FORT BENNING, Ga. – Capt. Sam Kuenker will join 27 other Soldiers, captains and warrant officers, at the Pentagon Oct. 21 to receive the Gen. Douglas MacArthur Leadership Award for 2019.
The annual award recognizes company grade officers and warrant officers in the three components, Regular Army, Army National Guard and Army Reserve, who demonstrate the ideals for which MacArthur stood – duty, honor and country.
Kuenker’s leadership at 6th Ranger Training Battalion in Florida submitted him for the award and he is the only Training and Doctrine Command Soldier among the 14 active-duty recipients.
Now the aide de camp for the Maneuver Center of Excellence commanding general, Kuenker served as a company commander and battalion operations officer while assigned to Airborne and Ranger Training Brigade’s Florida satellite.
The Army announced the winners of the award in April, Kuenker said, but the COVID-19 pandemic prevented an earlier ceremony.
“I am very honored to be nominated and selected for the award,” said the Michigan State University graduate who earned a bachelor’s degree in human biology in 2008. He worked two years in agricultural sales for Dow Chemical before he decided to join the Army in 2010.
After his initial career in sales, Kuenker said he realized the cutthroat sales job was not for him. He wanted to be part of a team; he wanted camaraderie; he wanted more so he decided to join the Army.
“I came to Fort Benning for (Officer Candidate School). I branched Infantry, which was my first choice,” he said.
“I strive to be that team player,” Kuenker explained. “I very firmly believe in taking care of your Soldiers. You always accomplish your mission but you accomplish your mission by taking care of your Soldiers, knowing your Soldiers, and placing them and their needs first. If you’re able to do that, your mission will be accomplished and they will generally take care of you as well. And they will make you successful.”
It’s important to know what is important to your Soldiers, their families, and the events that are important to them. This knowledge comes from communication and listening, he said.
Empathetic leadership comes from knowing your Soldiers, knowing if something is wrong with them, being able to understand their perspectives, making sure they are OK. It helps them focus on their jobs and ultimately the unit’s mission, said Kuenker, who earned a master’s in May from MSU in management, strategy and leadership.
“I really try to take care of my Soldiers, so I don’t look at the award as me winning it personally. … The excellent Soldiers and leaders I have had in the Army, who have set the example for me or who have really shaped me and my career to the point where I was fortunate to receive it.”