FORT POLK, La. -- As a human resource specialist, Sgt. Melissa L. Pugh regularly reads award citations to Soldiers standing in formation. This spring, Pugh had finished doing just that when she began making her way back to her platoon.

Not so fast. Her battalion commander motioned for her to return. He began talking about how the Adjutant General Corps names a Soldier of the year, and what criteria they look for. Pugh's mind began to wander, unsure where this was heading. But she snapped back into a wonderful reality when the commander announced Pugh was the winner.

"My mouth dropped. He was talking about me. It was a big surprise. I had no idea," she said.

The honor's full title is the SGM Larry L. Strickland Distinguished Service Member Award, and it is presented annually to the Adjutant Corps Soldier who most represents Strickland's thoughts and beliefs. Strickland was a 30-year Army veteran who was killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the Pentagon.

Pugh received her award earlier this year at the Adjutant General Corps Ball at South Jackson, S.C., along with the Corps' NCO, Warrant Officer, and Officer of the Year.

"It was wonderful," she said. "They treated us very well."

Pugh has been doing administrative work, both in and out of the military, for 18 years. Her favorite parts of the job are customer service and mentoring junior enlisted Soldiers.

"I like it a lot," she said. "I like being there for everyone in the office. We work nonstop to finish promotions, leave and finance. We each play a role in that. We work through lunch because some Soldiers can only get over here then."

It adds up to long hours, but Pugh said, "I don't mind it so much."

Pugh serves with the 7th Chemical Company and is attached to Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment, 83rd Chemical Battalion, 1st Maneuver Enhancement Brigade. The Omaha, Neb., native served in the Marines from 1991-1998, including a deployment to Somalia. When Pugh's husband joined the military, it rekindled her fire. "I realized there were a lot of things I still wanted to accomplish," she said. Pugh joined the Army in April 2008.

With her prior service and a 10-year break, she had both the experience of a veteran and the zeal of a newcomer. Her supervisors noticed right away, and she went from private first class to sergeant in less than a year. "I put forth my goals to my supervisors, pushed for boards, for WLC (Warrior Leaders Course), and showed my passion for what I wanted to happen, and they helped me to accomplish that," Pugh said.

One supervisor, 2nd Lt. Claire Dermer, nominated Pugh for the honor after seeing her drive and commitment to Army values.

"I had seen her shine in all aspects," said Dermer, who added that Pugh's infectious enthusiasm, amicability, and drive have spread to others in the office.

"She has been an inspiration," Dermer said. "She's always happy."

Dermer described Pugh as thorough and reliable. "If I give her a task, I know it'll get done," she said. In fact, Pugh is regularly likened to "Mikey" of Life Cereal fame, since people know she will see things through to the end.

Pugh, the daughter of a Korean War veteran, credited one of her first senior NCOs, Master Gunnery Sgt. Bobby L. Young, with helping her understand the military wasn't like other occupations.

"I took things a bit too personally, and he turned me right around," Pugh said. "He really showed me how to be a mentor. He was the first to show me this was a lifestyle and not a job."

She maintains that perspective today. "It's not just a job to me. It's a lifestyle. This is what I am, in uniform or out. Whether at work or off, if my Soldiers need something I have to get it for them and be there for them," Pugh said. "I love the camaraderie, knowing I'm part of a team. It's a huge family."

She compares an efficient S1 office to a wind-up clock, where all parts run harmoniously. "We're all cross trained," she said. "I do not like to hear, 'That's not my job.'"

Pugh thrives on imparting lessons she's learned to junior enlisted Soldiers. And she said it's especially rewarding when those Soldiers start doing the same.

"I believe in not leaving any Soldier behind," Pugh said. "I don't like to see anyone fail at anything."

Pugh's hobbies include softball and running, so much so that she's on the Fort Polk 10-Miler team. She enjoys running both by herself and with others.

"It's solitude to me. I like running by myself," she said. "But I also like breaking into buddy teams where I can get to know them. It's good NCO-Soldier development."

Pugh's time as an NCO will be short-lived. She has been accepted into the Green to Gold program and will be a Reserve Officer Training Corps cadet at Johns Hopkins University. Her long-term goals are to be a lieutenant colonel and to receive a Master's of Business Administration.

She's looking forward to the new challenges, but knows she'll miss being an NCO. "That will be one drawback," Pugh said. "Then, I will have to trust my NCOs."