By Rick Scavetta, U.S. Army AfricaApril 23, 2010
VICENZA, Italy - When Sgt. 1st Class Dedraf Blash reports to duty each day, whether in Africa mentoring troops or here at U.S. Army Africa's division surgeon's office, she displays superior leadership and professionalism above what's expected of a senior noncommissioned officer.
That's why the U.S. Army Medical Command selected Blash to receive this year's Capt. John R. Teal Leadership Award, named in honor of the first medical officer killed in Iraq.
Blash's recognition emphasizes how an outstanding Army medical NCO adds value to the U.S. Army's mission to strengthen security capacity within the militaries of African partner nations, said Col. Alfonso Alarcon, U.S. Army Africa's senior medical officer.
"She is leading command efforts and inspiring trust between the U.S. Army and our African military partners," Alarcon said. "She is a model NCO and exemplifies our greatest strength in the U.S. Army," Alarcon said. "I am truly blessed that she is part of our team."
After the first combat loss of a medical officer in Operation Iraqi Freedom, the Army Medical Command established the award, naming it after Capt. John R. Teal, Jr., a 4th Infantry Division medical planner killed Oct. 23. 2003 in Baqubah, Iraq. The annual award recognizes an officer and noncommissioned officer who made significant contributions to the medical community and displayed exceptional soldiering. Soldiers must demonstrate characteristics of Teal's leadership, professionalism, and qualities that go far beyond expectations. Blash has been invited to accept the award during the Association of the United States Army medical symposium held this May in San Antonio, Texas.
Blash was cited for her accomplishments during U.S. Army Africa's transition from its Southern European Task Force missions to being an Army Service Component Command. Blash arrived as Caserma Ederle in April 2009. Her first projects included medical planning for MEDFLAG 09, a medical civil action program in Swaziland, plus Judicious Response, a command certification exercise.
In mid-2009, Blash was handpicked to support U.S. Africa Command's Liberian Defense Sector Reform mission. She undertook the U.S. Army's Battle Staff NCO Course, while preparing for the three-month assignment. In Liberia, Blash was responsible for mentoring medical officers and NCOs of the Armed Forces of Liberia.
She also supported a program to offer medical training for Liberian soldiers. While working at the clinic at Camp Sandi Ware, in Careysburg, Liberia, Blash worked with medical officers to develop standard operating procedures for patient tracking and medical supply management.
But her time in Liberia was also marked by her mentorship to female Liberian soldiers who looked to Blash for guidance.
"Not only was she a role model for the female Soldiers, but her medical expertise and professionalism allowed the males within the Armed Forces to see women as equals and valued members of the team," Alarcon said.
Since her return from Liberia, Blash quietly took on roles that support U.S. Army Africa's mission, to include Army-level discussion on the future of Defense Sector Reform mission in Africa and public affairs publicity efforts.
Maj. Gen. William B. Garrett III, commander of U.S. Army Africa recently selected Blash as the first master resilience trainer for both the command and the Vicenza community.
A role new to the Army, the trainer is responsible for offering resilience skills to Soldiers, family members and Army civilians as part the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program - the Army's strategy to increase resilience and enhance performance by developing social, emotional, spiritual, family and physical strength.
"She was a superstar in Liberia," Garrett said. "Command Sgt. Maj. Gary Bronson and I are absolutely confident that she will achieve the same level of success with our Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program."