on all sides by enemy forces that occasionally shot at the chopper Benavidez was riding in. Benavidez directed the pilot to hover over a nearby clearing where he jumped 10 feet into a muggy thicket with the intention of recovering the men.

When he landed on the ground, according to his Medal of Honor citation, Benavidez sprinted 75 meters toward his fellow Soldiers’ position as small arms fire pierced the foliage around him. By the time he reached them, Benavidez was wounded in the leg, face and head. Despite his injuries, he took charge, repositioning the Soldiers and directing their fire to facilitate the landing of a rescue helicopter. Benavidez drew the helicopter in with smoke canisters. When it arrived, he carried and dragged half of the wounded team members to the aircraft. He then provided protective fire by running alongside the helicopter as it moved to pick up the remaining team members. With the enemy’s fire intensifying, he hurried to recover classified documents on the dead team leader.

When he reached the leader’s body, the citation states, Benavidez was severely wounded by enemy fire in the abdomen and grenade fragments in his back. At the same time, the helicopter pilot was mortally wounded, and his aircraft crashed. Although in critical condition because of his multiple wounds, Benavidez secured the classified documents and made his way back to the wreckage, where he pulled his fellow wounded Soldiers out of the overturned aircraft. He positioned the stunned survivors into a defensive perimeter. Under increasing enemy automatic weapons and grenade fire, he moved around the perimeter distributing water and ammunition to the weary men. With the beleaguered group facing a buildup of enemy opposition, Benavidez began calling in tactical air strikes and directed the fire from supporting gunships to suppress the enemy and allow another extraction attempt.

By the time another helicopter was able to land, Benavidez had been directing the fight non-stop for nearly six hours. But the battle still wasn’t finished. In fact, it moved closer. After ferrying one group of wounded Soldiers to the helicopter, Benavidez was returning for the others when he was clubbed from behind by an enemy soldier. In the ensuing hand-to-hand combat, Benavidez sustained bayonet wounds to his head and arms before killing his adversary. Enemy fire intensified as he continued carrying the wounded to safety. He killed two enemy soldiers who rushed the craft before returning a third time to the perimeter of the fallen helicopter to secure classified material and bring in the last of the wounded.

Benavidez mustered the last of his strength to board the helicopter, the last man to leave the battlefield. The aircraft was riddled with bullet holes, covered in blood and without any functioning instruments, but the pilot somehow lifted off. Benavidez lost consciousness as soon as it cleared the jungle canopy.

He was awarded the Medal of Honor on Feb. 24, 1981. According to his citation, his efforts “saved the lives of eight men. His fearless personal leadership, tenacious devotion to duty, and extremely valorous actions in the face of overwhelming odds were in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service, and reflect the utmost credit on him and the United States Army.”

Benavidez was born in Lindenau near Cuero, Texas. He was orphaned at age 7 after his parents died from tuberculosis. Benavidez and his younger brother, Roger, were raised by a grandfather, uncle and aunt in El Campo, Texas.

He attended school sporadically before dropping out at age 15 to work full time to help support the family. Benavidez enlisted in the Texas Army National Guard in 1952 during the Korean War. In June 1955, he switched to active duty. He completed airborne training and was assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, where he eventually became a member of the 5th Special Forces Group. He was sent to Vietnam in 1965 as an advisor. During a patrol, he stepped on a land mine. Doctors told Benavidez he would never walk again. After a year in the hospital — and following an unsanctioned rehabilitation regimen — Benavidez walked out of the facility determined to return to Vietnam to help his fellow Soldiers.

Little did he know he would enter the annals of U.S. Army history.

In 1976, Benavidez retired with the rank of master sergeant. He returned to El Campo with his wife and their three children. He devoted his remaining years to the youth of America, speaking to them about the importance of getting an education. His message was simple: “An education is the key to success. Bad habits and bad company will ruin you.”

Benavidez died Nov. 29, 1998, at age 63. He was buried with full honors at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery.

— Compiled with Pablo Villa

Third U.S. Army Marksmanship Soldier heading to 2016 Olympics

By BRENDA ROLIN
U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit

After seven months of speculation and uncertainty, Sgt. 1st Class Josh Richmond, U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit (USAMU) double trap competitor and shooter-instructor, is now headed to the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Richmond earned the last double trap seat on the 2016 U.S. Olympic Shooting Team May 19 during the 2016 Shotgun Olympic Trials in Tillar, Arkansas.

