Military Times selects female first sergeant as Soldier of Year
July 21, 2011
By J.D. Leipold
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, July 21, 2011) -- First Sgt. Monekia Y. Denkins loves to lead by example, yet she doesn't really think the leadership skills she's built on over the last 20 years in the Army are anything extraordinarily over the top.
So when word came down that she stood alone at the top of a short list of nominees for the annual Military Times 2011 Soldier of the Year award, the Korea-based Soldier was nothing but stunned.
Endorsed by many of the Soldiers she leads and mentors, friends from over the years, fellow noncommissioned officers and recommendations by her executive and commanding officers, Denkins had no clue of all the efforts going on behind her.
"It's kinda hard to get anything by me, but they got that one by," she recalled.
When the top sergeant was notified last month that she'd outshined every Army nominee, she took a look at the Military Times website to see what the award was all about and who past winners were from each service branch.
"I'm not sure how many competitors there were, but when I looked at the past winners and read about the things they'd done, I thought, 'wow, I'm just doing my job,' and I'm pretty sure they all felt the same way, but I didn't think I compared to such fine leaders," she said.
Each year, Military Times -- which publishes Army Times, Navy Times, Air Force Times and Marine Corps Times -- pays tribute to the top servicemember from each branch, including the Coast Guard. Honored as "everyday heroes," each selectee has demonstrated pride, dedication and courage beyond what's normally expected.
No official packages are submitted via the chain of command -- rather recommendations may come from any individual who can attest to the character of the nominee.
Denkins considers herself a "bulldog" because she simply "doesn't settle." She takes that standard to her Soldiers.
"There's no gray line, no in-between line and when I see something that's not right, I'm just not gonna stand by and do nothing about it. I have to address everything because it's about being part of a team that's a part of a bigger team."
Presently Denkins serves with the Network Enterprise Center, 201st Signal Company, 41st Signal Battalion, 1st Signal Brigade at the Yongsan Army Garrison in Seoul, Korea. The command provides information technology support to more than 8,000 customers. She serves as first sergeant for more than 133 Soldiers and likens herself to motivator, mother, father, mentor, overall guide and somewhat of a soothsayer as well.
"My role is to make sure we're prepared and that we can somehow have a sixth sense and take care of things before they happen; just having Soldiers who are trained, ready to fight and win at anytime," she said. "Taking care of Soldiers and ensuring they have all the tools and resources and teaching them how to think outside the box -- that's what it's all about."
Before she became a first sergeant, Denkins served a two-year stint as a drill instructor, something she said she loved every minute of and would do again in a second.
"It wasn't about screaming and yelling at people. It was about making them into Soldiers, allowing them to make mistakes," she said. "I always tell my Soldiers: 'Spread your wings and fly. You are the only one who is a roadblock to yourself, so don't stand in your own way.' Once they see they can do things on their own, it's like this light went off."
With the sergeants major selection board underway, Denkins is up for a first look. As much as she would like to be chosen, she says she's not going to lose any sleep.
"We'll see what happens. If it's meant to be, it'll be, but I don't spend my time worrying about it, because either way I'll be leading troops," she said. "Wherever my footsteps fall, wherever there's a Soldier who needs me, that's where I'll be.'"
Thrilled though she is at her selection as Military Times Soldier of the Year and understated in demeanor about the selection, Denkins insists she has no extra weight to shoulder along with the honor -- nothing will change.
"You continue to be the person you are because when you get the bubblehead, you're not making an impact, you're just self-serving and this is not about self-serving, it's about serving others and making a difference."