By T. Anthony BellApril 15, 2019
FORT LEE, Va. -- Staff Sgt. Shalanda Banks was brimming with confidence following her battalion-level board appearance necessary for admission into the Sergeant Audie Murphy Club.
The brigade event was all that was left for the Victor Company, 262nd Quartermaster Battalion, drill sergeant.
Banks' performance on the main stage, however, could be likened to the sound of an industrial-grade vacuum cleaner meeting with a piece of fabric, she said.
"I 'sucked,'" Banks laughingly recalled.
The 35-year-old's act of underachievement nearly a year ago was countered with an intense drive for redemption leading to a second board appearance and subsequent inclusion into an organization boasting a mere 2 percent of all noncommissioned officers. Her toil and resilience was recognized Friday during an SAMC Induction Ceremony at the Petroleum and Water Department Auditorium. The 14-year-Soldier expressed a sense of accomplishment and relief following the occasion.
"It was hard leaving my kids and having to endure so much for this board," she said. "I wanted to quit … but then I remembered, it's not in my character to quit. That's not who I am. My daddy always told me that when I start something to always finish."
Banks the only Fort Lee SAMC inductee for fiscal 2019, a fact that did not resonate until the heart of the ceremony.
"I didn't hit me until the medallion was actually placed around my neck," she said the wife of a Soldier and mother of three. "I understood then it was momentous for my career and the brigade because now I can mentor someone else to do what I did."
Among those in attendance were Command Sgt. Michael Perry III, U.S. Army Combined Arms Support Command CSM, and CSM Jerome Smalls, commandant, Logistics Noncommissioned Officer Academy, as well as fellow SAMC members, family, friends and cadre.
During the ceremony, Banks was introduced by her mentor and fellow SAMC member, Sgt. 1st Class Cedric Williams, who Banks said provided her with both clarity and insight on failure and perseverance.
"He told me his story and history about failing and the fact that everyone he knew had some difficulty,'' recalled Banks. "He also said, 'I didn't want it bad enough.' I thought I did. When I thought about it, though, I understood -- I think I did it because the first sergeant nominated me, not because I wanted to do it for myself."
Banks said her attitude changed when she took the advice of Williams to learn more about Audie Murphy and the multitude of difficulties he faced during combat and his post-Army life. Banks said she found parallels in his story, substance and meaning in her own, and a more robust desire to own the experience the second time around.
"I embraced it," she said.
First Sgt. Carlandra Moss, the guest speaker, fellow SAMC member and Banks' former first sergeant, brought out that fact and more during her address. She said Moss has overcome the obstacles of divorce, a break in service in which she lost one rank, the military-family life dynamic and more on her way to earning the SAMC medallion.
"The takeaway from her story is she has never accepted defeat," said Moss, who now wears the diamond for Headquarters and Headquarters Company, CASCOM. "Oh, she has failed -- failed several times -- but she has always picked herself up."
Banks said her fight comes from character cultivated from upbringing, experience and faith in the Almighty.
"The journey is never, ever easy," said the Florida native. "It's always very hard; long days, long nights, it physically wears you down. Mentally, I know I'm tough, I can endure, and I stand on that every day. God keeps me grounded and strengthens me every day. I say my prayers every day and asks Him to keep me for the next day. That's exactly what he does."
In addition to her SAMC membership, Banks earned an Army Commendation Medal, which was presented by Moss. Her next endeavor is preparation for sergeant first class promotion and NCO of the Year boards.
Those seeking membership in the exclusive SAMC are nominated and required to demonstrate leadership, professionalism and overall general military knowledge, the latter gauged during a series board appearances. The failure rate is roughly 50 percent, said Sgt. 1st Class Jacinta D. Moore, Fort Lee SAMC president.
Sgt. Audie Murphy was one of the Army's most decorated Soldiers. The former enlisted infantryman overcame many obstacles on World War II battlefields to earn several awards including the Medal of Honor. He is also known as a movie star, singer and veteran's advocate. Murphy died on Memorial Day, 1971. He was 45 years old.