Staff Sgt. Montrell McGruder

Age: 34
Current Position: Operations noncommissioned officer
Current Unit: Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment, 95th Military Police Battalion
Component: Active-duty Army
Current Location: U.S. Army Garrison Mannheim, Germany
Hometown: Natchez, Miss.
Years of Service: 14 years
College: Hinds Community College and Central Texas College
Highest Personal Achievement: Staying enrolled in college while serving in the military; making the sergeant first class promotion list.
Hobbies: Bowling; basketball; spending time with family

(Editor's note: Staff Sgt. Montrell McGruder - who deployed 15 months to Iraq while helping to train that country's police force - has been a longtime player and coach for Army Morale, Welfare and Recreation programs, including the U.S. Army Garrison Mannheim Mustangs baskteball team. In his own words, he describes the similarities of serving as a noncommissioned officer in his community and being a coach.)

BEING A LEADER: "Coaching a garrison-level basketball team is similar to mentoring Soldiers, as a noncommissioned officer, in my battalion. Discipline is key to building a good team and a good military company. Teams can be successful if discipline is instilled."

EDUCATION: "We initiated a program here, before my unit deployed to Iraq, for members of our basketball team to visit community schools to read to students. And on the weekends, we volunteered to officiate and coach for the Child, Youth and School Services program. Players can serve as role models; because of their experiences, they understand education and sports are connected. We have the opportunity to stress to students that education, good grades and staying in school are important goals."

VOLUNTEERING: "The Mannheim Mustangs sponsor a youth summer basketball camp. We also play a red-and-black game each summer to reflect our team colors. Parents bring their kids to the game to be recognized that they are all winners. For this effort, Lt. Col. Jeffrey Fletcher, the garrison commander, recognized our team at the Volunteer Appreciation ceremony."

LEARNING: "Our basketball team includes officers, NCOs, younger enlisted Soldiers and civilians. Sports brings players from diverse backgrounds together. Relationships are observed and developed. Often, the younger members raise their goals as they see the successes of their teammates."

FITNESS: "Whether as a Soldier or player, we are strict about staying in shape year round. While it is a privilege to play sports, we are Soldiers first and athletes second. If you can't pass a unit physical fitness test, then you can't play for us."

COURT SUCCESS: "When I first arrived, we won the U.S. Army Europe and multiservice Final 4 Championships. And now as I prepare to return stateside, we won again. We sustained and achieved our team goals."