FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. — Beth Rowden, a claims paralegal specialist for the Office of the Staff Judge Advocate here, was presented the Judge Advocate Legal Service Sustained Outstanding Civilian Career Award Sept. 12 during the annual conference of SJAs in Charlottesville, Virginia, for her sustained excellence as a claims paralegal for 35 years.
According to Col. Robert Samuelsen, Fort Leonard Wood’s Staff Judge Advocate, Rowden’s tenure is remarkable not only for its length, but for the consistently high quality of her work.
“Her name is almost legendary within the Army Claims Service for her unconditional generosity of time, energy and willingness to lend her years of experience to assist counterparts across the Army confronting unfamiliar challenges processing claims,” he wrote in her award nomination letter.
While Rowden’s list of accomplishments is too long to list in one article, a common theme in her work seems to be the genuine concern she has for the wellbeing of service members.
In one instance, for example, Rowden was instrumental in establishing a one-of-a-kind memorandum of understanding between Fort Leonard Wood and Scott Air Force Base, Illinois, to reduce processing times, decrease the burden on claimants stationed away from their service’s claims office, and to promote consistency and cooperation between the Army and Air Force claims settlements operations, Samuelsen wrote.
Rowden was consistently exceptional throughout her career — Samuelsen wrote that she averaged two awards for superior performance every year, and among her many other recognitions are five Achievement Medals for Civilian Service, a Commander’s Award for Civilian Service, the Superior Civilian Service Award, and the Meritorious Civilian Service Award.
When a tornado struck Fort Leonard Wood on New Year’s Eve in 2010, the team from Army Claims Service that arrived to assist had a nickname for Rowden.
“They called me the Rottweiler because I was on them,” she said. “I sat them down and I said, ‘You’re going to treat these people right. If they cry, let them cry, because they’ve lost all their personal stuff: their wedding dresses, their photo albums.’”
Rowden, who followed her mother’s footsteps in working for the Army at Fort Leonard Wood, said her gratification comes from helping people.
“That is my reward — when I know I have touched people’s lives or made their lives better,” she said. “I don’t just consider them Soldiers. I consider them my Soldiers.”
The professionalism and care Rowden brings to her job helping Soldiers with their claims translated into a secondary role she has played at Fort Leonard Wood, developing and mentoring the numerous JAG Corps Soldiers stationed here over the years.
This was evident last week, when the awards ceremony was delayed by all of the Soldiers wanting to get a photo with Rowden.
“I had all these captains and lieutenants who used to work with me — they were jumping over the auditorium seats, so we could take a group picture,” she said. “The general and everyone were all waiting on me up there, but I just told them, ‘Fort Leonard Wood comes first.’ The colonel who sent me the photo — he was just a lieutenant when he was here — he called it ‘Beth’s fan club.’ That just thrilled my heart.”
Rowden said she is set to retire from civil service in December, but that doesn’t mean she will stop helping people — she said she plans to spend time helping her sister with her insurance company where they live in Dixon, Missouri.
“That way, she can have some free time because her husband is retired,” she said. “I can’t sit idle.”
And Fort Leonard Wood can rest assured, she said. Although the installation is losing nearly four decades of claims experience when she retires, Rowden said she’s only a phone call away.
“It takes a village,” she said of the work she does. “My philosophy is, if you know something, share it.”
As the OSJA looks for her replacement, Rowden said she hopes the person who comes in “truly cares.”
“I want the person who replaces me to really care about the Soldiers, and not just see them as a file that needs to get out the door,” she said.