The Alabama Army National Guard recipient of the 1st Sgt. John Ordway Leadership Award is 1st. Sgt. Tonny Pridgen

REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- As a medic, 1st Sgt. Tonny Pridgen has had a lot of experience serving Soldiers, first, as an active duty Soldier and an Alabama Army National Guard medic and, second, as a paramedic in the Defense Department's civilian work force at Fort Rucker.

He uses his experience to counsel other Soldiers who are interested in following a similar path, including his wife, Sgt. 1st Class Janine Pridgen; his daughter, Spc. Tori Hester; and his two sons-in-law.

As the Alabama Guard's recipient of the 2010 1st Sgt. John Ordway Leadership Award, Pridgen is now the pride of his Guard unit, the 127th Area Support Medical Company in Robertsdale.

"I had no idea I was being nominated for this award. They shocked me," he said. "My Soldiers are bragging on me. This is motivating them and pumping them up."

Pridgen took over as the first sergeant of the 127th during a challenging time for the company. When he assumed his responsibilities in 2008, Pridgen led a company that was newly formed and without a commander. The 127th had only formed three days earlier, consisted for only 35 Soldiers with half of those unqualified in their duty positions, and had an absent commander, who was deployed in Kosovo, and no executive officer.

Pridgen worked with the full-time Guard staff to organize the unit into platoons and squadrons, develop a non-commissioned officer development program, set up a Soldier performance review schedule, conduct inventory and work closely with the unit's family readiness group.

"1st Sgt. Pridgen has truly been the first leader and front-most NCO in the unit," wrote Maj. (Dr.) Frederick Nettles, commander of the 127th in his recommendation of Pridgen. "He has been the first sergeant in every sense of the word. Under his patient but sure hand, the 127th has grown to a unit of 55 Soldiers, 93 percent of whom are qualified in their duty position. ... No leader has had a greater impact on the unit or its Soldiers."

Pridgen has served 29 years with the Army, with the first nine on active duty.

"I was young and farming and going nowhere in the small town of Samson," he recalled. "My mom wanted me to join the Army because she wanted to see me do something with my life. My dad saw me joining the Army as losing half the labor on the farm."

Although he enjoyed serving as an Army medic, a family crisis while stationed out west caused Pridgen to shift his career to the Alabama Guard.

"I had two kids in diapers and my wife's dad had passed away, and we were in California," said Pridgen, now 47. "We needed to get back home. I got out of the Army. I was out for about six months and I missed it. So, my wife made me join the Guard."

He combined his Guard duty with a job as a paramedic at Fort Rucker's Lyster Army Health Clinic, and the rest is history. His Guard service has included a 2007-08 deployment to Iraq and working with civilians on the Alabama coast to assist them with filing claims.
But his joy is helping young Soldiers interested in the Army's medical field.

"The average age of our Guard Soldiers is 26. I like to use my 29 years of service to help them get over the first hurdles of joining the Guard," Pridgen said. "Experience can go a long way to help them. I've already raised two kids. I can relate to what they are going through."

He also enjoys serving in the Army with his family. His wife, Janine, is a mental health professional and nurse with the Guard's 161st Medical Battalion. His daughter, Tori, is an active duty Soldier medic at Fort Bragg, N.C., where her husband, Spc. Aaron Hester, is also a medic; and his oldest daughter, Kelsey, is married to Pvt. Seth Miller, who is on active duty also at Fort Bragg.

"I'm proud of all of them, and I'm proud of my Soldiers," Pridgen said.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16