Richmond, of Hillsgrove, Pennsylvania, won the gold medal in the 2015 Fall Selection match in Tucson, Arizona, in October. That match was one of two Olympic trials for shotgun, and he has been in a waiting game since then to finish what he started.

Richmond said it was hard to describe the level of competition he faced at Tillar.

“I just kept trying to stay in the present, stay in the moment and continue my routine and just hit more targets than the rest of them,” he said.

Sgt. 1st Class Josh Richmond, U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit, accepts congratulations after winning the final double trap seat on the U.S. Olympic Shooting Team during the 2016 Shotgun Olympic Trials Part II in Tillar, Arkansas, May 19, 2016. Richmond also competed in the 2012 Olympic Games in London, England. (U.S. Army photos by Brenda Rolin)
Sgt. 1st Class Josh Richmond, U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit, accepts congratulations after winning the final double trap seat on the U.S. Olympic Shooting Team during the 2016 Shotgun Olympic Trials Part II in Tillar, Arkansas, May 19, 2016. Richmond also competed in the 2012 Olympic Games in London, England. (U.S. Army photos by Brenda Rolin)

Richmond’s win in Tucson in October also put him in direct competition with two of his USAMU teammates — Sgt. Derek Haldeman of Pendleton, Oregon; and Sgt. 1st Class Jeffrey Holguin of Yorba Linda, California — who won the silver and gold, respectively.

Although each one of them planned to win the nomination to the Olympic Team, Richmond, who also participated in the 2012 Olympic Games, said the three continued to train and prepare for this day together.

“We are only as strong as the weakest member of the team,” he said. “We have a strong bond and sharing this brotherhood of the Army takes it to another level. We are all happy to see each other succeed.”

Four-time Olympian and U.S. Olympic Shotgun Team coach Todd Graves said natural talent and the opportunity for Olympians to train together often gives them an edge. For the USAMU double trap team, he said this is especially true.

“As a group, being able to train together when you’ve got two or three of the top double trap shooters in the world, it helps when you get to train with them,” he said.

As for whether Graves had a favorite, he said this was a win-win situation.

“With these guys, you could have put their pictures up on a board and thrown darts at them, and I would have been happy with any of them,” he said.

Despite high hopes for skeet shooter Spc. Hayden Stewart, who is also assigned to USAMU and who tied for the gold during the 2015 Fall Selection Match, none of the USAMU skeet team members won enough points during competition to secure the final skeet position on the 2016 U.S. Olympic Shooting Team.

Though Stewart of Columbia, Tennessee, was one of the favorites to win the remaining skeet position after tying with U.S. Team member Frank Thompson in the Fall Selection Match in Tucson, Thompson ended up winning the coveted seat on the Olympic Team. Stewart finished 3rd overall.

Three other USAMU skeet team members also competed: Spc. Mark Staffen, Spc. Dustan Taylor and Pvt. Christian Elliott.

Staffen was in top form and won the gold in the skeet competition at the Shotgun Olympic Trials in Tillar.

Sgt. 1st Class Josh Richmond, U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit, fires at one of the hundreds of clays he needed to hit to earn the final double trap seat on the U.S. Olympic Shooting Team during the 2016 Shotgun Olympic Trials Part II in Tillar, Arkansas, May 19. Richmond will join two other USAMU Soldiers at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in August.
Sgt. 1st Class Josh Richmond, U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit, fires at one of the hundreds of clays he needed to hit to earn the final double trap seat on the U.S. Olympic Shooting Team during the 2016 Shotgun Olympic Trials Part II in Tillar, Arkansas, May 19. Richmond will join two other USAMU Soldiers at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in August.

However, Staffen didn’t have enough points from the Fall Selection Match to earn the skeet position on the Olympic Team and ended up in 5th place overall. Taylor of Shawnee, Oklahoma, and Elliott of Bedford, Indiana, finished 11th and 12th respectively.

Staffen, from Lewis Center, Ohio, said he was very happy to win the Tillar event, and he would not be shooting in the Olympic trials without the Army behind him.

“The Army has helped me a lot with getting my skill level up and providing resources to shoot at this level,” he said.

Richmond is the third Soldier from USAMU to make the U.S. Olympic Shooting Team.

He will join teammates Sgt. 1st Class Michael McPhail and Sgt. 1st Class Glenn Eller at the Games this August. McPhail, an International rifle competitor, won an automatic berth for 50-meter prone rifle Sept 3, 2015. Eller won an automatic berth for double trap Sept. 14, 2015.

