News: GED Plus graduates inspire Army National Guard’s top enlisted leader
Story by Capt. Kyle Key
NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - Many of the recruits who report to the GED Plus Program express a similar belief—just weeks earlier, they did not think they could earn their GEDs, much less progress forward to become citizen soldiers.
As the 59 graduates of Class 13-003 walked across the stage of the Sgt. Jeffrey Jordan GED Plus Complex, the moment wasn’t just a mountain top experience for them; it became a surprisingly powerful experience also for their guest speaker, Command Sgt. Maj. Brunk W. Conley.
For Conley, a tenured high school educator from Oregon, standing up in front of students was nothing new him. But seeing the hope and enthusiasm on the faces of these recruits enjoying a second chance at education was extraordinarily special. “I get emotional because … looking at you, reminds me why I do this,” Conley told the graduates.
Conley, who is currently serving as the 10th Command Sergeant Major for the Army National Guard, delivered the keynote address for the graduation ceremony of Class 13-003 at the National Guard Professional Education Center on Jan. 25th. After the invocation, the lights dimmed and the “Citizen Soldier” music video by 3 Doors Down was projected. Conley’s eyes welled up as the video portrayed moments similar to his experiences in the Guard.
Conley described to the audience how when he deployed to Iraq with the Oregon Army National Guard’s 2nd Battalion, 162nd Infantry, nine of his soldiers were killed and 70 were wounded. When he returned stateside, Conley was mobilized to New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. A few short months later he was deployed again, this time to Afghanistan. But it was in New Orleans that Conley fully understood the meaning of citizen soldier as his troops provided support to hurricane victims.
“We weren’t [serving as] soldiers,” Conley described with emotion. “We were in uniform, but we were going to an area that needed our help. Around 60,000 Guardsmen converged on a devastated city to help save our neighbors. That’s what it’s all about!”
Conley encouraged the warriors to continue their professional and civilian education while they have the opportunity for the military to pay for it. “I believe in education,” he said. “I believe it down in my core. Don’t let this be the end of your education.” Conley stressed that earning their GEDs will give them better prospects for jobs, improve family dynamics at home, and make them better citizens and better members of their communities.
“The Guard has helped you because you have helped us,” Conley said. “You raised your hand and swore to defend our country. We’re going to help you every step of the way. Don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t achieve your dreams.”
Conley was among more than 100 senior enlisted and general officers who converged at the National Guard Professional Education Center to attend the 2013 Army National Guard Senior Leaders Conference. Also in attendance of the GED Plus graduation were senior leaders from the Illinois Army National Guard, Washington Army National Guard and Alaska Army National Guard.
“Let me hear you say, ‘I am a citizen soldier,’” Conley instructed the graduates. The auditorium boomed and windows rattled as the new graduates recited the declaration, “I am a citizen soldier!”
Conley paused for a moment, “I’m getting welled up. You’re the best thing that I saw today. Man, I’m proud of you.”