FORT HOOD, Texas (Nov. 27, 2017) -- For the first time in at least four years, a battalion career counselor from a III Corps' non-divisional brigade earned the top spot in the Corps' "Career Counselor of the Year" competition. The honor comes with an immense duty for the Noncommissioned Officer, however, both in greater competition and in ultimately serving as the unit's "honest broker" for Soldiers' career advancement.
Staff Sgt. Kelvis Melo, a Career Counselor for the 163rd and 303rd Military Intelligence Battalions, 504th Military Intelligence Brigade, earned the Fiscal Year 2018 Career Counselor of the Year for III Corps, Nov. 16. Competing against eight other competitors from the Corps' four divisions, Melo said the accolade keeps him humble as he advances to the competition at the U.S. Army Forces Command level.
"It's just an honor to even be in the running," Melo said. "I feel that humbleness is really important, because at the end of the day, there's so many talented people within the Army."
The multi-day competition pitted Career Counselors from Fort Hood and Fort Bliss, Texas, Fort Carson, Colorado, and Fort Riley, Kansas, who already were the best in their divisions. Staff Sgt. Melo won the FY 2018 Non-Divisional Career Counselor of the Year, Oct. 19, and advanced to the Corps' competition. The Non-Divisional Career Counselor represents one of several separate brigades not attached to an active Army division.
During the Non-Divisional and III Corps' events, the participants were tested on an Army Physical Fitness Test, a 50-question written exam, and a board appearance in front of Command Career Counselors from the division and corps levels. As part of the written exam, participants were tested on 40 active-component questions, and 10 reserve-component retention questions. The board appearance examined the competitors' knowledge of personal appearance and military bearing, retention program management and training, retention incentives and Army National Guard and Army Reserve options.
For the Corps' competition, the President of the Board is the Command Career Counselor for III Corps, and the other four members are Command Career Counselors for their respective divisions. Each board member is in the rank of Sergeant Major. Even with the rank-heavy board structure, Staff Sgt. Melo said the board panel did not unnerve him.
"My thought 'knocking on the door' is that NCOs adapt and overcome," Melo said. "So regardless of how I felt, you keep a cool head and perform your duties. This is your time to shine as a NCO."
Melo will compete at the U.S. Army Forces Command Career Counselor of the Year competition, Dec. 5-7, at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Active and reserve component Career Counselors will compete in the same events -- APFT, written exam, and a board appearance -- and an additional "mystery event." The FORSCOM Command Sergeant Major will preside over the selection panel, as well as selecting an appropriate "mystery event" for the competitors.
As part of their duties, Army Career Counselors are charged with advising enlisted Soldiers on their careers, while also facilitating retention options in accordance with Army Regulation 601-280. Often times, that charge requires Career Counselors to be frank and trustworthy in their daily interactions with Soldiers. For Melo's first line supervisor and competition mentor, the duty is not taken lightly.
"In the Career Counselor Creed, it talks about being an 'honest broker' for the Army, and we take that personally," Sgt. 1st Class Opheline Moore, the Career Counselor for the 504th MI Brigade, said. "We're entrusted with the most important asset of this organization, and that's society's daughters and sons. We're entrusted to do everything we can to train, coach, and mentor them. To me, that's the meat and potatoes of our job."
Moore served as Staff Sgt. Melo's sponsor in both competitions, and regarded him as one of the field's top Career Counselors and an accomplished NCO. The Corps' competition assessed the Corps' top five percent of Career Counselors, Moore said.
"Staff Sgt. Melo represents us not as only as Career Counselors, but as a Soldier and a NCO. You have to be a NCO first, Soldier second, and a Career Counselor third. I'll put him up against anybody," Moore said.
Melo, has served as a trained Army Career Counselor since August, 2016, and previously served as a 92F -- Petroleum Supply Specialist, before transferring into the 79S job specialty nearly six years into his Army career. The NCO said he expressed interest in his current specialty while serving as a company Retention NCO in Germany. He eventually volunteered with the brigade retention office, and earned a spot to the Army Recruiting and Retention School at Fort Knox, Kentucky.
The daunting course has a high attrition rate, and Sgt. 1st Class Moore said six of the 28 students in his class were dropped for insufficient exam scores. Although the course earns graduates a permanent badge on their uniforms, the badge has much symbolism for Army Career Counselors. A phrase from the Career Counselor's Creed says, "I wear the Career Counselor Badge with pride and full knowledge that this very symbol epitomizes our nation, and our duty to sustain America's fighting force."
Even with a formidable competition looming in his near future, Staff Sgt. Melo says the bigger challenge comes from the daily task of satisfactorily facilitating Soldiers' careers.
"It's nice to represent the 504th (at the III Corps and FORSCOM levels), but I'd rather my brigade know that what I do in house for our Soldiers, and for that to be the judging factor," Melo said. "If I would've gone over there and bombed and made fifth place, but they know I'm over here taking care of Soldiers and helping facilitate their career advancement, to me that means more than anything."