CAMP BONDSTEEL, Kosovo - Three Multinational Battle Group East Soldiers were recently welcomed into the Sgt. Morales Club, a United States Army-Europe (USAREUR) program that recognizes high-performing noncommissioned officers.
KFOR 12's Sgt. 1st Class Russ Garrett, an operations NCO for MNBG E from Riverdale, N.D., Staff Sgt. Jesse H. Walstad, Liaison and Monitoring Team 7 senior enlisted member from Bismarck, N.D., and Sgt. Heather R. Barta, an LMT 1 team member from Minot, N.D., faced a board of senior NCOs from MNBG E, met the challenge and became lifetime members in the club.
In a June 25 ceremony, Walstad and Barta, were officially inducted into the club by Sgt. Maj. Grant Jones, the USAREUR operations sergeant major, who gave them their medallion and certificate. Garrett could not attend the induction ceremony with his peers, as he was in Hohenfels, Germany, assisting in training of KFOR 13 counterparts. Garrett was officially inducted into the club the following week by Walstad and Barta. It is tradition that inductions be overseen by fellow club members.
Sgt. Morales was the embodiment of the key leadership skills needed to be a highly successful NCO, said Jones. The skills include spending time with Soldiers, knowing Soldiers and mentoring Soldiers. Jones said every sergeant is "Sgt. Morales," though few are formally recognized through the induction process.
"If you really are a noncommissioned officer for the right reason, you are Sgt. Morales," he said.
The candidates who go through the process to be inducted into the Sgt. Morales Club are selected on the basis of their achievements and professional development throughout their career. Garrett, Walstad, and Barta were inducted because they proved their worth not only to the senior NCO leadership of the Battle Group, from company all the way to brigade, but to the final reviewer, Command Sgt. Maj. Roger P. Blackwood, USAREUR command sergeant major.
Garrett's career started in 1994, as a UH-1H Huey helicopter repairer in the North Dakota Army National Guard. After Sept. 11, 2001, Garrett joined the Regular Army as an infantryman and was stationed at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. From March 2002 to January 2005, he served with D Company, 3rd/502th Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault). His service included a deployment to Iraq.
Garrett shared his thoughts on how boards help Soldiers gain more knowledge.
"I like the idea of what boards do for the Army, in general, as it forces you as a Soldier to sit down and study," he said. "It is about pushing yourself to take the time to learn basic skills, which most Soldiers should know, and I enjoy that type of knowledge."
Military education has been an important aspect of Garrett's military career. He is a graduate of the Inter-service Non-lethal Weapons Instructor Course, the Observer Controller/Trainer Academy, the Battle Staff NCO Course, Airborne School, Air Assault School, Unit Armor School (Honor Graduate), the Combat Lifesaver Course, Master Driver Course, Precision Lightweight GPS Receiver Trainer Course, Basic Leadership Training, UH-1H Huey Helicopter Repairer School (Honor Grad), Infantry School, Pre-Ranger School, Small Arms Master Gunner Course, Squad Designated Marksman, Joint Forces Command Service Rifle and M9 Pistol Courses, Primary Leadership Development Course, the Combatives Level 1 Course, and the Army Basic Instructor Course.
From military education to civilian education, NCOs have many ways to develop themselves and those around them.
Walstad entered the North Dakota Army National Guard in 2001 as a bridge crewmember. He was selected as the distinguished honor graduate of his Advanced Individual Training class and received the Commanding General's Award. He completed a bachelor's degree cum laude at the University of North Dakota in 2008. He is currently in his second year of law school at the University of North Dakota School of Law with a cumulative GPA of 3.23.
Walstad serves with the 957th Engineer Company in Bismarck. In December 2002, he was mobilized with his unit to active duty in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. In April 2003, he deployed to Iraq and returned home in April 2004. While in Iraq he completed more than 16,000 convoy miles, 500 hours of boat patrols and participated in the construction of an assault float ribbon bridge across the Tigris River near Al Quim, Iraq.
Walstad said all of his Soldiers have different strengths and weaknesses.
It's his youngest Soldier, Spc. Michael Beechie, which he and other team members look to mentor the most.
"He has a lot of drive and motivation and is going to make a great NCO one day," Walstad said. "Even though he is a younger Soldier and does not have as much experience as other team members, we integrate him into all levels of our operation, which is an inspiration to all of us."
The last inductee is no stranger to being a volunteer.
Barta entered the North Dakota Army National Guard in 2004 as an automated logistical specialist and was assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 164th Engineer Battalion, out of Minot, N.D.
In 2007, Barta deployed with her unit to Camp Slayer, Iraq, in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. While in Iraq, Barta voluntarily extended for 90 days with Bravo Company, 1/153 Infantry, 39th Brigade Combat Team, headquartered out of Little Rock, Ark. After her deployment ended, she was assigned to the Forward Support Company, 164th Engineer Battalion. In 2009, she volunteered to fill an opening with the U.S. Liaison and Monitoring Team of KFOR 12.
Barta has done many hours of volunteer work with Kiwanis, Bethel Free Lutheran Church, Magi Drum Line and the Social Work Honor Society. Upon her return from Kosovo, she plans to continue her volunteer work.
Barta is not a stranger to the board process. During her time on Camp Bondsteel, she was selected to represent the LMT at the Task Force Falcon NCO of the Quarter Board, where she was recognized as NCO of the Quarter.
"The Sgt. Morales club is all about taking care of troops and being out there working with them," Barta said. "I think that is what qualifies me, because I care about Soldiers, making sure they have the tools needed and we complete the mission."
Jones, who is also a Sgt. Morales inductee, explained to the Soldiers that they will have the opportunity to become honorary members of the "Audie Murphy Club" when they return to the United States. The Murphy club is a similar program, the difference being that the Sgt. Morales Club is only available to USAREUR Soldiers.
"This is just the beginning," Jones said. "If the program is run right, this is an active organization that works with the community."
Command Sgt. Maj. Jack W. Cripe, command sergeant major of MNBG E, was the driving force in establishing the Sgt. Morales board on Camp Bondsteel. He expressed his pride in these three Soldiers.
"These three outstanding NCO's are very deserving of induction into the Sgt. Morales Club. They each put forth a tremendous amount of time preparing their packets and for the personal presentation board," Cripe said. "These three NCO's are an excellent example of the quality of the NCO corps within KFOR 12, the Army National Guard and the United States Army."
Multinational Battle Group East is a U.S.- led unit, commanded by Brig. Gen. Al Dohrmann. This Battle Group is comprised of nearly 1,200 Soldiers, including Task Force Hellas and Task Force POL/UKR (Polish/Ukraine) and Turkey. The charter mission of MNBG-E is maintaining a Safe and Secure Environment and providing Freedom of Movement for the people in Kosovo.
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