Monday, June 25, 2012

Sergeant Gives all to Teammates, Future Soldiers, Army

“Sergeant Morales began his day by coming from his home to the barracks as his squad was awakening. They participated together in PT and work details as well as unit training. Sergeant Morales pitched right in with the disliked drudgery-type details. He led by example, particularly when it meant getting his hands dirty.[1] He frequently held meetings with his squad, keeping members informed of what was going on. They discussed training, problems, and areas in which the squad performed well, and sought recommendations for improvement. The soldiers in Sergeant Morales’ squad knew exactly where they stood. The squad was united, including family members and friends, through social gatherings in the unit and community. He took pride that no squad member had ever been absent without leave. This was attributed to his personal concern for every member of his squad. The care Sergeant Morales showed for his soldiers resulted in the squad’s achievements during annual general inspections, Army Training and Evaluation Team evaluations, and maintenance evaluation team findings.”[2]

As a member of the Sergeant Morales Club that honors those non-commissioned officers serving in Europe who display the highest ideals of integrity, professionalism and leadership, it is little surprise that Sgt. 1st Class Kevin Henderson’s leadership style is strikingly similar to the soldier for whom the club is named. Henderson, Sandhill Recruiting Station Commander, is one of the few soldiers who have earned memberships in both the Sergeant Morales Club and the Sergeant Audie Murphy Club.

Induction into these clubs require a nomination by a superior with a minimum rank of 1st Sergeant, and appearances before two or three boards for the nominee demonstrate his or her leadership skills and embodiment of the Army values. The Soldier must also pass tests of weapon expertise, drill and ceremony and physical fitness, in addition to the mental and character testing carried out by the boards.

After dealing with those boards, says Henderson, he can deal with anything.

Fortunately, Henderson was confident in his recruiter Sgt. 1st Class Myron Adams’ ability to run the station while he was away, so that he didn’t have to worry about his station during the competition. All the recruiters of Sandhill RS have upheld standards to earn the distinction of a Station of Excellence, due to the training they received from Henderson.

“He uses training as the cornerstone of recruiting,” said Capt. Karen Roxberry, commander of the Columbia Recruiting Company whom Henderson serves as 1st Field Sergeant. “He understands the art and science of recruiting, and can teach his recruiters the ‘why’ behind what they do.”

This goes beyond instructing recruiters to go to a high school event and sending them out the door. Henderson explains why they’re visiting that particular school and the general type of people who live in those zip codes. The recruiters learn the general income, education level, background and hobbies for certain areas, so they can establish common ground with the people they’re trying to reach. “The more you understand a person, the easier it will be to communicate with them,” says Henderson.

His knack for understanding people comes from his work as a Chaplain’s Assistant, his original job in the Army when he started back in 1993. Working in this area helped him develop his empathy and compassion, as well as active listening skills. These worked to his benefit when he began working as a recruiter in Mechanicsburg, Penn. It is only by actively listening to a person that a recruiter can figure out the right message for that person. Henderson says that’s the whole strategy of recruiting- figuring out what people want to do, then showing them how the Army can help them do that. Once he knows where a potential recruit wants to be in five years, then he can help them figure out a path to get there.

After recruits decide what they want to do in the Army and officially enlist, they begin Henderson’s Future Soldier program, which Roxberry says is one of the most innovative that she has seen. Henderson mirrors the structure of a regular Army unit in his Future Soldiers squads. “You fight like you train,” says Henderson, “So I try to put them in the same environment as they’ll be in during Basic Training.” This includes physical training three mornings per week, and a training session once a week for the Future Soldiers to learn the material they will be tested on during Basic Training and to practice the skills they will need to master. Henderson also chooses squad leaders from his Future Soldiers, who help run the program and actually help ease the workload of the recruiters by keeping track of events in their communities. Henderson selects the squad leaders based on the leadership potential he sees in them. However, he says “Sometimes I’ll put someone who’s meek in charge, to see how they’ll respond to the opportunity.”

As another way of aiding the Future Soldiers’ as well as his recruiters’ development, Henderson initiates friendly competition. For tasks like physical training or even signing contracts, competition gives a boost of extra motivation, but also helps establish camaraderie among the troops and pride in the squad. He capitalizes on this by pushing his recruiters and Future Soldiers to volunteer and participate in community outreach. This has the added benefit of establishing positive connections between Sandhills Recruiting Station and local businesses, as well as familiarizing the recruiters with the community.

The level of community involvement Sandhill Rrecruiting Station cultivates makes them stand out as an example of what a recruiting station should be. Henderson credits all this to his recruiters, saying that he is supported by a great team. While true, it is also true that he provides great support to his team that enables their success. The position of recruiter is a difficult job, one that most only hold for two or three years before being transferred to a different area. The demands of dealing with so many people and their schedules often require recruiters’ working from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m., which can quickly cause them to burn out. Henderson cites that as the biggest pitfall of the job, because it means so much time away from family. This is why he works to build his recruiters into a team, so they have a second family when they miss out on time with their real one. He also teaches his recruiters to balance their time, and monitors them to make sure they do, saying “Family always comes before the mission.”

Henderson says it is his own family’s support that has allowed him to work in recruiting for over 10 years; his wife Ayanna has never once complained about the hours he has dedicated to his job, and has always been his primary source of encouragement. Also contributing to his success are Henderson’s three sons: Elijah, Malik and Isaiah.
Editor's Note:  Sgt. 1st Class Henderson now works at the Ft. Jackson Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS)

[1] USAREUR Sergeant Morales Club AE Reg 600-2
[2] Davis Jr., Command Sgt. Maj. Archie L. "The ‘Sergeant Morales’ Story: Epitomizing NCO Leadership." Fort Hood Sentinel (2010).

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