In the military, we have been told countless times the mission comes first.

For one top noncommissioned officer (NCO) charged with taking care of the mission first, taking care of the Soldiers in his unit is just as important.

Better yet, 1st Sgt. Mark Rizzo, Alpha Troop, 1-102nd Cavalry Squadron, 50th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, New Jersey Army National Guard, realizes by taking care of his Soldiers he will also accomplish the mission better - a win-win situation for the mission and his troops.

"I've always wanted to help people," he says.

However, he considers the personal sacrifice he and his troop commander, Capt. Michael
Tarricone, must make in order to help the Soldiers of his unit while meeting mission requirements. As Alpha Troop's mission is multi-fold - including providing close base defense patrols, tactical
transportation from Camp Bucca, Iraq to Camp Buehring, Kuwait, and convoy security for detainee air transfers, meeting mission requirements is a constant challenge.

"We make decisions to make it harder on us [leadership] as long as it makes things easier on the troops," Rizzo added.

Rizzo grew up in Gibbstown, N.J., resides in Pittman, N.J. when not deployed to Camp Bucca, and has 24 years of military service, including a prior deployment to Camp Cuervo and Camp Fallujah, Iraq from 2004 through 2005. His full-time employment prior to the current deployment was as an operations sergeant with the Joint Training and Training Development Center at Fort Dix, N.J.

Even though qualified to find another first sergeant position closer to his home in southern New Jersey, he chose to stay loyal to Alpha Troop, with its armory located in Dover, N.J, a two hour and 30 minute drive away from Pittman.

"If you are making decisions for yourself at this point in your career, I think you are misled," Rizzo explained.

As further evidence to how Rizzo is taking care of Soldiers, consider the fact 51 promotions have occurred in his unit in the last year since he took charge as the top NCO.

"This is my third deployment; I've never seen this many promotions; it's really unprecedented...," said Sgt. 1st Class Roman Charczenko, 2nd Platoon sergeant for Alpha Troop. "[First Sergeant
is] always looking for career progression for all Soldiers, even those not organic to Alpha Troop, and there are 40 of those."

A key principle of success Rizzo passes along to his NCOs are for them to coach and teach, and to "lead, never follow". Furthermore, he tells all Soldiers to look after their own personal growth, and to take responsibility for themselves as well as others.

"It's the NCO's job to mentor [Soldiers]; the Soldier's job to manage their career," adds Charczenko, from Goshen, N.Y.

In order to lead Soldiers to complete multiple missions and to improve themselves, coaching them to be future unit leaders, outstanding leadership and interpersonal skills are obviously necessary.

"He's a people person; knows how to joke [and when to be serious]. He is good at setting up officers for success, as the NCO creed says, do my job [as an NCO] so my officer does not have to," said Charczenko.

Further to this, Rizzo gets to know Soldiers extremely well so he can fit their skill sets and their desires to the mission requirements, whenever possible.

"He uses your personal experience in cooperation with the mission. He knows everything about everybody," explained Sgt. 1st Class Ernest Iodaci, 1st Platoon sergeant for Alpha Troop and captain for the Lodi, N.J. Police Department.

When considering the hard work, pride, Soldier care, selfless service and mission focus of Rizzo, one may wonder where he gets his energy. The answer not only explains his motivation, but also why he joined the military.

"My Dad and Grandpa were in the military. I had an unbelievable amount of patriotic drive from my Dad," said Rizzo.