Noncommissioned officers across the Army are expected to uphold the motto, “Lead from the Front.” A select few stationed at Fort Drum are sustaining that motto in the North Country and have been busy re-establishing an organization that has been inactive for more than five years.
The 10th Mountain Division (LI) Sgt. Audie Murphy Club has already begun gaining attention from members who were inducted at other installations.
Because of the high operations tempo that division Soldiers have faced during the past 11 years, duty, training and deployments took precedence over clubs and activities, according to Command Sgt. Maj. Jeffrey Dunkelberger, SAMC senior adviser and NCO Academy commandant.
“For the past five years at Fort Drum, there hasn’t been a Sgt. Audie Murphy Club,” he said. “Prior to that, (NCOs) attempted to get it up and running, but they were successful because of the op tempo and the war.”
Command Sgt. Maj. Rick Merritt, 10th Mountain Division (LI) senior enlisted adviser and SAMC senior adviser, explained that the division is currently trying to bring back some of the basic Army traditions, and the Sgt. Audie Murphy Club is one of them.
“I can’t think of a better time to keep (up the basics) than during a time of war,” he said. “We just have to work through that and know that combat comes first, but keep up all these tools to help us be successful on the battlefield; this is one of many things that we’ve had to bring back in doing that.
“(We must) keep the heritage of the NCO Corps of the Army going; I’m glad we’re here for that,” Merritt continued.
Dunkelberger agreed, adding that the mission of the club is to help Soldiers and Families in the 10th Mountain Division, as well as the surrounding community.
“We’re a volunteer / community service organization,” he explained. “Soldiers in the club give back to the community and Soldiers and Families in the division.”
In addition to helping the community, being a member of the SAMC helps grow and develop professional NCOs, Dunkelberger added.
Potential members must be in the rank of sergeant to sergeant first class. In order to attend the division-level board, NCOs go through boards at the battalion and brigade levels, and then must be recommended by their brigade command sergeant major.
“(Potential members) must have an impeccable record (and) a willingness to give,” Dunkelberger said. “It’s not just about going to the board to get something for (themselves). It’s about having an honor bestowed upon them and giving back to the community.”
“It’s pursued by many and received by few,” he said, adding that as membership grows, the club will begin reaching out and participating in community service projects.
Eight Soldiers participated in the club’s first board last month. The test, which is similar to a promotion board, requires candidates to answer questions based on Army regulations, post policies and historical questions about Audie Murphy.
To be a member, NCOs must prove that they represent “the epitome of the top five percent of NCOs in the Army,” Dunkelberger explained. He added that because the group is so exclusive, the board can select all of the candidates or none of them at all.
“There’s no quota we have to meet,” he said.
In addition to Merritt and Dunkelberger, Staff Sgt. Christy Flores, chapter president, and three other SAMC members sat on the board.
Similar to an NCO board, the SAMC board requires candidates to answer several questions.
“The difference is this board asks situational questions,” said Flores, who also serves as the 1st Squadron, 71st Cavalry Regiment career counselor. “We ask them ‘as a leader, what would you do?’ As a leader, they have to make ethical decisions and always do the right thing, no matter how sticky the situation becomes.”
Before candidates face the board, their sponsors – usually their senior NCO or first sergeant – come in to introduce each candidate and explain why the Soldier is a good candidate for the club. Sponsors also help prepare potential candidates for the board.
Candidates then knock on the door and wait to be invited in before they approach the table, salute and introduce themselves to the board. After following marching orders and a brief uniform inspection, candidates are asked to recite Murphy’s biography, answer questions about his life in the Army and as an actor, and quickly answer military leadership questions correctly while board members spout off random questions in “rapid-fire” succession.
Only one of the eight candidates was selected to be inducted into the organization.
Sgt. 1st Class Surya J. Hays, first sergeant for D Company, 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, said getting ready for the board was “taxing.” Unlike some of the candidates who had more than a month to prepare, Hays had only nine days.
“I literally put 18 hours a day over the (Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.) four-day weekend into memorizing Audie Murphy’s (biography) and studying,” he said. “I was also told on that day that immediately following the board, I would assume responsibilities as a first sergeant.”
Hays added that the Sgt. Audie Murphy Club selection process was more difficult than some of the other boards he has participated in during his career.
“It really does not compare to anything else I have experienced, as the questions were mostly situation based and there was no right or wrong answer. This places a difficulty on not being able to say ‘command sergeant major, I do not know the answer to that question,’ which is said often in other boards,” he explained. “The pace was also much faster in regards to the questions themselves. I had no time to think about my answers, which added stress to an already stressful situation.
“It was very stressful,” Hays continued. “I dealt with this simply by relating it to combat. I kept telling myself that regardless of how I perform, no one will die as a result of my failure.”
For those NCOs who are interested in becoming a member of the SAMC, Hays said he believes the best way to prepare is to be an “exceptional leader.” Answers to the situational questions will come easy because they will be truthful answers.
“This board is not for people looking to simply better their records or wear a cool medal, as that attitude is not the attribute that the board members are looking for,” Hays explained. “Overall, the experience was a positive one for me. I was able to prove to myself and the rest of my peers that I truly am among the best. To those on the fence about competing, do it.
“I think the club means different things to different types of NCOs,” he continued. “I am sure that there are leaders in our formations that look at it simply as a way to separate themselves from the pack. But to me … the club is a way to give back.”
Hays added that with his duties of being a platoon sergeant, and now a first sergeant, he hasn’t had the time to search for worthwhile causes he would like to help.
“Having a club and a network I can help when able, and when I find situations that would warrant help and am unable to provide it, I have a network to pass the info along to," he said. “Hopefully, as I get more involved I will find a spot within the club that is as rewarding and enriching for me as it is for the club, the NCO Corps and the civilian communities.”
Current and perspective members are invited to attend SAMC’s monthly meetings. The next meeting will be held at 11:30 a.m. Friday at the Commons. For more information, contact Flores at Christy.L.Flores.firstname.lastname@example.org.