MADIGAN ARMY MEDICAL CENTER, Tacoma, Wash. -- Looking beyond the uniform to understand her Soldiers' personal struggles and journeys earned Sgt. 1st Class Erica Graham the Cadre Award for Excellence from the Warrior Care and Transition Program.

A Reservist, Graham served as a platoon sergeant at Madigan Army Medical Center's Warrior Transition Battalion through this summer, where she led, supported and cared for ill, injured and wounded Soldiers -- some of the most medically complex Soldiers in the Army in fact.

"If you have a Soldier who's struggling with just waking up in the morning or trying to figure out different medication regimens or voices in their head -- their struggles are far beyond the normal spectrum of any other leadership position you're going to have in the military," said Graham, a medical lab technician by trade who joined the Army in 2001.

She helped Soldiers navigate their care and support services, working to ensure that they transitioned successfully out of the military or returned to regular duty. Graham also gained an encyclopedic knowledge of Army and community programs available to help Soldiers with their mental health, housing, finances, Veterans Affairs support and more.

"She was a true advocate for her Soldier," said Neville Lewis, an operations and training specialist, and long-term staff member, at the WTB. "She also was not afraid to challenge whoever for optimum care for the Soldier. She was very much result-orientated, not going to stop on an issue until she got to the person who had the answer that was needed for the situation."

Graham would be the first to say that she wasn't alone in supporting her Soldiers. Not only did she support her squad leaders and vice versa, but she formed a strong leadership team with her fellow platoon sergeants as well.

"There's always going to be times that you have to lean on each other to make sure that the Soldier is taken care of," Graham said. "It never mattered if it was your Soldier or not -- if there was something going on, and they needed someone, you were there."

She found the balance of showing compassion for Soldiers while maintaining the demands and the needs of the Army, without sacrificing one for the other, said Staff Sgt. Lori Mosgrove, one of her former squad leaders.

"She made my time with the WTU so much better because I always knew I had her support and guidance when there were issues that came up that I didn't know how to fix on my own. I believe I am a better leader because of her mentorship, and I know my Soldiers were able to transition successfully thanks to her drive and her ability to place Soldiers' needs above her own," Mosgrove said.

With the help of her squad leaders she took care of Soldiers like Sgt. 1st Class Dustin Fulton, who is now medically retired. He joined the WTB after experiencing a herniated disc in his neck during a deployment to the Horn of Africa.

"She was actually with me when I made an appeal for one of my ratings; she went in with me to the board. I guess with her, more than a lot of other people, I was able to communicate what my needs were because it felt safe to do so, like you were being heard and it was okay," said Fulton, who was a medic and civil affairs specialist during his 18 years in the Army.

Throughout her three years as a platoon sergeant at the WTB, Graham led more than 100 Soldiers through some of the most challenging times of their lives, as they progressed in their recoveries, in their careers, in their relationships with families and friends, and even spiritually.

Graham -- once again a civilian lab technician -- recounted watching Soldiers grow as they overcame the biggest obstacles in life. She witnessed some Soldiers who thought they didn't have a reason to live take part in therapy and accept help from other support systems, and eventually leave the unit with a new outlook and life plan.

"They have a reason to live again when at one point they thought that life was over," said Graham. "That's pretty awesome to see."