By Spc. Kandi Huggins, 1st AATF PAO, 1st Inf. Div., USD-NMay 17, 2011
CONTINGENCY OPERATING SITE WARRIOR, Iraq - For one staff sergeant deployed to Contingency Operating Site Warrior, Iraq in support of Operation New Dawn, rewards are not found in the form of tangible objects, such as certificates or medals-but from being a part of a catalyst that changes the lives of individuals and nations.
An armor crewman by occupation, Staff Sgt. Sean Cornelison, now a Battle Noncommissioned Officer in Charge serving with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Advise and Assist Task Force, 1st Infantry Division, employs experiences from years of deployment to ensure his impact on Operation New Dawn is a lasting one.
"This mission is the backbone of our exit strategy," said Cornelison. "We're doing everything we need to do to get out of here and give the Iraqis hope and assurance that all we've sacrificed during the years over here won't go to waste."
Previously deployed during the beginning and middle of U.S. operations in Iraq, Cornelison said he is proud to be a part of what is considered to be its final chapter.
"I was 18 without a lot of direction or structure," said Cornelison, a native of Ceres, Calif. "I didn't have any plans after high school, and the Army sounded like a good thing just to get out of town and do something different."
Cornelison said he also joined because he wanted money for college, and eventually, he received an associate's degree in criminal justice.
Cornelison's path in life also influenced his younger brother.
"He inspired me to join the Army," said Master Sgt. Scott Cornelison, an instructor at Naval School Explosive Ordnance Disposal, a joint-services training center at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.
Scott said he felt proud to see his older brother in uniform, making a difference and then followed Sean's lead, enlisting in the Army in 1994.
Nearly two decades and four operations later, Cornelison said he received his most rewarding experiences throughout his years in the Army through the opportunities where he taught and helped others.
Halfway through his deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2005, Cornelison said he received the opportunity to work with military transition teams.
He said he served with the first MiTT teams established to coach new Iraqi military and police forces.
For nearly six months, Cornelison said he helped train and plan operations for the Iraqis, which in turn produced a lot of progress.
"They were just starting to get a taste of what democracy was about, and watching what happened and knowing I had something to do with it was very rewarding," said Cornelison. "I'm not being boastful, but I felt if I didn't help that Iraqi Army company out, then that town wouldn't have had the security it needed."
After redeploying to Fort Riley, Kan., home of the 1st Inf. Div., Cornelison received another rewarding experience.
Cornelison said he used the knowledge and experience gained from working with the Iraqi military to assist the "Devil" Brigade Transition Team mission.
Between 2007 and 2009, the Devil Brigade served as a training brigade for all MiTT teams deploying to Iraq and Afghanistan.
"When I came back to Riley, they started the training team mission and I fell right in with it," said Cornelison. "At the time, I had the most recent experience, and for the first year or so, I had the most experience and probably had the best knowledge of what Soldiers could expect during deployment."
After his mission changed again during Operation New Dawn, Cornelison said his job as Battle NCOIC is a necessity to the Soldiers at COS Warrior accomplishing their mission and returning home safely.
"I feel my brother has a lot of tactical knowledge from the initial invasion of Iraq," said Scott. "I'm thankful and proud that (Sean) shares his experience, training, and leadership to deploying units. He inadvertently saves lives from him sharing that experience and knowledge."
Some of his many responsibilities include tracking all the brigade elements leaving COS Warrior, collecting and organizing information, communicating with units and their headquarters, and tracking significant activities throughout 1st AATF's area of responsibility.
With all his experience from previous deployments, Cornelison said he is able to see the big picture and be of better assistance to units at COS Warrior.
"I know from first-hand experience what they're going through and the different threats they encounter, and I'm I going to do all I can to help them out in a quick manner," said Cornelison. "If they're attacked or have an emergency, someone has to pick up the radio when they call for help. That's pretty important. You want the guy on the other end of the radio to be on his 'A Game,' paying attention and to know what they're talking about."
Cornelison said he continues to give his best to honor the service members who never made it home and encourages his Soldiers to do the same.
"I know first-hand the sacrifice people made over here and if not for myself and my unit, I want to do my best for them-for the guys that didn't make it home," said Cornelison. "I encourage the Soldiers here to gain experience and maintain a sense of pride in their unit for what we're doing as a whole."
"Have pride in being a Soldier, do your best and believe it will be enough to make even the smallest difference."