By Mr. Kenneth David Hall (IMCOM)April 23, 2009
HUMPHREYS GARRISON - You may have encountered them during your tour of duty; they are the married military couple, both in uniform, and they often have children.
One such active duty Army NCO couple recently hit the ground running in Korea, bringing with them not only their children and more than 40 years of combined service - but a unique distinction: they are both former Army Advanced Individual Training drill sergeants.
1st Sgt. Chelsie Stokes, 52nd Ordnance Company, a native of Danville, Va., and his wife, Sgt. 1st Class Warnie Stokes, Test Measurement Diagnostic Equipment noncommissioned officer in charge, 520th Maintenance Company, a native of Cocoa, Fla., have been stationed at Humphreys Garrison since 2008. For Warnie, the opportunity to return to Republic of Korea for a second tour was enough to change her career plans.
"I was about to retire and was in ACAP, but I volunteered to come back here with my Family," she said. "We've both had hard jobs these past few years, but when Chelsie was given the opportunity to serve here, we agreed that my staying on active duty would also be a great way to keep our Family together."
Chelsie enlisted in 1989, Warnie in 1987. They first met in 2000 where both served as AIT drill sergeants, at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Ala. Both recall having responsibility for as many as 150 Soldiers, at one time, in their AIT companies.
"Becoming a drill sergeant was in my blood," said Warnie. "I love training Soldiers and aside from becoming a first sergeant, being a drill sergeant has been one of the ultimate things that I've wanted to achieve in my professional life. But just reaching the NCO ranks was for me the same as winning the lottery, and my biggest challenge during that time was making the transition from specialist - and everybody's friend - to becoming instead a leader for more than 20 Soldiers."
Answering the call to serve as a drill sergeant wasn't an opportunity Chelsie expected to get in the second half of his military career.
"When my branch manager called me to offer me the chance to go on the trail I had my doubts at first because I was already an E-7," recalled Chelsie. "But after I thought it over, I knew it was something I wanted to do."
Chelsie said that when he was a specialist, reaching the NCO ranks wasn't something he considered automatic, but something junior enlisted Soldiers had to work really hard to achieve.
"My first duty station was Fort Richardson, Alaska and my NCO's sat me down and told me what areas I needed to work on and study to pass the promotion board," he said. "I realized that making the NCO ranks was something I wanted to do and once I made E-5, I was at the point where I wasn't only concerned about myself, but also the Soldiers who were around me and I believe today's new NCO's need to have stronger emphasis when it comes to taking care of Soldiers."
During their tour at Humphreys, the Stokes work in different units but there are times when their leadership of junior Soldiers follows them home to mentor their three children.
"We are strict on our kids at times because we want to have discipline," said Warnie. "Chelsie is the epitome of a drill sergeant and first sergeant, but he's also a great father."
When the couple retires someday, they plan to settle down in Alabama. But the Stokes, steadfast in their commitment to serve and take care of Soldiers aren't in any hurry to leave Army service behind.
"I'll continue to serve as long as my body allows it, and for now, wherever the Army needs us, we'll be there," said Chelsie. Warnie says they hope to retire together.
"I came in the Army at 17 and the Army raised me," said Warnie. "I've learned a lot and I'm proud to have served my country and very few people can say they served more than 20 years in the military. I love the Army and I might cry when I retire because I will miss the Soldiers."
Chelsie and Warnie said several of their former Soldiers have contacted them over the years with one common message.
"We're very proud to have been able to guide Soldier's lives in the right direction as a squad leader, platoon sergeant and first sergeant and hopefully we've made a difference," said Chelsie. "Soldiers have e-mailed us to thank us for everything we taught them and that means a lot and we'll miss the opportunity to be there for them, because that's what we've always been here to do as NCO's."