Year of the NCO: Brussels staff sergeant sets high standards
August 3, 2009
BRUSSELS, Belgium -- The Brussels Atomium is an iconic landmark of Brussels. A monument in the schematic shape of an iron crystal, it was built as a centerpiece for the 1958 Brussels World's Fair, and has remained standing, long after the fair's closing.
Staff Sgt. Jonathan James, installation provost sergeant of U.S Army Garrison Brussels, first became conscious of the Atomium as a child in Kelso, Wash.
"My grandfather was a career Soldier," James said, "and he had this funny paperweight shaped like an atom. I once asked him what it was, and he explained to me that it was part of the Brussels World's Fair, and that he and grandma had seen it when they went to the fair in 1958 from Germany. I never dreamed that I'd someday not only see the Atomium, but that I'd live in Brussels, too."
James credits his grandfather with having inspired his interest in the Army. He enlisted following graduation from high school in 2004, going through basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.
He was drawn to the Military Police Corps after completing a high-school law enforcement project with the Washington State Highway Patrol, and he figured that training as an MP would give him entrAfAe to future civilian employment in law enforcement.
James was initially assigned to the 92nd MP Company in Baumholder, Germany, where his grandfather was stationed, and deployed with his unit to Afghanistan for a year as a gunner. The experience, he said, was incredibly maturing. "I went to Afghanistan straight out of mom's house, and came out transformed."
The Afghanistan experience also cooled his interest in a civilian career.
"I found I really enjoyed the company of Soldiers, the sense of mission and pride, the camaraderie. I especially enjoyed working as a team member," he said.
After his return to Baumholder, James found he was up for orders. He also found himself increasingly involved with his high-school sweetheart, Natalie.
"I proposed to Natalie in Paris," he chuckled, "because I figured it would be hard for her to say no. She accepted, we were married, and my first sergeant, who knew I wanted some time to establish my family, talked me into volunteering for orders to Brussels."
The Brussels assignment did everything, and more, that James had expected. On the personal front, it accomplished exactly, he said, "what my first sergeant foresaw," explaining: "Natalie and I had our first child here. Owen is now 2, and we're now expecting our second child in January. We definitely are established as a family now."
Professionally, the assignment has seen James rocket in rank from specialist to staff sergeant. He has occupied every position available for an enlisted MP at the garrison, from patrolman to desk sergeant to installation provost sergeant.
"Sergeant James is, simply stated, a spectacular NCO," said his boss, Capt. Antonio Espinal, director of Emergency Services. "He's transformed what was, frankly, an underachieving MP Station for the better in every measurable way. And he's done it through sound, hard-nosed leadership and attention-to-detail."
"Sergeant James is the best NCO I've ever worked for in the Army," said Sgt. Ryan Cody, desk sergeant at the garrison. "He sets very high standards, and we know we have to aim high to reach those standards. Most important, he really cares about each of us, both on the job and off-duty. It's not show with him; he really cares."
Cody's opinion is seconded by Staff Sgt. Timothy McCullough.
"Sergeant James is a real inspiration to us. We all know he's not been in that long, but we also see the results he's delivered. He's a real patriot and Soldier, and I'm proud to work for him."
McCullough added: "He's also the best sponsor I ever had in my Army career. He and his wife took care of us when we came to Brussels, and treated us like we were part of their family."
James is extremely modest and self-effacing. "I find extremely rewarding being able to positively affect my peers, to influence the lives of larger groups, but I don't like to talk about it."
Espinal describes his Provost NCOIC in a different way.
"Sgt. James doesn't 'talk;' he 'does,'" Espinal said. "He leads by example. Under his leadership, our MPs have improved across the board, whether in marksmanship or their APFT results. He's leaving Brussels with an Associate's degree, and he's gotten several of his Soldiers on a solid track to follow him."
James credits two people with his accomplishments.
"I would not be where I am without my wife, Natalie," he said. "There were times when I was preparing for boards when she knew the material I was going to be boarded on better than I did. I'd come home, tired, and she'd tell me we were going to start reviewing the material. She loves the Army, and has told me she wants to go back to school when we go back to the U.S. to study physical therapy- so she can take care of wounded Soldiers."
The James family has orders to report to Fort Leonard Wood in October, which gets to the second of the two people who have most influenced James. "My drill instructor in basic was my inspiration. I'll never forget him. He really set me on the path to success in the Army."
James' specific request for drill instructor duty brings him full circle to where he started his career. "This is something I really want to do," he said. "The circle keeps getting bigger. I'll be able to do for others what my drill instructor did for me."
"Sergeant James lives the NCO core leadership values of "Be, Know, Do," said Espinal. "He leaves Brussels having made it a better place, and I'm happy he's going to a position where he'll touch lots of Soldiers with his example."