Career counselor aces communication skills
May 21, 2009
- Counselor credits communication skills for her success
- Staff Sgt. Brown wins TRADOC Reserve Component Career Counselor of the Year for 2008
- Strives to help Soldiers make best decisions for their careers, even if she loses a contract
Like many NCOs, Staff Sgt. Dawna Brown is honing skills in her military career that should serve her well in her future civilian life.
Brown is the Reserve Component Career Counselor of the Year for 2008, for Fort Knox as well as the Training and Doctrine Command.
She's responsible for the 5,000 or more TRADOC Soldiers on Fort Knox who must talk with her if they decide to leave the active duty Army.
"Of course, they aren't all separating," Brown said with a laugh.
Brown attempts to persuade separating Soldiers to continue their military service in a part-time component like the National Guard or Army Reserve. She believes most active duty Soldiers are not aware of the benefits of staying on a part-time status.
"I think Soldiers really like the military," she said. "Family issues are often what drive them to separate."
By family issues, Brown explained that Soldiers are often trying to appease family members who dislike the locality where their Soldiers have been assigned or the numerous separations from their Soldiers.
She credits her success to her communication skills.
"I think listening to Soldiers and what they want is my biggest asset. When I counsel, I listen more than I talk," she said. "Most of the time, I just let them talk themselves into staying."
Brown said there's more to her job than the official title indicates.
"It's supposed to be career counseling, but sometimes it turns into marriage counseling or financial counseling - whatever they need," Brown said. "At this point, I think Soldiers just need somebody to listen."
And listen she does.
Brown explained that she can relate to Soldiers because she, too, left active duty once and has been in their shoes. She understands the dilemma they may be facing.
"When Soldiers are separating from active duty, they've already talked to leadership in their unit - the first sergeant, the commander - and they all push him to stay without listening to the Soldier and finding out why he's leaving in the first place," she said.
By listening carefully, Brown is often able to put her finger on the problem and turn the situation around.
"There are times when I realize the better option for a Soldier is to stay on active duty, and I send him back to the counselor in his unit," she said. "Especially if you can see that the Soldier has no plan, no job prospects, you have to send them back to their retention counselors. (Those Soldiers) don't really want out. They may say they want out, but what's really driving them may be a leadership issue; it's rare that the Soldier dislikes the whole Army."
When she manages to help a Soldier change his career path, Brown said she has a real sense of satisfaction.
"I've cancelled a contract when I had somebody ready to leave, but they decided to stay active duty," Brown explained. "If that's what they need to do - we want to do what's best for the Soldier."
Not willing to give up, Brown said she has been known to stay with a Soldier up to the last minute.
"I helped a guy reenlist when his household goods where being picked up that day," she said. "He was that close to getting out. He had his separation papers in hand, but he had 16 years in the Army. He only needed one more tour for his retirement. I kept asking him, 'Do you really want to get out' Can't you do just one more tour'' His wife told me later how appreciative she was."
Of course, no one can win them all.
"If a Soldier is angry and I can't change his mind, I try not to write a contract but give him time - usually a week or so - to think about it. I don't want (him) to make a bad decision, but ultimately, it's the Soldier's choice," she said.
Brown said she enjoys her work. She often hears from Soldiers after they've left Fort Knox, and they tell her how happy they are with their new jobs (in guard or reserve). She has been known to counsel a Soldier and help him decide in just one session.
"Sometimes in just one visit they go from being mad at the world to signing a contract with the guard or reserve," she said. "When they calm down and look at things from all angles - they make good decisions most of the time."
Brown is studying for the Audie Murphy board later this month. Once she has finished her studying for that challenge, she hopes to continue her college work for a bachelor's degree, although she hasn't decided on a major. Social work appeals to her, as does substance abuse counseling.
Sgt. Maj. Merle Henry, Fort Knox's retention NCO, said, "She's a great Soldier, and has been doing a great job here at Knox for the team."
Master Sgt. Stuart Briant, the senior reserve component career counselor at Fort Knox and Brown's supervisor, said he's a big fan of hers.
"She's successful because she's a user of the product she's selling," Briant explained.
Because she was in the active duty Army, then went to the active reserve, she understands Soldiers and the benefits of the Reserve Component.
"She has a lot of empathy for Soldiers; she tries to put herself in their shoes," Briant said. "She can say, 'I know what you're feeling,' and Soldiers believe her because she really has been in their situations and she does a good job of conveying that empathy."
Brown is equally complimentary of her NCOs and has no plans to leave her post.
"I've been lucky - my leadership has been great," she said. "As long as I'm still sitting here with a smile on my face - I'm staying."