VICKSBURG, Miss. - "Duty is just doing your job and always giving 110 percent, plain and simple," said Sgt. 1st Class Cristian Contreras, acting first sergeant for the 381st Engineer Company.
Contreras is an example of that duty, but not just by his definition.
While Contreras' supervisor, 1st Lt. Williams Hicks III, commander of the 381st Eng. Company, out of Tifton, Georgia, said he lives by all seven of the Army Values, he exemplifies duty.
The Army defines duty as: Fulfill your obligations. Doing your duty means more than carrying out your assigned tasks. Duty means being able to accomplish tasks as part of a team. The work of the U.S. Army is a complex combination of missions, tasks and responsibilities - all in constant motion. Our work entails building one assignment onto another. You fulfill your obligations as a part of your unit every time you resist the temptation to take "shortcuts" that might undermine the integrity of the final product.
Fulfilling your obligations in duty to the Army. Contreras said he does this everyday.
"I'm always at the place I need to be and I'm always here taking care of Soldiers and never miss a day of work," he said. "Whenever a mission comes up at the last minute I always make it happen no matter the location."
Completing the mission is only part of how Contreras sees himself fulfilling his duty.
"I know it's going to sound cliché, but it's leading by example, always taking the lead," he said. "I cannot tell someone to do something if I'm not doing it myself. Wherever we need to be, I'll be the first one there."
Contreras fulfills his obligations while still being an active part of his family: his wife of 14 years and his two children. He is also attending school and will complete his masters degree in December.
"Time management is key, especially when you live in the area. Tifton is a very small area so you can get a lot done when you live close to work," said Hicks. "He prioritizes what he needs to do weekly. You need to when you have kids and you have a wife and you're working on your master's degree and you have a full-time job."
Another aspect of duty is doing more than your assigned tasks. Shortly after he joined the unit, Contreras was asked to fill in as first sergeant.
"I was asked to be (first sergeant) and I said, 'Well, there's a lot of issues in the unit, but I think I can handle it.' So, I became the first sergeant in October last year," said Contreras. "I think I'm on about 8 months so far and before all the other first sergeants were about two to three months."
"I haven't gotten fired yet," he joked.
In taking the first sergeant position, Contreras has excelled.
"He stepped up to the plate when we didn't have a first sergeant," said Hicks. "As soon as he got there he started changing things for the company on short-term notice and now the company has turned around tremendously."
The turn around has a lot to do with hard work on Contreras' part.
"He has gone out of his way working unbelievable amounts of hours to support the Soldiers of the company, cancelling leave and working on off days to ensure the Army Reserve Soldiers and the unit are assisted any day of the week no matter the time," said Hicks.
While Contreras may have spearheaded efforts to move the company in a positive direction, he knows the other full-time staff members play a significant role in making that possible.
"For our team, everybody has a specialty, but we all work together. We hadn't had a commander for a long time and don't have a first sergeant so we've had to fill up those positions," said Contreras. "We work as a team to get it done and keep it going. As a unit, any project we have, we accomplish it on time and to the standard."
Not only does Contreras encourage teamwork among the staff, he also pushes junior leaders to be a part of the team.
"He has helped mentor the newly promoted E5s and E6s and he's helping them to be better (noncommissioned officers) with his experience: teaching them how manage at the company level and the platoon level and helping them to understand how the operation all works," said Hicks.
Contreras not only mentors the newly promoted, but also guided one NCO through company, battalion and brigade-level Best Warrior competitions, grooming her to advance to the Theater Engineer Command-level competition.
When Contreras began a recent project, it was to help train Soldiers and continue to build that team, but it is also one example of how he builds one assignment on another.
The 381st Eng. Company performed construction operations for their local YMCA. The project included construction of a walking track, clearing 800 meters of tree line, performing miles of road repair and building a 50-car parking lot.
"It took a long time. I started with that in May of last year and in January we finally got approved. Within four days we had the walking track complete and built a parking lot for them within those four days," said Contreras. "It was raining and it was a mess. It was cold weather, too. Zero incidents and everything went fine. Now the track is built and it will be here in Tifton a long time."
The original plan had not called for such a large-scale effort.
"The original plan was to do a walking track for the community of Tifton and for the YMCA so he coordinated that project," said Hicks. "The CEO of the YMCA had other projects he wanted to get accomplished throughout the year so what Contreras decided to do was develop a plan and tasked different Soldiers to complete all of these projects in a MUTA 8 (four battle assembly days) and he was able to accomplish almost two months worth of work in four days with the amount of Soldiers that we had."
Training for Soldiers and community improvements weren't the only outcome of this endeavor.
"I know we saved that organization thousands of dollars by helping them and helping the community. Now it's developed a partnership with the YMCA and the 381st Engineer Company in Tifton, Georgia, to where now we can utilize their facilities for (physical training) on battle assembly weekends, we can utilize their pool for combat water survival training," said Hicks. "One project has helped the military and given the Soldiers different things to do on the weekend as far as physical fitness which is one thing they're really pushing at the unit level."
While the project is complete, true to building on assignments, Contreras is already looking forward in planning the unit's next project.
"I'm working with the National Guard now in Florida and we've got a project for the next two years building 13 miles of road in Florida," said Contreras.
While pushing the company forward in teamwork and training, Contreras said he isn't tempted to take the easy road.
"If you're always doing the right thing, you won't have that temptation (to take shortcuts)," said Contreras. "Sometimes people feel like they don't have to stay to work until 1630 (4:30 p.m.) or coming into work 10 minutes late, I never do that, but if you live by the Army Values I don't think the temptation for shortcuts is there."
Contreras exemplifies duty ad his leadership recognizes and admires his devotion.
"He's very dedicated. I wish I had all my full-timers like him," said Hicks. "We would probably be the best unit in the United States Army."
Editors note: This is the second in a seven-part series highlighting Soldiers within the 412th Theater Engineer Command who exemplify the Army Values.