Career counselors represent 3rd ID in Army-wide competition
February 9, 2011
FORT STEWART, Ga. - "If you want something, be hungry."
"Stay competitive, be aggressive. Don't settle."
Staff Sergeant Manuel Cabrera spoke these words just days before heading to Washington, D.C. for the Secretary of the Army Career Counselor of the Year Board, in January.
He, along with Staff Sgt. Yelixa Mawhorr, represented the 3rd Infantry Division in the face of Army-wide competition. Though not victorious, the noncommissioned officers became standard bearers for their peers.
The road to the Secretary of the Army competition began abroad. Both staff sergeants tirelessly prepared for this challenge while deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, respectively.
Staff Sergeant Cabrera, battalion career counselor for 1st Battalion, 41st Field Artillery, 1st Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd ID, found ways to separate himself from the pack.
During his first Iraq deployment in 2005, Staff Sgt. Cabrera served as a company-level retention NCO. Upon redeployment, his supervisor decided to become a career counselor and suggested it would be a good career move for him, as well. "He liked my work ethic," said the former tanker.
Prior to his 2009 deployment, Staff Sgt. Cabrera won the 3rd Infantry Division Career Counselor of the Year Board. He also advanced to the Headquarters, Forces Command Career Counselor of the Year Board at Fort McPherson, Ga., but didn't win.
Fast-forward to his most recent deployment: While in Iraq, Staff Sgt. Cabrera competed in - and won - the United States Forces-Iraq Career Counselor of Year Board. He traveled to different forward operating bases, competing in various boards to get to that level.
When not competing in boards, he spent many nights studying for them. "It was a little stressful, you don't get to relax," said the Brooklyn, NY, native. "That plus you have to do your job, too. But it was fun."
"He's a superb counselor," said Sgt. 1st Class Taj Russell, senior career counselor for Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1HBCT. "I was up late nights, helping him study."
Meanwhile in Afghanistan, one of his peers underwent her own rigorous journey to the top.
For Staff Sgt. Mawhorr, career counselor with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd General Support Aviation Battalion, 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade, 3rd ID, the whole idea seemed a little intimidating.
Staff Sergeant Mawhorr became a career counselor in July 2009, just before deploying. She competed in the Regional Command-East Career Counselor of the Year Board in Afghanistan. This bout consisted of an Army Physical Fitness Test, warrior tasks, a 50-question exam and an appearance before the board.
The Brooklyn, NY, native's first board appearance was a victorious one. "I was surprised when they called my name," she said.
When Staff Sgt. Mawhorr returned from R&R leave, her Brigade Senior Career Counselor, Master Sgt. Michael Giesen, asked if she wanted to compete in the Army-level competition. Of the brigade's five career counselors, "We took the best we had, "said Master Sgt. Giesen."She stood above all of them."
Not all NCOs seemed as ambitious.
"I have peers that don't want to compete," Staff Sgt. Cabrera said. "Ok, great - that's less competition for me."
The Army-wide contest consisted of an APFT, a written exam and, finally, the board.
As in Afghanistan, Staff Sgt. Mawhorr feared her lack of experience would set her behind her peers. Many of the competitors were senior in rank and served longer in the career field.
"But when I arrived in DC, I did not have any reservations because I knew my leadership prepared me," she said. "I just had to show the board members how prepared I was."
Staff Sergeant Cabrera relayed his "never settle" message to his Soldiers.
"If you want something, don't listen to the next guy because he doesn't have the same goals," he said.
Currently, Staff Sgt. Cabrera is completing a bachelor's degree in business administration. His goals include retiring as a sergeant major and having earned a master's degree.
"At the end of the day," he said, "it's where you want to be and how far you want to go in this Army."
Having the opportunity to compete served as an accomplishment for Staff Sgt. Mawhorr. Now armed with the experience, she considers competing again. "I know I won't be satisfied until I reach my goal of winning the Secretary of the Army Career Counselor of the Year Board," she said.
"You may not win every time, but keep trying," Staff Sgt. Cabrera said. "You never know."