By Cheryl Rodewig, The BayonetJune 27, 2012
FORT BENNING, Ga. - The results are in. Three Soldiers have emerged as the Maneuver Center of Excellence's top career counselors and re-enlistment specialists. They are Staff Sgt. Ian Mason, Career Counselor of the Year, Sgt. 1st Class Octavious Rogers, Reserve Component Career Counselor of the Year, and Staff Sgt. Travis France, Retention NCO of the Year.
Winners at the installation level move on to the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command Career Counselor of the Year Board July 22-26 at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va.
When the two-day competition to find the MCoE's best career counselor wrapped up, Mason said he received some surprising news.
"Of course, everybody else (competing) is top quality as well, so I thought going into it that I'll just compete, do my best and we'll see what happens," he said. "I was surprised to find out I had won. I was definitely honored to win."
The 199th Infantry Brigade Soldier has been a career counselor for four years and it's the vocation he hopes to follow until retirement, he said.
"I was Infantry for close to seven years and then in 2008, I reclassed and I changed my MOS to a 79 'Sierra,'" Mason said. "It's worked out pretty good so far … definitely different from anything I've ever done. I get more satisfaction doing the work."
Counseling on career options has been a "rewarding career," he said, because he's able to help Soldiers and their Families with his day-to-day work.
"It takes a while to see the effects you actually have on Soldiers in their careers," he said. "You get to see people develop and see how they change over the course of their career, and you have a hand in helping them achieve what they want out of their military careers.
Mason served as a career counselor for the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team in Italy for three years before PCSing to Fort Benning, where on a given day, he might work with anyone from a private to a sergeant major. It may be an Infantryman who wants to change his MOS, a Soldier looking to re-enlist or a senior leader seeking guidance regarding his troops.
"You end up dealing with pretty much everybody," Mason said. "Everybody has something they're trying to attain in their career, information they need. We tend to serve as a central point of information in the unit when it comes to topics outside of our immediate responsibilities."
Hundreds of Soldiers come through the post retention office each year, said Rogers, who works directly with many of them, whether providing an ETS briefing or counseling one on one.
While active component career counselors typically specialize in re-enlisting Soldiers, Reserve counselors focus on smoothing the transition after leaving the Army, said the MCoE 2012 Reserve Component Career Counselor of the Year.
"When you make a transition like that, there are a lot of little things you got to start thinking about … like health care that you've had free for four to six years," Rogers said. "There are a lot of benefits involved with continuing service on a Reserve status, so that's what we try to show them -- and how that can benefit them with their overall goal on the civilian side. And hopefully it helps them to be a better Soldier and also a better civilian."
Rogers started working in retention in 2005.
"First I started recruiting, then after that I went into career counseling," he said. "It's rare to find a job that you enjoy, and the reason why I enjoy it is because I feel as if I'm impacting lives -- not by people transferring to the Reserves but just helping Soldiers who have served our country get to where they want to be. I think the Soldiers who have served deserve nothing less."
For his job, Rogers has to know about both Reserve and National Guard options, he said. He also has to be familiar with active-duty benefits and policy to make the information relatable to Soldiers.
"And a lot of it is the life counseling," he said. "They're making a real big step. They've decided they're not going to re-enlist. So at this point you're really talking to them a lot about what they want to do with themselves and giving them other resources … letting them know about all the benefits available to them. It's not just all about the Army.
"Right now with the military having a drawdown, it's very important for us, as career counselors, to take that extra step to take care of Soldiers, not only (those) who are staying in but also (those) who are getting out. That's crucial right now to the Army's mission."
Rogers said he is proud to represent Fort Benning at the TRADOC-level competition next month. He's studying to prepare for the board, where he hopes to win and continue on to the Armywide competition. Meanwhile, he's continuing to serve Soldiers.
"Every career counselor wears this badge right here," Rogers said, pointing to the emblem on his uniform of an eagle under an olive branch. "That makes you a career counselor if you have the badge on. But with wearing it, it's a lot more that it embodies. Although you may put this on every day, it has to be in you, not just on you. You have to have a genuine care for people. And that genuine care will be displayed in that one-on-one counseling with the Soldiers."
The MCoE won't be sending their Retention NCO of the Year to the TRADOC-level competition next month because he will be at the Career Counselor Course in Fort Jackson, S.C. Upon graduation, France said he plans to become a career counselor.
The staff sergeant said he originally started retention work to "broaden my horizons."
"They were looking for somebody to become the battalion retention NCO and I volunteered," said France, previously an Armor crewman who served as an instructor in the 194th Armor Brigade motor pool. "I wanted to work outside my MOS. It helps for career progression. (Career counseling) is a very small MOS. It's a select group of individuals that actually make it into it."
France has been working in retention in 1st Battalion, 81st Armor Regiment, for 18 months. He has his associate's degree in general studies and plans to get his bachelor's in workforce leadership.
Like career counselors, he helps outline a plan of action, both short-term and long-term, for Soldiers to get the most out of their Army career.
"Retention NCOs still deal with counseling Soldiers and finding out exactly what they want to do with their careers," France said. "If that Soldier wants to change their MOS, I can help them find an MOS that better suits them. We sit them down and we counsel them … what they should do to excel in their MOS."
France sees Soldiers within 18 months of their expected end of service date. Getting out or staying in is a "huge decision," he said, so he lets them know options, such as education benefits or specifying a duty station, available to them if they re-enlist.
"I enjoy being able to help all types of Soldiers," he said. "A lot of times when Soldiers come to me, they don't understand what the Army has to offer. So I lay it out and I set up a path for them to follow. That way they succeed in the military. That way we can match their needs with the needs of the Army."