CAMP BONDSTEEL, Kosovo - The junior enlisted Soldiers of any unit, big or small, are typically new to the organization and require their noncommissioned officers to provide them guidance and mentorship. Eventually, they become the means that enable the unit to accomplish tasks given by higher command.
As an enlisted Soldier works up within the ranks, they earn more trust and responsibility and their leadership depends on their initiative and judgment.
The senior NCO's of Multi-National Battle Group-East wanted to empower and provide a voice to the junior enlisted Soldiers of the various units within the battle group, beginning the creations of a Junior Enlisted Council.
"The Junior Enlisted Council provides an opportunity for the junior leaders of this organization to get together to discuss issues or concerns they have that pertain to Soldiers of the rank of E-4 and below and develop solutions that are forwarded to the MNBG-E command sergeant major for review and determination of the appropriate course of action," said Command Sgt. Maj. Jack W. Cripe, senior enlisted Soldier for MNBG-E.
"The JEC is a cross-section of E-4 and below Soldiers of the battle groups that represents their peers in a formal setting and serves as a voice between junior enlisted and senior NCOs," said Spc. Jon P. Stautz, president of 'Falcon' JEC.
In an effort to heed the call of their senior leadership, the JEC members recently rallied to hold a 'Soldier's Pantry,' a joint effort made available to all Soldiers here.
A Soldiers Pantry consists of the JEC collecting the donations that arrive at Camp Bondsteel in care packages and organizing and setting out the various items - very similar to a market - for any interested individual to utilize for free.
"Some Soldiers may find themselves trying to save money to finish school or pay off debt," Stautz said. "This allows those Soldiers to get some basic personal hygiene products or even luxury items sent by some very generous individuals or organizations."
The major units at Camp Bondsteel - MNBG-E Headquarters, 231st Maneuver Task Force, 1-144th MTF, and the Regional Liaison and Monitoring Teams - all had JECs established at one time. After restructuring in February to a battle group and in anticipation of the upcoming re-deployment of Soldiers, some changes were made.
"The 1-144th JEC had been dissolved due to early redeployment," Stautz said.
231st MTF 'Defender' JEC president, Spc. Calie C. Craddock, has made a big push for organizing events to help her fellow Soldiers. Craddock, a psychology and political science major at North Dakota State University in Fargo, N.D., has volunteered much of her time at local food pantries and animal shelters prior to her deployment.
Late last year 'Defender' JEC organized the first SoldierAca,!A,s Pantry.
"Around Christmas we started receiving a mass amount of care packages from different organizations," Craddock said. "We started to give the donations to those who needed them, but as more arrived we started a SoldierAca,!A,s Pantry to help as many Soldiers that we could."
Care packages consist of various items such as toiletries, books, powdered drink mix, DVDs, and an assortment of snacks.
"We have worked with many organizations, like Shellie Michaels with Soldier's Angels and Ladies of Liberty, Operation Gratitude in California, and Operation Warm Hugs on the East Coast," Craddock said.
The "Defender" JEC wanted to help more Soldiers, but needed help to expand their idea and make it available to more in the battle group as a whole.
"Initially it started by wanting to help and gain support for the JEC," said Spc. Lance R. Schillinger, a member of 'Defender' JEC. "It was very successful within our unit, so we wanted to move it to battle group-wide."
The other JECs proved to be a tremendous help in developing the idea from a small venue to a larger one.
"Craddock and I attended the 'Falcon' JEC meeting and proposed a larger Soldier's Pantry to them," Schillinger said.
"Due to our rank structure in headquarters, we do not have the opportunity to organize large JEC projects," Stautz said. "So, we married up with the Aca,!A3/4DefenderAca,!A, JEC to help organize large events, like this Soldier's Pantry."
"We had a few members that were highly motivated, which helped to get things done," Craddock added.
With the coordination from all the JECs in the battle group, the items donated were laid out and the doors of the dining facility VIP room were opened to all Soldiers.
"It is pretty amazing to see what a group of junior Soldiers can do, with a bit of creativity and strong support from their senior NCOs." Schillinger said.
The three remaining JECs plan to continue coordinating for larger projects and separate projects as well. With the end result being to learn and experience new things the JEC is a vehicle to pass time on the deployment productively.
"I did a similar thing in college, so this reminds me of home," said Spc. Timothy E. Stewart, Manhattan, Kan. "My involvement in JEC gives me an opportunity to work with Soldiers from other units to organize events, be a voice for my peers and, of course, have fun."