McPhail of Darlington, Wisconsin, and Eller of Katy, Texas, earned their automatic berths on the U.S. Olympic Shooting Team through high finishes in international world shooting sport events in the year prior to the Games.

Soldiers competing on the world stage in international shooting competitions and the Olympic Games are a testament to the skills and training American Soldiers receive and develop.

USAMU Soldiers translate their shooting skills and lessons learned from competitions into training for other Soldiers in preparation for missions across the globe.

5 NCOs among first 100 athletes named to U.S. Olympic Team

By TIM HIPPS
Army News Service

Five noncommissioned officers are among the first 100 athletes named to the U.S. Olympic Team scheduled to compete Aug. 5-21 in the 2016 Olympic Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Rapid-fire pistol shooter Sgt. 1st Class Keith Sanderson, race walker Staff Sgt. John Nunn and modern pentathlete Sgt. Nathan Schrimsher are Soldier-athletes in the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program at Fort Carson, Colorado.

Shotgun shooter Sgt. 1st Class Glenn Eller and rifle shooter Sgt. 1st Class Michael McPhail are Soldier-athletes in the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit at Fort Benning, Georgia.

Sgt. 1st Class Keith Sanderson of the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program, seen here practicing at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, has been selected for his third U.S. Olympic Team and will compete in the men’s 25-meter rapid fire pistol event at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. (Tim Hipps / Army News Service)
Sgt. 1st Class Keith Sanderson of the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program, seen here practicing at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, has been selected for his third U.S. Olympic Team and will compete in the men’s 25-meter rapid fire pistol event at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. (Tim Hipps / Army News Service)

Sanderson, 41, a three-time Olympian from San Antonio, Texas, is the most decorated competitive pistol shooter in U.S. military history. He is scheduled to compete Aug. 12-13 in the 25-meter rapid fire pistol event.

“First, I want to make the final,” Sanderson said. “Second, make it to the medal round. Third, I want to get a gold medal. I feel like I have to get a gold. I want to be the best U.S. pistol shooter in history.”

Sanderson, a nine-time World Cup medalist, finished fifth at the 2008 Beijing Games.

“Shooting competitively has allowed me to excel in something to the point where, at times, I have become the best in the world,” Sanderson said. “I already have the most World Cups. The only thing I’m missing is that Olympic gold medal.”

Race walker Staff Sgt. John Nunn of the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program is scheduled to compete in his third Olympics in the 2016 Rio Games. (Tim Hipps / Army News Service)
Race walker Staff Sgt. John Nunn of the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program is scheduled to compete in his third Olympics in the 2016 Rio Games. (Tim Hipps / Army News Service)

Nunn, 38, a native of Evansville, Indiana, who lives in Bonsall, California, also will be competing in his third Olympics. He finished 43rd in the men’s 50-kilometer race walk at the 2012 London Olympic Games with a personal-best time of 4 hours, 3 minutes and 28 seconds.

Earlier this year at the 2016 U.S. Olympic 50K Race Walk Team Trials, Nunn overcame the flu to win the race and improved his personal best to 4:03.21. He also plans to attempt to qualify for the 20-kilometer race walk event at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Track and Field Team Trials on June 30 in Salem, Oregon.

“It would be fun to do both [the 50k and 20k in Rio de Janeiro], but 50K is what I’m good at and what I’ve held the [Olympic] standard for a couple years now,” Nunn said. “If I happen to hit the 20K standard that’s great. I’ll still make the 50K the priority in Rio and we’ll still race the 20K, but it becomes a great speed workout a week before the 50K, which is fine.”

The Olympic 20-kilometer race walk is scheduled for Aug. 12 at Fort Copacabana and the 50K is set for Aug. 19.

“We’ve had some really good workouts over the past few months where I’ve been able to just nail full through a 35K with a 4:30 pace per kilometer,” Nunn said, “which puts me right at like 3:45 for a 50K. There’s potential to set a huge personal record in Rio.”

Sgt. Nathan Schrimsher, 23, will make his Olympic debut in modern pentathlon, a five-sport event consisting of fencing, swimming, equestrian show jumping, cross-country running and pistol shooting on Aug. 18 at Fort Copacabana in Rio de Janeiro. (Tim Hipps / Army News Service)
Sgt. Nathan Schrimsher, 23, will make his Olympic debut in modern pentathlon, a five-sport event consisting of fencing, swimming, equestrian show jumping, cross-country running and pistol shooting on Aug. 18 at Fort Copacabana in Rio de Janeiro. (Tim Hipps / Army News Service)

Schrimsher, 23, a native of Roswell, New Mexico, now stationed at Fort Carson, will make his Olympic debut in modern pentathlon, a five-sport event consisting of fencing, swimming, equestrian show jumping, cross-country running and pistol shooting. After getting started in the sport at age 12, he soon began dreaming of becoming an Olympian. After three successful appearances in the Modern Pentathlon Junior World Championships, Schrimsher quickly climbed the ranks of the U.S. men’s senior division.

