HEIDELBERG, Germany -- It was a phone call that Sgt. 1st Class Casey Howard would never forget. The brief exchange punctuated by a warm congratulation had left the Toledo, Ohio, native stunned.

Howard was recently selected as the U.S. Army Europe Equal Opportunity Advisor of the Year. He currently serves as a military Equal Opportunity Advisor at U.S. Army Garrison Baden-Württemberg in Heidelberg.

As an EOA, Howard and his military and civilian counterparts are responsible for helping commanders effectively manage their respective equal opportunity programs.

"We're the eyes and ears of the commander to make sure that people are not being mistreated ... and making sure that the EO program is being properly managed and implemented throughout the units," Howard said. "We also collect data that is required to be reported to higher headquarters and manage the specific emphasis programs like the ethnic observances that we have throughout the year."

Howard enlisted in the Army fresh out of high school more than 20 years ago as a field artillery Soldier, but it wasn't until he received encouragement from senior leadership that he decided to take the leap into the EO realm.

After submitting his packet, Howard headed to Patrick Air Force Base, Fla., for training in October 2009. He arrived in Heidelberg in January 2010 and early in 2011 was selected as EO advisor of the quarter.

"It originally started a few months back when Command Sgt. Maj. [Annette] Weber was here. She kind of asked me for some information and I didn't know why she was asking for it," he recalled. "She wanted my Enlisted Record Brief, photo and my bio."

Unbeknownst to Howard, Weber used the information to recommend him for EO advisor of the quarter. All four winners from each quarter compete at the USAREUR level. This year, Howard walked away with both quarterly and annual honors.

"I didn't think I was going to be in the running for it, and I found out when Sgt. Maj. Michael Fuller gave me a call and said congratulations. I was surprised and I felt really blessed, too," he said.

Howard is quick to credit his colleagues and his wife Felicia, also a sergeant first class in the Army, for their part in his success.

"I would like people to know that here at the Heidelberg Equal Opportunity working group, it was definitely a team effort. I by no means earned this award on my own. It was done with the support of my family and the entire EO community," he said.

Howard expects to remain with the garrison for at least another year.

"I would like to stay in this career field but unfortunately in the Army, EO is not a Military Occupational Specialty so you're on a two-to-three-year assignment," he said. He is currently trying to get a tour extension that would allow him to remain with the EO program longer.

"EO is important because we're the voice to protect people who do not have a voice or who don't feel empowered to come forward or stand up for themselves," Howard said.

"I really love my job. It's about taking care of people and it goes hand and hand with my faith as a Christian. I just try to do my job each day to take care of people and do what I think God would want me to do and it just worked out," he said.

Casey competes next at the Department of the Army level for the Secretary of the Army Diversity and Leadership award for EOA professionals.