By Fort Sill Tribune staffApril 5, 2018
FORT SILL, Okla. (April 5, 2018) -- A Fort Sill Soldier who is the Training and Doctrine Command's Career Counselor of the Year received honors March 29, during a ceremony at McNair Hall.
Sgt. 1st Class Gregory Bontrager, 428th Field Artillery Brigade career counselor, was recognized by Maj. Gen. Wilson A. Shoffner, FCoE and Fort Sill command general, during a commander's meeting.
Shoffner presented the sergeant first class with his coin of excellence, noting he hands out coins very selectively. The general said career counselors have a critical mission to retain the expertise of Soldiers that the Army needs for mission readiness.
"It is guys like these that get to know the organization, that get to know the people, and that's what allows us to make sure that we have the talent to go forward, especially in our mid-grade NCO ranks," Shoffner said. "This is a huge accomplishment."
Bontrager has been a career counselor here for three years, but is set to report to Fort Hood, Texas, in June. He said his role is to positively affect the enlisted population by retaining or extending Soldiers' for long-term service. It also includes promoting the Army benefits, which includes educational opportunities, and family services.
Bontrager won the FCoE career counselor of the year competition in November. He then moved on to the TRADOC competition, which he also won.
He said his dedication to the job was instrumental in him winning.
"The more that you believe in what you're doing, and that you buy into it, then you'll get others to buy into it and that will make your program successful," said Bontrager, who enlisted in 2003, and became a tanker, Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) 19K.
Bontrager competed at the Department of the Army level career counselor competition, Feb. 2-4, in Washington, D.C., against about 15 career counselors from the major commands, and Reserve forces. Competition events included the Army Physical Fitness Test, and a board in front of sergeants major.
Although he did not win there, he described it as a challenging and motivational experience he will share with his junior career counselors. Some takeaways from it was the exchange of ideas, and camaraderie, as well as meeting his future sergeant major that he'll work with at Fort Hood, he said.
It was in 2012, when Bontrager reclassified to career counselor MOS 79S.
"I found that I enjoyed helping Soldiers as an armor crewman, and as I started training to become a retention NCO and career counselor. I found that I enjoyed it even more," he said.
Soldiers are required to meet with a career counselor a couple times before their separation date, usually beginning about 15 months out, he said. They also meet with their battery commander twice, as well as the brigade commander during retention breakfasts.
"Battery commanders are always talking to their Soldiers," said Bontrager, who said he provides them with a list of Soldiers and their expiration of enlistments.
Bontrager said he begins his counseling session by finding out what the Soldier wants to do educationally, if they want to PCS, if they are happy in their MOS.
"Essentially, I narrow down their needs, wants and desires by talking to them so we can figure out exactly what they want to do," he said.
When talking to young Soldiers who are on the fence about re-enlisting, Bontrager said he talks about his personal experiences.
"I tell them I went through a couple divorces and what the Army was able to do for me, what the chain of command was able to do for me, and now what the chain of command can do for them with more advance programing, with more services available," he said. "And, I answer any of their questions."
For others, a direct approach works. "Do you want to stay on the team or not?"
For Soldiers who are Army career oriented from day one, Bontrager stresses the NCO Education System, which will benefit them for promotions.
"I encourage them to get into the programs and complete them faster," said Bontrager, who will earn a master's degree in management in five months. He also stresses taking additional courses, such as Master Resiliency Training and Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention.
Occasionally, he'll meet a Soldier who wants to reclassify to become a career counselor. He advises anyone who is thinking about it to first become a retention NCO so they understand the mission. It's a unit level program that makes you talk and listen to Soldiers, he said. "If you can do that successfully, you're possibly a candidate to become a career counselor."
Bontrager said he's positively impacted about a couple thousand Soldiers as a career counselor.
"That make me feel good, especially when I can impact the family because we get the spouses in too, both female and male."