In July 2015, Schrimsher was the first individual named to the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team after he finished third at the Pan American Games in Toronto to earn a berth in the 2016 Rio Games.

“A lot of people were telling me that I could relax because I didn’t have the pressure of qualifying anymore,” Schrimsher recalled. “But now the pressure to compete, and go win that gold, that’s on. It’s another set of pressure, but I’m ready for it.

“I just want to go and compete and do the best I can,” continued Schrimsher, who is scheduled to compete Aug. 18 and 20 in Rio. “I just feel like regular old Nathan from New Mexico, just doing my thing. I’m going to give it my best like I’ve always done.”

U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit shotgun shooter Sgt. 1st Class Glenn Eller shoots during the opening round of Olympic men’s double trap qualification at the Royal Artillery Barracks range at the 2012 London Games. Eller, the 2008 Olympic gold medalist, is scheduled to compete in his fifth Olympics at the 2016 Rio Games. (Tim Hipps / Army News Service)
U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit shotgun shooter Sgt. 1st Class Glenn Eller shoots during the opening round of Olympic men’s double trap qualification at the Royal Artillery Barracks range at the 2012 London Games. Eller, the 2008 Olympic gold medalist, is scheduled to compete in his fifth Olympics at the 2016 Rio Games. (Tim Hipps / Army News Service)

Schrimsher upped the ante May 7 by posting the best American men’s performance in eight years on the Modern Pentathlon World Cup circuit with a seventh-place finish in the 2016 UIPM World Cup season finale in Sarasota, Florida. The last time a U.S. competitor placed higher was at the 2008 World Cup final, when Air Force Capt. Eli Bremer won the bronze medal and U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program teammate Sgt. Dennis Bowsher was fourth.

Schrimsher competed in the 2010 Youth Olympic Games in Singapore, where he finished 13th. In March, he won the gold medal at the Pan American and South American Championships in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where his younger brother, also an Olympic hopeful, struck bronze.

Sgt. 1st Class Michael McPhail leaves the shooting line after competing in the 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto, Canada. McPhail is scheduled to compete Aug. 15 in the men's 50-meter prone rifle event at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games in Brazil. (Tim Hipps / Army News Service)
Sgt. 1st Class Michael McPhail leaves the shooting line after competing in the 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto, Canada. McPhail is scheduled to compete Aug. 15 in the men’s 50-meter prone rifle event at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games in Brazil. (Tim Hipps / Army News Service)

“It’s amazing to be a Soldier and compete for the United States,” Schrimsher said. “It’s a big name we wear as athletes and I just want to represent it as best I can.”

Eller, 34, a native of Houston, will be competing in his fifth Olympics. He won the gold medal for double trap at the 2008 Beijing Games. Eller was named USA Shooting’s Athlete of the Year in 2001, 2002, 2003, 2008 and 2013. In 2012, he deployed to Afghanistan as a marksmanship instructor after competing in the London Olympics. He is scheduled to compete Aug. 10 in Rio.

McPhail, 34, originally from Darlington, Wisconsin, missed making the prone rifle finals by three-tenths of a point at the 2012 London Olympics. He has won 10 medals in international competition, including two World Cup victories in 2015. McPhail is scheduled to compete Aug. 12 in the men’s 50-meter prone rifle event.

More Soldier-athletes and coaches remain in contention for spots on Team USA in shooting, rugby and track and field. Those selections will be made by late July.

Sergeants Major Course students, spouses spruce up Junior Enlisted Family Center as Class 66’s legacy project

By MEGHAN PORTILLO
NCO Journal

Class 66 at the U.S. Sergeants Major Academy has chosen to revamp Fort Bliss’ Junior Enlisted Family Center as its legacy project, and the students’ spouses have been leading the way.

Mike Menold was elected by his Family Readiness Group to lead the project along with fellow spouse Darlene Carlan. Menold and Carlan attended the first Spouse Leadership Development Course offered this year at USASMA. The project has allowed them to put into use the networking and leadership skills they gained in the course, Menold said.

