When I entered the Army in 1979, a gallon of milk was $1.62, a first-class stamp was 15 cents and a gallon of gas was 86 cents. Pay for a private E-1 with less than two years service was a whopping $419.40 a month. A private also received a meal card and a room with eight to 12 other privates.

A lot has changed in the past 35 years as I rose through the ranks. I've experienced 18 permanent change of station moves and deployed or was temporarily assigned to more than 30 different countries. Through all of the changes and locations, one thing remained the same: the Army was a place to be successful if you showed initiative.

As a private E -1, I was first assigned as a radio operator in a Pershing missile unit in Germany and quickly rose through the ranks. With less than 26 months in the service I wore sergeant stripes through the "acting jack" program where potential leaders wore stripes as an acting noncommissioned officer.

During my career, I volunteered and was allowed to work outside my military occupational specialty. Volunteering to work outside of my primary duties became a trend in my career as I seized the opportunities to broaden my skills in the Army. At Fort Riley, Kan., I was allowed to work on the side with an engineer company as long as I made sure my day job, running the communications lines and the radio systems stayed working, was accomplished.

I served as a drill sergeant at Fort Dix, N.J., where I found myself in charge of 85 basic trainees. I went on to win Drill Sergeant of the Year there and numerous accolades to include a trip to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., with the Fort Dix commanding general, Maj. Gen. Thomas Kelly.

I must have impressed him as within the month I was sent to International Morse Code School, followed by the Airborne and Pathfinder courses and assigned to a quick reaction company as part of the Joint Communications Support Element at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla. The unit worked directly for the Joint Chiefs of Staff and supported initial communications support for contingency, humanitarian and disaster relief.

While there I was deployed more than 250 days a year. It broadened my technical skills in communications with the latest equipment available. The skills I obtained opened up opportunities to be a satellite radio operator for several general officers on some exercises and deployments to include Generals Wayne Downing, Hugh Shelton, and Norman Schwarzkopf.

One of the key decisions in my military career came when I was promoted to master sergeant. I went through the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment Green Platoon assessment program and was assigned to the communications section. Seeing no opportunities to serve as a first sergeant, I asked if I could find a first sergeant position on Fort Campbell, Ky. and was permitted to do so. I went on to serve as a first sergeant in three different companies before attending the sergeants major academy. For the past 14 years I have been privileged to serve as a command sergeant major for two battalions, two brigades, at a one-star and a two-star command and as commandant of a NCO Academy. I hit a roadblock as I wanted to serve as a general officer-level command sergeant major in my career field. Not able to find a position, I began looking at other opportunities. It was during that time that I was selected as the first command sergeant major for the Expeditionary Contracting Command. I was able to influence the development and management of a new noncommissioned officer career field, contracting NCO. The job was hard with long hours and frustration, but also the most rewarding.

I am often asked what are the keys to success in the military. I am sure the keys are probably true for any organization civilian or military. My keys to success are what I call the three "Ps", be passionate, professional, and proficient.

You need to be passionate about who and what you are. I love the United States, the Army, my organization and my job. You should come to work every day proud and can't wait to tell someone about all of the great things the Army is doing.

Next, be professional in everything you do. Even when doing the simple things like answering the telephone, be professional. If you take on every task with the goal of executing it as a world-class professional event, you will be successful.

And last is -- be proficient. Whatever your job or task is, strive to be the best at what you are doing, no matter how important or unimportant you may think the job is to the success of the organization. It is important to someone or you wouldn't be doing it. Look for ways to improve, whether through education or broadening your horizons, sometimes working outside of your comfort zone. If you are passionate, professional and proficient in everything you do, you will be noticed and successful.

I am proud to have had the opportunity to serve this great nation, the Army, and all of the organizations that I have been affiliated with. I have met the most dedicated, hardest working and loyal people during my service. I hope that I have influenced others to make them successful as others have done for me. The Army has provided me so much and more than anything, it provided me an opportunity to be successful. Once a Soldier, always a Soldier.