By Air Force Master Sgt. Mike R. Smith
Special to American Forces Press Service
March 19, 2009 - Army Staff Sgt. Henry Baez Jr. is humble about the recognition he's received for leading a squad of soldiers through some of the Army's most dangerous work in Afghanistan. As a squad leader deployed with the Illinois Army National Guard's 33rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, Baez leads a dismount element of soldiers who operate independently in presence patrols, at humanitarian assistance drops and in training the Afghan police outside the security of Camp Phoenix.
Baez recently was recognized for his service here as a noncommissioned officer in the face of the nation's criminals and insurgents.
"I have a small group of rock stars," Baez said of his squad and after being recognized by Air Force Gen. Craig R. McKinley, chief of the National Guard Bureau, and Army Command Sgt. Maj. David Ray Hudson, senior enlisted leader of the Guard Bureau, during their recent visits.
Baez's squad of citizen-soldiers walks patrols through the Afghan villages surrounding Camp Phoenix. "We do it every day," he said of the dangerous work. "During the week, we also conduct mounted patrols on Humvees and walk through other villages."
Before heading out on a patrol that afternoon, Baez's squad and peers applauded him as he joined other Army Guard NCOs in the camp's dining facility for an awards ceremony. Then he quietly geared himself up with body armor, a weapon and a radio to lead his squad.
"It's embarrassing to be up there [for an award] when I know I'm doing a small percentage of the work," he said as he watched his fellow Guard members gear up. "It's just a great squad." He noted that the Army and the Guard are recognizing the important role of NCOs in a yearlong observance.
"This is the Year of the NCO, and we have a lot of great NCOs here, and those who are going to be NCOs," he said.
When asked what makes a good NCO, Baez said "everything." You have to be stern, and you have to admit when you're wrong, he said. "But it doesn't work without the whole body, including our officers," he added.
"It helps when the soldiers working with you own the mission as much as you do," he said. "I may be the one liable and responsible here, but they don't treat the mission any less than I do. My guys are the real rock stars, and that's why I got recognized."
(Air Force Master Sgt. Mike R. Smith serves with the National Guard Bureau.)