FORT LEE, Va. — Demonstrating her single-mother-of-two toughness and barrier-breaking persistence, an Army sergeant first class recently became the first active-duty female Soldier to earn the Master Army Instructor Badge at the Ordnance School.
The pinning ceremony for Sgt. 1st Class Tamatha J. Naftzinger, a faculty member for the 91B wheeled vehicle mechanic course in the Wheel Maintenance Training Department, took place June 13 at Dickson Hall on the Ordnance Campus.
“Being the first female to earn the master’s badge is amazing,” said Naftzinger. “It’s like a huge accomplishment.”
Naftzinger was the only uniformed female instructor when she arrived at the schoolhouse, a context that makes this accomplishment even more significant. Today, she is one-of-eight women among the 225 individuals on the platform at Wheel Maintenance Training Department. The forger of new paths knew it would not be easy to climb the instructor badge ladder. The various time prerequisites alone make the chances of reaching the highest levels highly unlikely for any Soldier – male or female.
To earn the Master Army Instructor Badge, instructors must acquire the basic badge and wait a full year before trying to attain the senior badge. “After you get that one, you have to wait another two years [before attempting to earn the master],” said Naftzinger, noting instructor duty is normally three years while the entire master badge process could take four to five years.
Furthermore, instructors are evaluated on a progressive scale at each badge level. Those attempting to attain the senior and master badges must take additional courses. Master badge candidates also must complete a board presentation.
Naftzinger began instructing in 2018. She submitted an application for stabilization in 2020 to accommodate the wishes of her son, who wanted to graduate from the same high school. With the approval to stay, Naftzinger decided to pursue the master badge, knowing she would have to check every box without much time to spare.
“I came down on [PCS] orders, so it was really close [between the times] when the board was scheduled and when I was supposed to leave,” said Naftzinger. “I was really worried about that, but I just told myself, ‘You know what? Let me at least try one time. Hardly anyone gets the actual opportunity to do it, so why not try for it?’”
The decision required much resolve and hard work, said Naftzinger. To help, she enlisted the support of Laura K. Lacy, a civilian instructor and former Soldier who also happened to be the only other woman in the WMTD possessing the MAIB credential. Lacy saw Naftzinger as the ideal candidate to earn the badge.
“What makes her different is that she is willing to accept mentorship and everything that came along with it,” said Lacy; “everything from paying it forward to her own NCOs and volunteering in her community.”
Naftzinger, who pays if forward in the form of mentoring others, said she definitely benefited from Lacy’s experience, considering females comprise only about 10 percent of the more than 14,000 91B Soldiers on active duty.
“It’s always a challenge being in this MOS,” said Naftzinger, “but I stuck to my guns, did the right thing, and now I can be even more of a mentor, not just to females, but to everybody who comes after me. … I love teaching and mentoring, giving advice, giving opinions and sharing my life experiences with Soldiers. That’s amazing to me.”
Sgt. Maj. Wesley W. Townsend, who presented the award to Naftzinger along with Deputy to the Commandant Joseph W. Kirby, said she is an ideal recipient of the MAIB.
“She’s an outstanding NCO,” said Townsend, the school’s Directorate of Training SGM. “She’s been one of those NCOs that whenever you walk in you can feel her presence. She’s always making sure things are taken care of right; and she’s always trying to reach out and mentor male and female Soldiers as a leader.”
Reflecting on the sweetness of her Army success today, Naftzinger noted how it was shaped by many sour moments in her past Army life.
“For me growing up in the military, it was hard because I was always looked down upon,” she said of surviving in the male-dominated 91B military occupational specialty. “I felt like I wasn’t good enough because I was a female. It was hard for me to get past the thought that ‘males were better than me and always were going to get promoted before me.’… I made me determined that I wasn’t going to let that happen.”
The grit she developed served her well in other ways. Ten years ago, her older sister died at the hands of her spouse, leaving an eight-year-old nephew and 10-year-old niece in limbo. Naftzinger agreed to adopt the siblings, dead set against the children becoming wards of the state. She became an instant mom.
“It was a whole-life changing experience, I’ll tell you that,” she said.
That is an understatement. Naftzinger was a single E-5 with no real worries.
“I went from being a single Soldier living in the barracks to having two kids, a dog and two hamsters and needing to get a house and new car,” she said. “It was a huge life-changing event.”
Naftzinger, who said her unit at the time wholeheartedly supported her situation, is quick to say her experiences were not the stuff of a family friendly sitcom.
“It was not easy being a single parent in the military, I can tell you that,” she said, “especially considering out special circumstances – helping them through dealing with what happened and me grieving from losing my only blood sister.”
Somehow Naftzinger has endured. In addition to her recent successes, she is scheduled to take an assignment at Fort Stewart, Ga., in the coming weeks, and looks forward to working toward the next rank.
On the family side, she is a grandmother to a one-year-old and mother-in-law to a deployed Soldier.
Additionally, her 19-year-old son is set to graduate June 18 from Prince George High School.
Perhaps, in addition to a badge, Naftzinger deserves a few medals.