JBSA-FORT SAM HOUSTON, TEXAS—Sgt. 1st Class Hernan Cameron-Gonzalez, the noncommissioned officer in charge of retention at William Beaumont Army Medical Center in El Paso, earned the top spot at the annual Regional Health Command-Central Career Counselor of the Year Competition awards ceremony for the second year in a row.
Career counselors and retention noncommissioned officers from RHC-C’s subordinate commands gathered in San Antonio for a three-day training, team-building and competition, ending with the annual awards ceremony. The competition included a modified Army Combat Fitness Test, extensive oral board and a written test.
Cameron-Gonzalez will go on to compete in the Medical Command’s career counselor of the year competition in December. He enjoyed the competition, and was proud of his back-to-back win, while acknowledging the talent of the RHC-C retention team.
“It took me by surprise this year,” Cameron-Gonzalez said of his win. “As indicated, this year there were a lot more competitors and really good ones, so to be able to win took a lot of effort. This competition was a good one. Good friends, as well [as] good battle-buddies—we all tried to help each other out; it’s good to be here with everyone once again.”
In a time when readiness is a driving motivator across the Armed Services, it is critical that the Army retains high-quality uniformed personnel, ready to perform complex missions. However, RHC-C’s career counselors are not solely focused on the needs of the Army, but also on the needs of the individual Soldiers they serve. According to Sgt. 1st Class Adam McKinney, the career counselor who represented Reynolds Army Health Clinic in the competition, it’s the marrying up of the needs of the Army to Soldiers’ goals that makes retention NCOs and career counselors such a vital resource for commanders across the Army.
“The impact of career counselors is huge across the Army,” McKinney explained. “We’re out there speaking with soldiers talking to them about their needs, wants, desires [and] what their ambitions are, and we’re trying to align those with things that the Army has to offer and trying to retain the best and brightest soldiers out there. So, I do honestly believe that without career counselors the Army would not be where it is right now.”
McKinney also acknowledged the importance of the team training and competition as a chance to get out of his comfort zone and learn in a challenging environment.
“My favorite part of the competition was the board appearance,” he said. “I always like going into the board. I’m nervous; I don’t know what to expect, but it kind of pushes me to excel and push through an uncomfortable situation and helps me to grow.”
The driving force behind the success of this year’s event and the region’s retention mission is the hard work of the region’s career counselor, Master Sgt. Melissa Torres. Her unfailing encouragement and support of her team ensured the Central Region Retention Team remained in the top five commands within their category for most of the fiscal year 2021 in the Sergeant Major of the Army Retention Competition.
“Anybody can read the regulation,” Torres said to the group of competitors and career counselors. “Anybody can just punch a contract… but you guys have that human aspect to [what] you do. You sit in a chair across from that Soldier and listen to their story, and you’re going to help them build a plan that’s going to have a lasting impact on them and their families.”
Sgt. 1st Class Nathaniel Williams-Griffin, the General Leonard Wood Army Community Hospital career counselor and one of the competitors, is grateful for the teamwork Torres inspired throughout the region’s retention team in the past year.
“How [our team] makes it work, especially with us being so far apart, is pretty remarkable,” Williams-Griffin said. “I like the way everyone is just a phone call away. Everybody bends over backwards to make sure that things get taken care of, especially Master Sgt. Torres, she’s a one-stop shop. She takes care of dang near everything that we have going on, and she puts a lot of work into it to make sure that we understand how to operate and do things on our own, and if we come across a hurdle that’s too big, she’s right there with the answer.”
The efforts of all the career counselors was lauded by both Brig. Gen. Shan K. Bagby and Command Sgt. Maj. Timothy J. Sprunger, RHC-C’s commanding general and command sergeant major, respectively. Sprunger praised the team’s hard work and their stark improvement over the previous year’s numbers and acknowledged how difficult the global pandemic made achieving their goals, and Bagby closed the ceremony with a heart-felt thank you to each counselor.
In her final advice to the group of career counselors, Torres encouraged them to never forget the human element of their job and to always strive to do their best.
“I want each of you to always do your best, and I don’t want you to set any limits on yourself—there are no limits,” she said.
Other RHC-C fiscal year 2021 retention program awards and recipients include:
RHC-C Large MTF Early Bird Award – Carl R Darnall Army Medical Center
RHC-C Small MTF Early Bird Award – General Leonard Wood Army Community Hospital
Best Retention Program Award – Brooke Army Medical Center
Leadership in Retention Award – William Beaumont Army Medical Center,
A Company, Capt. David Dalition and 1st Sgt. Christopher Howard