The JEFC, run by the Armed Services YMCA, is a place where Soldiers of sergeant rank and below and their families can come for free food, housewares, clothing, books and furniture. They are also welcome to borrow ballgowns for formal occasions.

Before, junior enlisted and their families had to pick through piles of donated clothing, such as the one above, in order to find what they needed. “That is not an image you want to see,” said Mike Menold, the project lead. (Photo by Meghan Portillo / NCO Journal)
Before, junior enlisted and their families had to pick through piles of donated clothing, such as the one above, in order to find what they needed. “That is not an image you want to see,” said Mike Menold, the project lead. (Photo by Meghan Portillo / NCO Journal)

“Our commitment was to make it a friendlier environment for the junior enlisted,” Menold said. “Before, they used to walk in through the back door past mounds and mounds of donated goods, and they would be literally picking through the piles to see what was there for them. That is not an image you want to see. By having the clothing sales store – we call it clothing sales even though everything is free – set up like a boutique with clothing racks that we keep refreshing from the back stock room, it makes them want to come back.”

The JEFC is open Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays from noon to 4 p.m. Junior enlisted Soldiers and their families may choose up to 10 free items each day, or up to 30 each week. There is a waiting list for larger items such as couches, tables and appliances.

Mike Menold was elected, along with Darlene Carlan, by their Family Readiness Group to lead the project. Menold and Carlan attended the first Spouse Leadership Development Course offered this year at the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy. (Photo by Meghan Portillo / NCO Journal)
Mike Menold was elected, along with Darlene Carlan, by their Family Readiness Group to lead the project. Menold and Carlan attended the first Spouse Leadership Development Course offered this year at the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy. (Photo by Meghan Portillo / NCO Journal)

“It was a mess before,” said retired Command Sgt. Maj. Tedd Pritchard, the executive director of the ASYMCA at Fort Bliss. “The spouses and the Soldiers really did so much to make the place welcoming to the junior enlisted and their families when they come in. We are so grateful for their time and their hard work.”

A large part of an NCO’s life is dedicated to taking care of Soldiers and their families, and this legacy project reflects that dedication, said Pritchard, who was USASMA’s deputy commandant before retiring and taking his position at the ASYMCA.

“It helps them financially,” said Nicole Range, the JEFC program coordinator. “Some come in here for baby items or to get uniforms when their kids go back to school. I saw one little one come in here without shoes on – the mom said they had broken. There weren’t any that fit her son on the shelf, but I was able to find a pair in the back that were the right size. She was so happy. People really appreciate this. It helps. I hope more senior NCOs will take notice of this place and send their Soldiers our way when they see they are in need.”

Based on the amount of food available, the JEFC will help out families in need as much as possible. It is much better to move the food than to have it sitting on the shelf, Menold said.

 

The goal of the legacy project was to make the JEFC a welcoming place for junior enlisted Soldiers and their families to come and find what they need. (Photo by Meghan Portillo / NCO Journal)
The goal of the legacy project was to make the JEFC a welcoming place for junior enlisted Soldiers and their families to come and find what they need. (Photo by Meghan Portillo / NCO Journal)

“Before, they didn’t have a process to handle their inventory or move the product out,” Menold said. “Some of the food was two years past the expiration date. We dumped about a ton and a half of food and outsourced almost two tons of food that was on short date that wouldn’t move through here quickly enough. So we got it out to soup kitchens, where it would be used right away. We started a network for them. We are not only giving them a nice new beautification of the building, we are giving them a whole new process of how to manage the system. I had USASMA students writing inventory programs for me, running the wires for the monitoring system. Students came in and painted all these walls.”

To make the JEFC a more family-friendly environment, the Soldiers and spouses set up a play area in the corner where kids can keep busy while mom and dad shop. They also built a changing room with a full-length mirror so visitors can try on clothes to see if they fit.

Before, junior enlisted Soldiers had to come through the back door or walk through the Fort Bliss Officer and Civilian Spouses’ thrift shop to access the JEFC. Now, they have their own entrance. They walk in to see housewares neatly displayed. Books and movies line the shelves, and in a larger room men’s, women’s and children’s clothing is organized and hung on racks donated by Under Armour and other stores on post.

