Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Personnel Soldiers: behind-the-scene enablers

Sgt. 1st Class Angela McKinzie
2nd BCT, 10th Mtn. Div. (LI) PAO
Multi-National Division – Center

CAMP STRIKER, Iraq — Getting promoted, awarded, going on leave and receiving mail are some of the morale boosters of being in the Army, especially in a combat environment.
But like most things, these things do not come automatically – it takes a lot of behind-the-scene work from Soldiers who are often not recognized for their contribution to the fight.
Soldiers from the personnel shop of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry) out of Fort Drum, N.Y., have spent countless hours during the past 14 months of their deployment in Iraq processing, awards, evaluations, casualty reports, leave forms and writing letters of condolences.
“Since we have been deployed we have processed well over 4,700 awards for Soldiers in the brigade,” said Sgt. 1st Class Joshua Harvey, the 2nd BCT personnel noncommissioned officer in charge and native of Binghamton, N.Y.
From an outside view processing awards may seem like an easy job, but a lot of preparation goes into the award before and even after the award is approved.
“We check for any errors, accept awards submissions and review each Soldier’s file to make sure he is eligible for the award,” Harvey explained. “After the award is approved we make sure it is uploaded to the Soldier’s Official Military Records Brief and is listed on the Enlisted or Officer Records Brief.”
Spc. Pamela Hutchinson, a native of Watertown, N.Y. who serves as the awards clerk with the personnel shop is in charge of adding all awards to Soldiers’ files.
Like awards, promotions is another area that doesn’t happen without the expertise of the personnel Soldiers.
“We accept all semi-centralized promotions, review promotion packets, enter promotion points into the Enlisted Distribution and Assignment System, monitor cutoff scores and publish promotion orders,” Harvey said.
But promotions are not possible without Soldiers’ records being updated – another personnel function.
Spc. Christina Breeden, a native of Oak harbor, Wash., who is in charge of updating Noncommissioned Officer and Officer Evaluation Reports, has forwarded more than 1,125 evaluations to the Soldiers Data Records Center and the Human Resources Command since she has been deployed to Iraq.
“Evaluations help monitor who and who doesn’t get promoted and get into military schools,” Breeden explained. “If a Soldier of officer does not have the proper evaluation report in their records than they probably will not get picked for promotion.”
Sgt. 1st Class Jerry Moses, the senior supply sergeant for the 4th Brigade, 31st Infantry Regiment, 2nd BCT and native of Bishopville, S.C., admits that if his records were updated before than he probably would have been promoted to the rank of sergeant first class earlier in his career.
“My personnel shop made sure that all my awards and schools were on my ERB and my OMPF,” Moses said of the 4-31 personnel shop. “I doubt I would have been promoted if they would not have updated my records. Before my records weren’t updated – it is probably why I was not promoted sooner.”
Aside from updating records, the personnel shop is responsible for sending casualty reports to higher headquarters to the family members of the wounded of deceased Soldiers can be notified as early as possible.
But with the casualty reports comes letters of condolences which the personnel shop also ensures that family members receive.
“We usually get the casualty report to higher headquarters within the hour and the letters of condolences out within 24 hours,” Harvey said.
And since no one knows when a tragedy will occur, the personnel shop must be manned 24 hours each day.
Although Harvey enjoys being the personnel NCOIC, he admits that, at times, it is a little frustrating.
“You get tired of staring at the same computer screen and looking at the same paperwork each day, but you do it for the Soldiers,” he said. “Occasionally someone thanks you for the difference you have made in their life- even if it is only for a second- and it makes you feel good.”
Breeden agreed.
“I like being able to help people,” she said. “This really is a people’s job and my main goal is customer service.”
Like most jobs, there is a down side to being in personnel.
These Soldiers must take Red Cross Messages and ensure that the Soldiers get them.
“I took a Red Cross Message one time and it said that the Soldier’s child had died,” Harvey said. “That kind of stuff makes you feel bad.”
Even though the clerks hate being the bearers of bad news they still ensure the job gets done in a quick and professional manner.
“As soon as I type the Red Cross Message I immediately notify the unit that the Soldier belongs to,” Breeden said.
Since the deployment the personnel shop has taken more than 800 Red Cross Messages.
“The only thing that frustrates me about Red Cross Messages is that families assume that the Soldiers will be able to come home,” Harvey said. “But there are rules and regulations that govern which circumstances will allow a Soldier to go home. Most people don’t understand that.”
Aside from office work, the shop also ensures Soldiers’ get their mail. They must pick up mail for the units and ensure that it gets delivered to forward operating bases. Every day Soldiers from the shop drive to the post office and load all of the mail – which most of the time it is well over 200 packages – and ensure it gets to the units. Most of the time the Soldiers who load the mail come back drenched in sweat from standing in the 120 degree Iraq heat.
Like mail, going on leave puts a smile on Soldiers’ faces. Harvey and his team were responsible for tracking all environmental and morale leaves for the Soldiers in the brigade.
“You know sometimes people may complain about us not going out in sector, but they are happy when they are getting mail and going on leave,” Harvey said.
And being a part of an infantry brigade can make support military occupational skills less glamorous, but it takes the work of all MOS’s together to make the Army work.
“You can’t have an Army with just one job,” Breeden said. “It just won’t work.”

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