By Mr. Tony Lopez (First Army)February 19, 2013
ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL, ILL. -- Preparing food, cleaning the commander's quarters for visitors and planning a social for a group of distinguished guests can be a daunting task.
However, Sgt. 1st Class Sophia Bulham enjoys the opportunity to provide one-of-a-kind service and apply her organizational and culinary skills as the senior enlisted aide for Lt. Gen. Mick Bednarek, First Army's commanding general.
An enlisted aide assists a general officer with accomplishing their primary military and official duties. Aides are graduates of the Advanced Culinary Skills Training Course and the Enlisted Aide Training Course. It is a unique and challenging opportunity to serve with general officers.
There are approximately 300 enlisted aides who work for general officers in the United States Army. Bulham is the first senior enlisted aide to serve for First Army at the Rock Island Arsenal.
An enlisted aide cooks and assists in planning the visits of national, local and foreign government officials. Other tasks can include administrative duties, housekeeping, assisting in property and grounds maintenance at the officer's quarters, laundry and uniform care, and supporting the general officer with any task needed to perform his official duties. "General officers are just like us but they have busy lives and I'm here to assist them so they can do what they need to do," said Bulham.
Bulham's parents instilled the philosophy of working hard at whatever you do when she was growing up in Michigan. She believes that trait has served her well in the military. She enlisted in the Army in 1993 and completed basic training at Fort Jackson, S.C. Bulham did a tour in Iraq and then was assigned to duty at the United States Pacific Command in Hawaii where she started her career working in a dining facility.
While in Hawaii Bulham was encouraged by a fellow Soldier to apply for a flight steward and cook position. After she was selected for the position, she served meals to senior leaders on flights when they traveled. Later, she completed the advanced culinary course and then obtained her skill level four food service certification as she progressed through her Army career to the rank of sergeant first class. The skill level four food service certification provides Bulham the skills to supervise, prepare, cook or serve food in the field or at a garrison food service operation environment.
Bulham served three general officers while stationed in Hawaii and then went on to an assignment at Fort Drum, N.Y., where she supervised and led five cooks. During that assignment, she completed the enlisted aide course at Fort Lee, Va. The enlisted aide course provided Bulham the skills to professionally present food during official functions. "I learned a lot about what Army cooks go through, following the mission and working long hours," said Bulham.
First Army Command Sgt. Maj. Jesse L. Andrews Jr. contacted the Army's human resources office to re-establish the enlisted aide position at Rock Island. Bulham's experience and qualities immediately made her stand out in comparison with the other candidates.
In September of 2011 Bulham was given the opportunity to interview with Bednarek and his spouse Holly. She came to the Rock Island Arsenal hoping that First Army's three-star commander would want her as his enlisted aide. "I was very honest in my interview and I knew that working in someone's house requires trust," said Bulham.
"The initial rapport and connection during the interview process was definitely there," said Andrews. After her interview with the Bednareks and the First Army team, Bulham was offered the job and started her duties in November of 2011.
"We selected Sophia because of her core values, infectious attitude and positive personality," said Bednarek. "It's all about people with our external engagements and she has that effervescent personality that grows on everyone who comes in contact with her."
Bulham also understands that it is important to have a good relationship with her commander and his wife. "That's a big part of it and you're in their house and that's their personal space," she said. "We have a great relationship and it works well because I know what needs to happen. There's a lot of trust that comes into place and it's like having another family."
Bednarek agreed, "It was also personally important for me knowing that Sgt. 1st Class Bulham would be spending more time with my spouse than myself, that they have that strong personal relationship. Those fundamental relationships and bonds that you forge help us every day."
Each day can be different as an enlisted aide. Keeping track of the general's schedule and his wife's schedule is important for planning. Some days will require preparing healthy meals for the general when his wife is gone. Other days may require performing housekeeping duties, researching recipes, picking up commander's laundry from the dry cleaners, ordering platters and preparing menus for an upcoming social event. In many cases, Bulham also works with the First Army protocol office to coordinate how many guests are invited to an event and follow the military regulations on what can be appropriately served to a particular audience.
"The enlisted aide position has become a very important position," said Bednarek. "She is definitely responsible for our success here as First Army hosts social events." After every engagement, which may be a social, a conference, a lunch or a dinner, the commander and the enlisted aide will adjust and refine the menus to make improvements for the next event.
The role of the senior enlisted aide has contributed "immensely," said Andrews, to the mission of First Army. "She is very motivated and passionate about doing her job. All of those things that could be a distraction to Bednarek, she takes away. She takes care of his uniform and helps him prepare to travel."
"Bulham also has excellent people skills and is not afraid to interact with anyone, which is important because of the high level of people she deals with," Andrews added. "It would definitely be more challenging for the commanding general without a quality enlisted aide. She allows him to focus on his duties and not worry about those small things. She takes those things off his plate."
Bulham has enjoyed her opportunity to work with the general and his wife and assist at their home on the Rock Island Arsenal. Every day and every event provides a different challenge. "Organizational skills are the biggest part of my job," she said. "I believe in myself, I challenge myself to be creative and the general sets me up for success. I have become completely dedicated to him and I really enjoy my job here at First Army."
The mission of First Army is to advise, assist and train Reserve Component Soldiers during pre-mobilization periods. First Army conducts mobilization, training support, readiness validation and deployment of alerted forces.
Additionally, First Army executes demobilization of Reserve Component forces when units return from overseas in accordance with Department of the Army standards. Reserve Soldiers are provided medical and family services during the demobilization process to ensure a smooth transition as they return to their families and hometowns.