By Melissa BowerMarch 10, 2009
FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kan. - Fort Leavenworth's three female first sergeants say motivating and mentoring enlisted Soldiers is one of the best careers a noncommissioned officer can have.
First Sergeants Cari Vande Kamp, Janet Harris and Tabrina Adams have a combined 44 years of service to the Army.
"I love being around Soldiers," said Vande Kamp, who is first sergeant of the Medical Company. "I love watching them from day one until they PCS out - the look on a Soldier's face when they're not sure they can do it, but as a leader you know they can. When they achieve the smallest goal, whether it's training or education, it's always a pleasure to see them achieve their goal."
As the Medical Company first sergeant, Vande Kamp is in charge of tracking training and making sure Munson Army Health Center is appropriately staffed for patient care. In the 18 months she has been at Fort Leavenworth, Vande Kamp also served a dual role as first sergeant in the Warrior Transition Unit at MAHC, which she relinquished March 3.
Vande Kamp has served 18 years in the Army. She was inspired to join the Army by her father, Gary L. Vande Kamp, a Reserve infantryman. Her father taught Army marksmanship, and Vande Kamp has memories of her father coming home in uniform, going to visit Soldiers and visiting military installations with her family.
"I come from a long line of gentlemen in the Army," she said. "I'm the first woman in my family to be in the military services."
Vande Kamp has two daughters, Courtney, 12, and Candace, 9, who live in Georgia.
Vande Kamp has been in the medical field for her entire military career. Her goal is to complete 30 years of service to the Army and become a regional health service command sergeant major. This most senior medical sergeant major is in charge of at least 10 medical treatment facilities.
After retirement, Vande Kamp wants to continue caring for wounded warriors.
"It's very rewarding to see them come back and all the medical technology that has advanced can keep them going," she said. "Soldiers that shouldn't be alive are still alive, and that's an accomplishment for Army medicine."
Vande Kamp said an advancement in medicine was the combat lifesaver training and evacuation maneuvers taught to every Soldier with a medical military occupation specialty. She saw this while deployed to Iraq from March 2003 to April 2004 with the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment.
Another advancement Vande Kamp noticed in the Army has been a push for enlisted Soldiers to continue their civilian education immediately after they complete basic training and advanced individual training. Vande Kamp has an associate degree in general studies from Pikes Peak College.
"It helps give them a higher stepping stone for their career progression," she said. "Enlisted soldiers aren't waiting until they're at senior ranks, when they have a multitude of responsibilities."
Vande Kamp serves as secretary to the Sergeant Audie Murphy Club on post, in which she volunteers to clean up highways and visits hospitalized veterans at the Dwight D. Eisenhower Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Leavenworth.
First sergeants Adams and Harris went to basic training together at Fort McClellan, Ala., in 1995. They have served 13 years as corrections specialists and are now first sergeants of two companies within the 705th Military Police Internment and Resettlement Battalion, which provides staffing for the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks.
This summer, Harris will lead the Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 705th, to deploy to Iraq. It is her first deployment, although the company itself, HHC, 705th was deployed to Iraq 2007-08.
"In the military, we sign up to serve our country in a time of war," she said. "We're going to do what we signed up to do originally."
Harris decided to join the Army after dropping out of high school as a pregnant teenager. She was in the process of furthering her education, but wanted to get some real-world experience.
"I decided to join the military to better myself for my son and be a role model for him," she said.
Harris not only completed her general education diploma, but also earned two associate degrees - one in general studies from Central Texas University and one in criminal justice from Saint Leo University - and recently completed her bachelor's in criminal justice, also from Saint Leo. Her son, 16-year-old Eric Risica, is a student at Leavenworth High School. Harris is married to Staff Sgt. Christopher Harris, another Army corrections specialist currently in Cuba, and they have a daughter, 1-year-old Kenzie.
Harris said she enjoys working with the 37 different MOS within her company. She plans on completing 20 years of service to the Army.
"There's nothing better to look at your (Soldiers) and know that you are the influence in that Soldier's life," she said. "We have a direct impact on where our Army is going."
Adams is first sergeant of the 256th Military Police Company. She was influenced by her high school Marine ROTC program.
"Wearing of the uniform intrigued me so much," she said. "I thought, 'I can do that, I can be a Soldier.'"
Adams, a basketball athlete, also didn't want to burden her family with tuition costs for college. She initially joined to earn money for college, but stayed because she loved the Army. Her goal is to become a command sergeant major.
"I love it," she said. "I love the Army. I love leading Soldiers. They pump me up and they get me hyped. Soldiers are what make us who we are - we're all Soldiers and we all have to fight for our freedoms."
She is married to Sgt. Maj. Donald Wallace, also an Army corrections specialist, who is attending the Sergeants Major Academy at Fort Bliss, Texas.
Adams is a certified basketball referee for high school and junior college. She is part of an intramural basketball team on post, which earned a first place trophy in this year's regular season. She's considering becoming an ROTC instructor and basketball coach upon completion of her military career.
Adams said that as a black woman noncommissioned officer in the Army, it's important for her to work just as hard as any other Soldier - regardless of race or gender. She said she's disappointed when she sees women Soldiers who believe they can't do things.
"We have to work twice as hard," she said. "We're constantly trying to prove that we're supposed to be here. Women Soldiers are just like the next person. We're fighting the same fight and we can keep up with the best of them."