Faces From the Front for August 31, 2009 - Sgt. 1st Class Elaine Holten
Current Unit: 649th Regional Support Group (Provisional)
Current Position: Human Resources Coordinator
Component: Army Reserve
Current Location: Afghanistan
Hometown: Bonifay, Fla.
Years of Service: 20
Sgt. 1st Class Elaine Holten knows better than most the importance of living each day to its fullest. A 20-year veteran of the Army and a 10-year cancer survivor, Holten has experienced many challenges and changes in her life. But rather than let them define her, Holten has embraced them as inspiration to pursue her dreams and to help others achieve theirs.
As the Human Resources Noncommissioned Officer-in- Charge (NCOIC) of the 649th Regional Support Group (RSG) in Kandahar, Afghanistan, Holten is fulfilling one dream that had eluded her over the course of her Army career. When she joined the Army right out of high school, she had always hoped to deploy with one of her units. But after seven years of service, she left the Army to become a mother.
When her daughter turned five, Holten received an invitation to join the South Carolina National Guard and was thrilled to lace her combat boots back up. But as fate would have it, when she turned 35 she was diagnosed with cancer. Her unit rallied round her and her family and she fought the illness. The experience tied her even closer to the military community and after she recovered, Holten and her family moved to Florida and where she transferred to the Army Reserve so that she could continue her Army career.
Holten worked on the mobilization team preparing units for deployment, but because she was recovering from cancer, she was not allowed to deploy.
"My heart was heavy because I really wanted to deploy," said Holten. "I had joined with one purpose-to serve my country, and give my life in its defense if necessary."
As she approached her 20th year of service, Holten's Reserve unit, the 576th Transportation Detachment in Panama City, Fla., mobilized to Iraq without her because they did not have a position on the battle roster for her Military Occupation Specialty (MOS). It was a huge blow and Holten began to realize she may never deploy. Then she received an email telling her the Army needed her to deploy as the Human Resources Coordinator for the Reception Staging Onward Movement (RSO) Team in Kandahar.
When she arrived, one of Holten's primary responsibilities was to take accountability for the Soldiers arriving at Kandahar. She briefed incoming units on information regarding policies and procedures for personnel. Then, the RSO Team was tasked to form the first Reception Staging Group (Provisional). in Kandahar to stand up base operations at Kandahar until the full RSG arrives mid September.
"I had one goal when I deployed to Afghanistan and that was to make a difference," said Holten. "Every now and then, it means you have to go the extra distance and do whatever it takes to make sure a Soldier feels cared for. You sacrifice personal time, sleep or even resources."
Holten's personal philosophy on giving as much as she can to her fellow Soldiers is perhaps why her team has taken to calling her "mama."
"Making sure my team knows when and where they have to be somewhere and ensuring that they have the equipment they need and they have their training completed when they are supposed to is the most important thing on my agenda," said Holten. "They count on me to help them with all the peripheral stuff so they can concentrate fully on completing their mission. I jokingly tell my children at home that at least my "children" over here listen to me when I tell them what to do."
Every aspect of Holten's life is marked by a call to serve. In addition to her work with the RSG, Holten also serves on the praise team at the chapel in Kandahar.
"For just one hour a week Soldiers can come and lay down their heavy burdens and responsibilities and be part of a community of fellow soldiers from many different nations," Holten said. "It seems such a small thing, but the music encourages Soldiers and lifts their spirits. It is an honor to bring some joy to their life."
Holten's good works also extend to the people of Afghanistan. She is currently the coordinator for a charity effort to gather school supplies for Afghanistan children. She believes that through changing the life of a child, the world can ultimately be changed. Holten believes the program is an investment in a better future for the people of Afghanistan.
Holten will return home to her family in late January. Holten and her husband, Ralph, have been married for 26 years and have a son and daughter.