Receiving call from Secretary of Defense
Staff Sgt. Kelly Ann Pels, with Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 1-174th Air Defense Artillery, U.S. Division - Center, receives a personal phone call from Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, July 4, 2011, at Camp Victory in Baghdad.

BAGHDAD, July 7, 2011 -- Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, who was sworn into office Friday, marked the 4th of July holiday by making phone calls to six deployed servicemembers, including an Ohio Army National Guard Soldier in Iraq.

Staff Sgt. Kelly Ann Pels, 27, said it was an unforgettable honor to receive the Independence Day call in Baghdad. Panetta thanked her and the other servicemembers for their sacrifices far from home on the nation’s birthday.

The six servicemembers who received phone calls were deployed in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Bahrain and represented each of the military branches: Army, Air Force, Marines, Navy, National Guard, and Coast Guard.

Pels was chosen as the National Guard representative and was the only servicemember in Iraq to receive a phone call from the Defense secretary. She is currently serving as a training noncommissioned officer with Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 1st Battalion, 174th Air Defense Artillery Regiment, under U.S. Division - Center.

Several units in Iraq nominated Soldiers for the honor. After sorting through the submitted biographies, Col. Heather Meeds, chief of National Guard Affairs for U.S. Forces-Iraq, selected Pels.

“Staff Sergeant Pels came highly recommended as a Soldier of excellent bearing, high motivation and experience of three deployments, so we knew she would represent the Army, the National Guard, and USF-I well,” said Lt. Col. Robert Preiss, deputy chief of National Guard Affairs, USF-I. “I was especially impressed that she had done some research and reviewed the new Defense Secretary’s biographical information prior to the phone call.”

Pels said the Defense secretary was very down-to-earth during the phone call. They discussed her previous deployments, current deployment in Iraq, and her plans when she returns home.

“I did not get nervous,” she said. “I mostly felt privileged that I was nominated to speak with such a respected, decorated and accomplished military figure. He mostly wanted to stress his appreciation for what we are doing over here and all branches of service.”

Capt. Lawrence Bogan, commander of 1st Bn., 174th ADA Regt., was in the room when Pels took the phone call. He said it was an experience unlike any he had anticipated.

“I am so proud to have Staff Sergeant Pels selected as the National Guard representative for this tremendous honor,” said Bogan. “She is an exceptional Soldier who can be relied upon to get any job done well and I am grateful that she was honored with this call.”

Pels arrived in Iraq on Dec. 25, 2010. She has previously deployed to Kosovo and Kuwait. Prior to this deployment, she worked for Clermont County, Ohio, assisting veterans and plans to study physical therapy when she returns from Iraq.

Page last updated Thu July 7th, 2011 at 00:00