The JEFC, run by the Armed Services YMCA, is a place where Soldiers of sergeant rank and below and their families can come for free food, housewares, clothing, books and furniture.  (Photo by Meghan Portillo / NCO Journal)
The JEFC, run by the Armed Services YMCA, is a place where Soldiers of sergeant rank and below and their families can come for free food, housewares, clothing, books and furniture. (Photo by Meghan Portillo / NCO Journal)

“As USASMA spouses, we are only here until graduation in June, and part of the continuity that we want to leave is more than just a legacy project,” Menold said. “We hope other spouses can get involved and volunteer here. The hardest part is turnover of volunteers and controlling the stock. There is always more for the spouses to do.

“When you think about who the junior enlisted Soldiers are — they are the lowest paid of all the armed service branches, and yet they are the very tip of our fighting force’s spear,” he said. “They are the ones dedicating the most, and we can give them more support through the ASYMCA. That’s why I am so passionate about being involved here.”

The JEFC, run by the Armed Services YMCA, is a place where Soldiers of sergeant rank and below and their families can come for free food, housewares, clothing, books and furniture.  (Photo by Meghan Portillo / NCO Journal)
Sergeants Major Course students and their spouses beautified Fort Bliss’ Junior Enlisted Family Center as the legacy project for Class 66. (Photo by Meghan Portillo / NCO Journal)

NCO hopes his experience in industry can help Army contracting

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By JONATHAN (JAY) KOESTER
NCO Journal

Sgt. 1st Class Patrick Dennis is an NCO in the 51C (contracting) military occupational specialty. As such, he helps the Army buy services and supplies from private industry.

“We get contracts and we go out and procure those contracts in the civilian market,” Dennis said. “They place bids on the contracts, and we either award to the lowest offer, or, if we’re looking for specific other things, then we award to another company.”

So when Dennis submitted his packet to participate it the Training With Industry program, he wanted to see the other side of that equation, learning how private industry goes about putting in contract bids and doing business with the Army. He was pleased to be placed with Microsoft in Reston, Virginia, where he is working with the company’s federal sales business.

Almost immediately, Dennis was surprised that, even at a huge corporation like Microsoft, with hundreds of people working on federal contracting, there are still knowledge gaps and confusion on how some things work in Army contracting.

“I would think, at a major corporation like Microsoft, they would almost 100 percent understand the contracting processes of the government,” he said. “They know the big picture, but you do still see that there are gaps where they don’t understand some of our processes. Because I know Microsoft is like that, that tells me there’s probably an even larger gap with the smaller vendors the Army works with.”

Dennis said he is hoping he can use the knowledge he is gaining during his year at Microsoft to help the Army reduce those knowledge gaps when he returns to the Army for his utilization assignment. He hopes to explain to other contracting NCOs what vendors might need help in understanding.

“Getting to see this side of things at Microsoft, I’m looking at how I can take what I learn and bring it back to a contracting team, battalion or brigade,” Dennis said. “I want to use the knowledge from here to better the next unit I am in, or improve the processes. I think a lot of what we learn here can transfer back to a contracting unit.

“We get so wrapped up in getting the process completed,” he said. “As NCOs, we have other things to do besides contracts. We have the Army mission. We have training we have to do. I think focusing a little bit more on vendor education would help make our jobs a lot easier in the long run. It would help whoever we’re doing business with, as well. I see that there are a lot of conflicts and headaches between the two.”

To help the vendors at Microsoft understand more about the Army contracting process, Dennis helped put together a training session about Army acquisitions.

“We had a bunch of people around here interested in taking that training so they could better understand the acquisition processes,” Dennis said. “I got a lot of good feedback from that. A lot of people might know the bigger picture, but not the small details of why stuff takes so long in contracts and acquisitions. I get a lot of questions, and as I keep getting questions, I just keep building up those slides to incorporate the questions.”

Pat Brady, business manager in the federal department at Microsoft and Dennis’ supervisor, said Dennis’ NCO professionalism has helped him stand out at Microsoft.

“Because he comes from that procurement background, he has that analytical skill,” Brady said. “He leverages his interpersonal skills to establish the rapport with the stakeholders that he’s dealing with. He goes through the methodology of trying to think through some of the problems and issues they are dealing with. And he’s very results focused. He looks at what he is trying to drive to, then achieves that. I’ve gotten tremendous feedback as I’ve had him work with people.”

Dennis is one of the first two NCOs to join the TWI program at Microsoft. He said it has been a great experience that he hopes continues.

“I think this is a good opportunity for NCOs,” he said. “Something like this doesn’t come very often. I think it’s good for anyone who wants to get a vision of how the corporate world works. I think this program is good for the military, as well. We can bridge a lot of the gaps between contract specialists knocking out contracts and the vendors who are winning the contracts.”