FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. – Two of Blanchfield Army Community Hospital’s noncommissioned officers were inducted into the Sgt. Audie Murphy Club May 7 at Wilson Theater, demonstrating both their leadership skills and resilience in the face of a rigorous application process.
Sergeant First Class Jamie Hendzel, Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security/Operations noncommissioned officer, BACH; and Staff Sgt. Jeannine Valencia, noncommissioned officer in charge, Patient Administration Division, BACH; are now considered among the top 2% of NCOs Army wide as SAMC members. That means they’re expected to “lead from the front” as examples for other Soldiers and volunteer work is a major part of that effort.
“I’ve always been someone who loves to volunteer, and now being an Audie Murphy member I’m able to tie that together with being in the Army,” Valencia said. “When I’m doing these volunteer events, I’m planning to have the SAMC coordinate with some of the groups and organizations I’m already volunteering with to see how we can link up and bring forces together.”
Both Valencia and Hendzel were excited to get involved and have already taken on multiple volunteer opportunities through SAMC, from feeding people in need at Manna Café Ministries to keeping roadways litter-free.
“Any time you can help out other people, whether it’s picking up trash on the side of the street or serving breakfast, sharing their stories gets them into conversation mode,” Hendzel said. “For you it might feel like you’re doing something very minimal, but to somebody else it means a great deal.”
Command Sergeant Major Daniel Santiago, part of BACH’s command team and a SAMC member, said he nominated Valencia and Hendzel for membership because they exemplify leadership skills and a commitment to Soldiers and Families.
“I seek out NCOs that go above and beyond in the unit, and the NCOs who are also trying to better themselves,” Santiago said. “Some of the qualities I saw in them both were working and making the mission happen with no questions asked. They sacrifice their time so their Soldiers can take some time off – I’ve seen these NCOs come in on Saturdays, Sundays and evenings to cover for their Soldiers if there’s something they need to do.”
When recommending club members, Santiago is essentially looking for NCOs who share characteristics with Sgt. Audie Leon Murphy himself.
Murphy is remembered today as the most decorated Soldier in American history. But when he tried to join the U.S. Marine Corps during World War II, they refused him for being too small at 5 feet, 5 inches tall and 110 pounds.
Refusing to be discouraged, Murphy enlisted in the Army just after his 18th birthday. He was assigned to the 15th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division, and fought in North Africa, Italy, France and Germany.
While deployed, Murphy earned a battlefield commission for his courage and leadership, among many other citations and decorations. Most notably, he received every medal for valor Soldiers can obtain, including the Medal of Honor.
The Sgt. Audie Murphy Club bearing his name is a private U.S. Army organization founded in 1986 at Fort Hood, Texas comprised of NCOs with strong leadership achievements and performance records.
“When you’re a part of SAMC, it’s a different level,” Santiago said. “You’re the standard bearer for the organization, you are the voice and you are the representation of the unit, so whenever people see that medallion around your neck, they know what they’re looking at is excellence.”
Joining the club
Learning about Sgt. Murphy’s story inspired Hendzel and Valencia to pursue membership after Santiago recommended them, which meant they had to buckle down and study.
BACH’s application process includes brigade-level and region-level board examinations that focus on critical thinking, a written test, a multiple-choice test, an essay submission and the Army Physical Fitness Test.
“I actually didn’t make it my first time,” Valencia said. “I had one in December 2020, and I was in there for an hour and 40 minutes in my first board. When I walked in there and they asked me how I thought I did, I was confident.”
Finding out she didn’t pass was a blow to her optimism, but not enough for her to rule out another try.
“It was a bit discouraging at first because I put a lot of time into studying,” she said. “It was kind of a setback, and I didn’t know if I wanted to go through that again, so I made a decision at that time that I wasn’t going to back for a while.”
Hendzel’s own application was rejected that same year at the region-level board, but she and Valencia found the second time was the charm when they came back in March.
“I had an idea now of the types of questions and what to expect, so the nerves weren’t necessarily as high,” Hendzel said. “Just trying to think outside the box on questions and focusing more on how I worded my answers was the biggest help.”
