By Crystal Marshall (Editor)December 29, 2017
WASHINGTON -- Loyalty. Duty. Respect. Selfless service. Honor. Integrity. Personal courage.
These are the Army values that all Soldiers learn during Basic Combat Training -- and then pledge to uphold throughout their Army careers, both in and out of uniform.
For Soldiers in 2017, Army values were more than just a set of words and ideals. Week after week, both at home and abroad, members of the U.S. Army tangibly demonstrated the Army values in their everyday lives -- especially when faced with unexpected and trying events. Here are a few of the stories of everyday Army heroes that inspired communities and brought honor to their uniform this year.
FORT KNOX SOLDIER SALUTES FUNERAL IN TORRENTIAL DOWNPOUR
In a viral photo that hit the internet in July, a Soldier saw a funeral procession while driving his car from Fort Knox, stopped, got out of his vehicle, and saluted while standing in a torrential downpour.
The photo was taken and shared on Facebook and Instagram by Erin Hester of Vine Grove, Kentucky, on July 6th.
Hester wrote in her Facebook post, "I was so completely touched by this today. A funeral procession was passing by and this soldier got out of his jeep to stand at attention in the pouring rain. I always get frustrated when I see cars that don't pull to the side and stop for a procession, but this gentleman went above and beyond.
"I feel pretty confident that there isn't a military rule that soldiers have to do this," Hester continued. "This made my heart happy to see the amount of respect that this gentleman showed a family that he doesn't even know."
A mutual friend at Fort Knox contacted Hester and said the fort knew the identity of the Soldier in the photo -- Col. Jack L. Usrey, the senior Army advisor to the adjutant general at Tennessee National Guard Headquarters in Nashville. Hester expressed her appreciation personally to Usrey by phone once the two were connected.
Since enlisting in the National Guard in 1988, Usrey has served in multiple roles ranging from tank platoon leader to Executive Officer to the Assistant Secretary of the Army (Manpower and Reserve Affairs.) His numerous operational and combat deployments have taken him all over the world, including Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and Operation Iraqi Freedom in Iraq.
Throughout his nearly three decades of service, the moral values that Usrey learned from his parents have only been strengthened by his time in the Army. For Usrey, who strives to demonstrate humility, honor, and respect in his daily life, the rapid ascent of the photo was surprising.
"Two days later, I saw the photo hit Facebook -- since then it's exploded," Usrey said. "It's baffling to me that something so simple caused so much attention. I guess it goes to show how simple it would be for our nation to be more united if we just treated each other using the Golden Rule."
'THUNDERBIRDS' COME TO THE RESCUE IN UKRAINE
During a routine morale, welfare and recreation trip, Citizen-Soldiers of the 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team deployed in Ukraine found themselves in a dangerous situation that put their military and civilian training to good use.
"We were about to head back to base when we saw smoke coming from down the street, so we decided to investigate," explained Sgt. Matthew Odom, of Norman, Oklahoma, a Soldier assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 279th Infantry Regiment, 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, also known as the "Thunderbirds."
The smoke was coming from an apartment building that had caught fire.
Odom, along with fellow Thunderbirds Sgt. Nelson Deese, Spc. Vincent Humerickhouse, Spc. Kellar Jackson, Spc. Aaron Moore and Pfc. Kevin Polk, rushed into the burning building and evacuated the third floor before local firefighters arrived on scene.
"We kept asking if there was anyone still in the building, and finally we found someone who spoke English who said that there was," Odom said. "Sgt. Deese and I just gave each other a look; it was like we knew what the other was thinking and we just stormed in."
Deese, who serves as a volunteer firefighter in his community of Crowder, Oklahoma, said his training as a firefighter and infantryman kicked in automatically. "We were knocking on doors and windows trying to get people's attention; they were definitely not aware of the fire."
Once firefighters arrived on scene, Deese made sure his fellow Soldiers were safely outside the burning building before he pitched in to help the firefighters, unrolling their hose and helping them move their equipment upstairs.
"I'm proud of the actions these Soldiers took to ensure the safety of others," said Lt. Col. Bruce Lambeth, commander of the 1st Battalion, 279th Infantry Regiment. "They are true examples of Oklahomans upholding the Oklahoma standard, in this case, looking after their global neighbors while serving their state and country abroad here in Ukraine."
BRIG. GEN. KAREN GIBSON: SOLDIER, SURVIVIOR
Army Brig. Gen. Karen Gibson is quick to dismiss suggestions that she's anything more than "just a Soldier," and she's not a fan of labels, except for one: survivor.
As the intelligence director for Combined Joint Task Force -- Operation Inherent Resolve in Iraq, Gibson spends her days working with a team of elite coalition service members from around the world. It's a job and a deployment nine years in the making.
In 2008, then-Lt. Col. Gibson was preparing to deploy with XVIII Airborne Corps. While on a pre-deployment site survey with other leaders to Iraq, she received word that the radiologist at Womack Army Medical Center at Fort Bragg wanted to see her when she returned.
"When the doctor said, 'Here's the deal … You've got cancer,' I was devastated in ways other cancer patients didn't understand," said Gibson.
Contrary to her doctor's initial expectations, Gibson wasn't overwhelmed with the thought of losing her hair or the discomfort of chemotherapy treatments. At arguably the most difficult time in her life, her focus was on her team.
"My first question to the doctor was, 'How soon can I go to Baghdad?'" Gibson remembered.
"I was so upset I couldn't deploy with my team and the people I had trained with," Gibson said. "It was depressing, and I was despondent over missing this opportunity."
Three weeks before her team got on the plane to deploy to Iraq, Gibson checked into Bethesda for the first round of her five months of chemotherapy.
As a career Soldier, Gibson said she found comfort in the Soldier's Creed.
"I relied on the warrior ethos to get me through," Gibson said. "I didn't know how important being a Soldier was to me or how much it shaped my identity until my ability to serve was at risk."
Gibson said her faith and her family were also a tremendous source of strength. Unbeknownst to her at that time, her determination to beat cancer also provided Gibson's daughter with an opportunity to see her mother in a different light.
"Growing up I didn't realize and appreciate how exceptionally strong she was until she was diagnosed with stage III cancer," said U.S. Army 1st Lt. Kelly Chapman, logistics officer, Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, I Corps. "Watching my mother go through countless physical and emotional setbacks with equal parts grace and grit was a powerful experience."
"It's hard to talk about her as a role model without mentioning cancer because what she did was exceptional," said Chapman. "You don't see many people pull through situations like that and come out the other side stronger and with the amount of determination and passion she still has for her career."
Eight years removed from her fight with cancer, Gibson is still in remission.
Forced to stay behind in 2008, today, she has found vindication deploying with the XVIII Airborne Corps team and serving alongside U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Steven Townsend in Iraq.
"Brig. Gen. Gibson has always led by example, constantly projecting professionalism, confidence, attention to detail and an outstanding work ethic," said Spc. Sara Johnke, who serves under Gibson. "She has set the bar high, and as a young Solider, I aspire to achieve that same standard throughout my career."
(Editor's Note: This article is part of a series reflecting on the top Army events of 2017. This article is a compilation of four different articles, whose links are below: "Living the 'Golden Rule': The story behind the viral photo of a Soldier's funeral salute," by Tennessee National Guard, "'Thunderbirds' rescue civilians from burning building in Ukraine," by 1st Lt. Kayla Christopher, and "Female Army general beats cancer, deploys to Iraq, serves as inspiration," by Sgt. 1st Class Rob Frazier.)