When Alabama Army National Guard 1st Sgt. Doug Witt received his 1st Sgt. John Ordway Leadership Award, the occasion brought back more than the memories of a 24-year military career.

It also brought to mind the family - his wife, two teenage children, and parents and grandparents - who have provided support to a part-time Soldier in times of war and national emergencies.

"My entire family has supported me in my military career," he said. "My wife and I were dating in high school when I joined the Guard in 1985. She was there to put me on the plane to attend basic training and when I returned from my advanced individual training. We married and she's stuck by me the whole time."

Witt celebrated his son's first birthday at Fort Benning, Ga., while awaiting deployment to Desert Storm. The couple added a daughter to the family after he returned from the deployment.

"My children are 17 and 19 now," he said. "They've had me attend school functions over the past 12 or so years in uniform to speak or, if nothing else, to lead the school in the Pledge of Allegiance. They are very proud of me, they say."

Also supporting Witt has been his father, who is a 40-year veteran of the National Guard and a retired sergeant major. His grandfathers are veterans of foreign wars and his father-in-law is a Vietnam veteran.

"My father guided and directed me throughout my career," Witt said. "My mother-in-law and father-in-law have stood by me and my family throughout my entire career helping with the care of my wife and kids whenever I could not be there.

"They have all stood by me and helped guide me throughout my career. My entire family has stood by me and, without their support, there's no way I could have achieved what I have in the military. My wife and kids have been through a lot with me being gone so much over the years. But I know they are proud of me and I wouldn't be the man or Soldier I am today without them."

Witt is the first sergeant of the National Guard's 200th Regiment at Fort McClellan, where he assists in the running of the regimental activities and courses for Officers Candidate School and Warrant Officers Candidate School, and a Military Police course and an Engineer course.

At the same time, he has worked since 1987 as a training technician for the 200th Regiment and its National Officer candidate course program and Warrant Officer course.

"I coordinate all training requirements for the program to include hiring of approximately 140 staff members, training ranges, buildings for housing and classrooms, ammunition, weapons, vehicles and other things," Witt said.

As a trainer, Witt has been an integral part of the training changes that have occurred within the Alabama National Guard since Desert Storm/Desert Shield.

"I remember some of the first annual training events that I attended. The training was low priority and had no real meaning," he recalled. "But after Desert Storm, the Guard realized that we were as deployable as the active component.

"Most people believe that the Guard was a place to hide during Vietnam and later conflicts. But that soon changed and now if you haven't deployed you will and if you've deployed it's only a matter of time before you deploy again. Today I would put the National Guard up against any military force active or other. We are well trained and diverse. Our civilian skills just add to our military backgrounds."

Even though he is a teacher, Witt has also been a student during his time in the Guard. He has used the things he's learned from other first sergeants to be the best first sergeant he can be.

"I have had some good first sergeants and some really bad ones," Witt said. "I try to remember what the bad ones did or didn't do, and do the opposite. I feel that my only goal -- good or bad -- is to take care of my troops. If I do that, the troops will take care of the rest for me. In the position I have as first sergeant, I am the mother, father, big brother, adviser, encourager and disciplinary person all in one for my Soldiers. But I love it."

Witt was deployed from September 1990 to June 1991 during Desert Shield/Desert Storm as a motor sergeant for a combat forward maintenance company stationed in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

"I had 22 mechanics and a couple of clerks in my company that provided maintenance on our 200-plus pieces of equipment, including approximately 200 civilian-donated vehicles," he said.

His work for the Guard has also included national emergencies, such as the winter storm of 1993 when he was on state active duty to provide life support and assistance to Alabamians who were snowed in, out of power or needed medical attention. He has also been assigned to training in Panama, El Salvador and Germany.

Witt is making plans to attend the Sergeants Major Academy and will apply for the Fort McClellan post sergeant major position, which is open due to a retirement.

But, no matter where his service as a Guard Soldier takes him, Witt is proud to have served and is grateful for the experiences it has given him.

"I have always felt the military is a great experience for all young men and women after high school, even if only for a four-year enlistment," he said. "We teach skills, ethics, morals, responsibility and accountability, and are a source of income and college assistance. For some, we are an actual career.

"I know the military's not for everyone as a career but it is a great way to start your adult life and future. If you apply yourself and give the military a chance, there are many opportunities and rewards for you to serve your country, state and family, whether in the active military, Guard or Reserves."