By Sgt. 1st Class Mary S. Katzenberger
ERBIL AIR BASE, Iraq — Sgt. Shandora R. Brooks is excited about growth.
The petroleum laboratory specialist, deployed here with the Fort Bragg, North Carolina, based 264th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, is one of many Soldiers staffing her unit’s support operations center, or SPO.
Since September of 2021, the 264th CSSB, through its SPO, has been the sole provider of sustainment support for U.S. and coalition forces assigned to Combined Joint Task Force - Operation Inherent Resolve in areas of Iraq and Syria.
Brooks said serving in the Army—and currently in a combat zone—has exposed her to many uncomfortable, but gratifying situations.
“The deployment has been very rewarding,” the sergeant said. “I came here as an E-5, nonpromotable, brand new to staff, and brand new to a position.
“I’ve grown a lot professionally since I’ve been here,” she continued. “I’ve learned how to brief, I’ve learned how to forecast fuel, I’ve learned how to sit in meetings with people of a higher caliber than me, I’ve obtained my promotable status, and I’ve finished four college classes.”
Brooks said she is proud of her growth, and had no idea that when she accepted a $20 bet back in the mid-2000s that she would be where she is today: in a state of constant professional and personal development.
A wager for a better future
Brooks was raised in Valdosta, Georgia, a municipality located approximately 250 miles north of the Florida state line.
“I wanted more out of life,” the sergeant said. “I was 25 years old, I had a 2-year old daughter, and I was working at a pharmacy as a pharmacy technician.
“My daughter was growing up, and it was in a small town, and I wanted her to be able to see and explore the world,” Brooks continued. “I knew working at the pharmacy that that probably wouldn’t happen.”
The sergeant said she had an interest in serving in the Army, as her best friend had enlisted, but did not think enlisting was a possibility for her.
“I started going to PT with my friend just to see if I could do it [and] get in shape,” Brooks said. “Jokingly one day my friend bet me 20 bucks that the Army would enlist me—I said they wouldn’t, I was a single parent—so I walked to the recruiting office.
“They took me,” the sergeant said, smiling.
Brooks said her decision to enlist on January 16, 2016, was the best decision she had ever made for herself and her daughter, Lauren, at that time, and one that continues to benefit her family today.
“I am now married to a Soldier, and we have an 8-year-old daughter and a 1-year-old son,” the sergeant said. “I think being in the military is the best thing I could have ever done for my children, they have stability and they’re able to travel the world.”
The sergeant said military service provided opportunities for growth right out of the gate.
First there was basic combat training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, where Brooks said she took on a motherly role and served as a mentor to younger Soldiers. Then there was moving to her first duty station—Fort Campbell, Kentucky—and having to learn how to balance the demands of military service with her responsibilities as a single parent.
“My daughter and I learned what a village was at Fort Campbell,” Brooks said. “I was away from home, so I had to build a family there with my unit and my coworkers.”
While serving at Fort Campbell, Brooks met her husband, Vincent. The two Soldiers have since married, have had a son together—Gavin—and have conducted a permanent change of station to Fort Bragg.
In that time Brooks also became a noncommissioned officer.
“Pinning E-5 was scary for me, but overall it was a good experience,” Brooks said. “I pinned at two-and-a-half years into the Army, so I was still fresh, learning my job, and perfecting my craft.”
The sergeant said she sought to become an NCO because she knew she had the potential to be a leader the Army needs.
“Just growing up in the Army, I saw my NCOs and the way they handled things—some good, some bad—and I knew I wanted to be a leader to make a positive impact on the Army overall and on the Soldiers that are coming up in the ranks under us,” she said.
“The part of the NCO creed that means the most to me is, ‘All soldiers are entitled to outstanding leadership, I will provide that leadership,’ [and] I always wanted to ensure my Soldiers were provided good leadership at all times, at all levels, and that even if I couldn’t help them with the issue, I could elevate the issue up so that we could help them,” Brooks continued.
The sergeant said she has embraced the challenges of the role with open arms.
“Some positive aspects I’ve had about becoming an NCO is when Soldiers come back and thank you for whatever you’ve done,” she said. “I love that about being an NCO, I love having someone that looks up to me and I can give advice to them, or mentorship, or guidance.
“There are definitely challenges with being an NCO,” Brooks continued. “Sometimes you have to put the job in front of your family, you put personal things aside to complete the mission.”
The sergeant said she has worked hard during the deployment to open the gate to the next rank of staff sergeant. She attended the promotion board three times before she received a “go.”
Reflecting on her service up to April of 2022, Brooks said she her service has helped her to grow and mature in many aspects of her life.
“I used to be very introverted, I didn’t talk to many people, but being in the military, networking is everything,” the sergeant said. “I think it has helped me to be dependent on other people, to allow people to help me with things, and to not be so dismissive of people trying to give you help or trying to give you advice.”
During the deployment here, Brooks said she has learned a lot from her colleagues and superiors, and from working with service members in the coalition forces.
And, through all that, the sergeant said she has done her best to continue to play an active role in the lives of her family members.
Brooks said she is grateful for the United Services Organization’s Bob Hope Legacy Reading Program as it has helped her and her daughter remain connected.
“Those moments are everything, I’ve had really rough times here where I’m just mentally drained,” the sergeant said. “Just being able to go and get on video with her and read, it helps me, it comforts me.
“It lets me know that even though I’m away—because sometimes I just struggle with just being a mom and leaving your children—that, ‘Okay, I can do this, we’re okay, I’m alright, we’re going to make it through this, I haven’t failed as a parent because I’m here,’” Brooks said.
The sergeant said regardless of missing her husband, daughter, and son, she would not change anything for the world.
“My daughter looks up to me,” Brooks said. “I always wanted to give her a good life and something to look forward to and someone to be proud of.”