Despite not enjoying boards, Hendzel said putting so much time and effort into studying for SAMC made her determined to follow through and succeed. Valencia was inspired to jump right into her next board opportunity after some encouragement from other NCOs.
“All the knowledge was still pretty fresh in my mind, so I didn’t want to lose that,” Valencia said. “I went back and studied really hard because I made the decision [to try again] a week before the board. As much as I didn’t like failing my first board, in a way I’m glad that I did, because I was able to measure my resiliency by going back.”
Leading from the front
Sgt. Murphy measured his resilience in the same way when he enlisted in the Army despite being rejected as a Marine, and he was able to distinguish himself as a leader throughout his career.
Valencia and Hendzel have done the same since they enlisted, and neither of them are planning to slow down any time soon.
“I’m from a small town in Indiana and there’s not much there, so my plan was to go to the local community college, transfer to Perdue and move on,” Hendzel said of her decision to enlist. “But college is different than high school, especially being a local and going to college in my own town.”
Hendzel ultimately decided to follow a different path and joined the Army in January 2005, rotating through several duty stations before arriving at Fort Campbell in May 2012.
“I spent five years in 1st Brigade, and as soon as we got here, I deployed to Afghanistan with them as a medical operations NCO,” she said. “I was the 9-liner, so any time there was a 9-line that needed to be pushed I was the one that sent it to the MEDEVAC crew.”
After returning from deployment, Hendzel became the platoon sergeant for 326th Brigade Engineer Battalion, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault). She was with the 326th BEB for three years before being assigned to BACH.
“My first job at BACH was the adjutant, working with the sergeant major, and then I went to the company,” she said. “In 2019, I got promoted and took over the Women’s Health Clinic as the NCOIC, and two weeks ago I became the operations NCO.”
Hendzel’s first major task in her new position will see her travel to Fort McCoy, Wisconsin, in June to ensure its local Reserve units are ready for an upcoming deployment.
“Working with pregnant women during PT, as a medic I get to learn the pregnancy side and I’ve been through the program myself as a pregnant Soldier,” she said. “That definitely aided me when I became the NCOIC of the Women’s Health Clinic, because I’m a medic so I have that background, and I’ve been pregnant in the Army. Now I can take the experience with all of it to help Soldiers and their spouses, and that’s been my biggest give-back.”
Hendzel expects to move to a new duty station in March 2022 and hopes to continue advancing through the Army’s ranks as a medic wherever she goes next.
“The joy is just taking care of people, and even on the division side the Soldiers are your patients. Knowing they can come to you for anything, that’s what being a medic is about.”
Valencia joined the Army in 2009 as a way to separate herself from her hometown in Miami and forge a career path in medicine.
“I was still very young,” she said. “I signed up when I was 17 years old, so I didn’t really have a plan as far as what I wanted to do, but I knew I wanted to do better for myself. Miami’s a very fast-paced life, so I wanted to remove myself from that and give myself another opportunity.”
Over the years, Valencia has been stationed at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, Germany, Fort Jackson, South Carolina, and Fort Carson, Colorado. She recently arrived at Fort Campbell and has been on post for approximately 16 months.
“I have about 12 sections, and I supervise, manage and lead 56 civilians and four Soldiers,” she said. “What’s most rewarding is when I have these ideas about making processes better that come to fruition and people are happy about it.”
Valencia’s previous Army experiences include serving as a Basic Leader Course instructor and working an information technology job for U.S. Army Forces Command. She said her favorite part of being an NCO is working with fellow Soldiers and hopes to become a first sergeant to further inspire them.
“As an NCO, we wouldn’t have a job or position if it wasn’t for the Soldiers,” she said. “They’re the foundation of everything; they’re the ones on the ground doing a majority of the tasks and skills that we expect. Whenever I talk about purpose, one of our purposes is to come and take care of Soldiers, and I think being a first sergeant, that’s your life – every day, what you breathe is Soldiers.”